Workplace Sexism – Are Female Bosses Listening?

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Freelance contribution from Gemma Stones

Sexism is never far from the news, and there has been a recent surge in both the active discussion and recognition of everyday sexism in recent months. However, whether it’s really enough is still open to debate. There are still shocking everyday instances of sexism that often go unnoticed, and despite a rise in both the number of women in the workplace, as well as salaries, the struggle is certainly not over. Workplace sexism in particular, still has a long way to go in many respects. While there are certainly a number of things any good director or CEO can do to try and root out problems, many often overlook these important aspects. Additionally, there is also intriguing evidence that the stereotype of ‘Queen Bee’ female bosses may also be a direct result of workplace sexism, but not in the way we may initially assume.

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A Constant Battle

When we think in terms of the scope of history, women’s rights is still a fairly fledgling movement. A common misconception, however, still persists. There is an overwhelming attitude that the ‘fight has been won’, that women now enjoy equality with men in almost all professions, and that any further debate of the issue is simply unnecessary. Unfortunately however, this is not the case at all. As of last year for example, there was still a very real gap in earnings between men and women in the US. This is indicative of a wider, more institutional level of sexism perhaps, but there are as many problems ‘on the ground’ of the everyday workplace as well. Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of workplace sexism however, is the fact that it has become extremely subtle – essentially driven underground. This new, ‘soft war’ on women as it has been labeled, tends to take two forms, according to psychologists. Descriptive stereotypes are the first problem. This usually involves attributing certain qualities to women, such as being caring, sensitive, and so on. While these are not particularly harmful in themselves (although very general), they often become filler material when an employer can’t decide on a candidate. A male candidate for example, will have descriptive stereotypes such as rationality or being objective, and this can, and does, often work against women as a result. The second problem is that when a women does become successful, perhaps leading a company or reaching a position of authority, these descriptive stereotypes seem to have been contradicted in some way. The problem then becomes that successful women become disliked for not adhering to the stereotype, and can suffer in the workplace as a result. This could manifest in being refused pay rises, being generally disliked, or even bullied as a result. Ultimately, it seems to be a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation for professionally minded women. The thing is, is that many directors and business leaders have yet to realize that bullying and sexism can cost them money in very real terms. Having a welcoming and supportive work environment can generate a huge amount of productivity (and profit) as a result. This in itself simply highlights the importance of being able to listen as a boss, as referred to earlier.

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Two Sides of The Coin

It is important to remember of course, that sexism can come from women as well. Even this however, in many cases, is actually caused as a result of being on the receiving end of sexism for so long. The ‘Queen Bee’ syndrome  is a perfect example of this. Men can also suffer from descriptive stereotyping too, and this can be especially damaging coming from women leaders, as it simply adds fuel to the fire of prescriptive bias. Ultimately though, women are essentially expected to display the very qualities that may not even get them the job (descriptive stereotypes), but are then punished for adapting in order to ensure a successful career. While the same can be true for men as well, the real burden then begins to fall at the feet of women business leaders – They must tread the almost impossible line of maintaining enough of a stereotypical image to be considered for the benefits many male equivalents would take for granted, while at the same time having to actively combat the stereotype in order to prove they can do the job. Either way, the problem is a real one, and proof that we still have a long way to go when it comes to true equality in the workplace.

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