To women men can appear to act and react oddly. The same can be true for women in the eyes of men. The way men and women have seen each other has been the same for thousands of years. Changes to attitudes and workplace regulations have led to less obvious sexism but in its place has sprung more subtle sexism in the workplace.
Only recently have men begun to see women as genuine equals in all areas of life – home and work. This is in large part down to the various changes to industry and advances in technology. These have led to opportunities for women to show their strength and qualities in areas away from the home and child-rearing.
Such has been the progress that women have made in the workplace that women occupy all types of positions at major companies in industries around the world. It is fair to say that women are, for the most part, perceived by their male peers as equals in a professional capacity.
Professional Feelings vs Personal Feelings
But how do colleagues feel about powerful, successful women on a personal level? Is there much room for improvement, or are people generally fine with women being successful? The answers to these questions cannot be summed up simply. What we do know is that sexism in the workplace is not as obvious as it once was. Instead it has been replaced by subtle sexism in the workplace.
While it is true that there are many women in positions of power in business, where once there were none, boardrooms around the world are still dominated by men. Away from the boardroom and other positions of power there are millions of women who earn their livelihoods working in positions where they are not so highly regarded and where a complaint of sexism would likely be dismissed out of hand.
This isn’t because companies are keen to turn a blind eye to any accusations from a woman about her colleagues. Instead an accusation of sexism may be difficult for the Human Resources department to pursue. Sexism in the workplace has become very subtle. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
Examples of Subtle Sexism in the Workplace
Image Still Counts For A Lot
Attitudes still persist about how women should “look their best” at all times. If a woman does not pay attention to her physical appearance at work she risks being thought of as incompetent.
The thought process, perhaps subconsciously, seems to be: “if a woman cannot do what is expected by looking pretty when in public she cannot be trusted to do what is expected regarding work”.
Underused and Undermined
Being interrupted or ignored in meetings isn’t something that is easy to bring up with a manager or with HR. In fact if a woman complains about being ignored it is likely that the issue will be turned back on her.
The response may be something like: “There must be a reason you are being ignored. Not everyone at the meeting can be sexist. You need to be more assertive.”
One of Two Extremes
This leads to one of the most frustrating things for a woman in the workplace, the seemingly no-win situation underpinned by outmoded attitudes about female roles in society. For many men, as well as women, a woman’s role should be maternal and caring. This comes from a history of seeing women only as mothers, teachers, nurses. For people who cling to these ideas having an assertive woman in the workplace is troubling.
Instead of seeing women as assertive they will label them as pushy and aggressive. On the other hand, if women are too relaxed in their approach they’re deemed as incompetent and as lacking in leadership qualities by others who expect colleagues to be assertive.
What do you think about subtle sexism in the workplace? Most women have experienced sexism of one form or another at some point in their life. What experiences of sexism in the workplace – subtle or not – have you had?
We’d love to hear from you in our comments.