Less than half of working women feel they are treated equally to their male counterparts, a new study has found.
The research conducted by Salary Finance – a benefits provider that works with companies to increase employees’ financial wellbeing – was the result of a survey conducted with 1,000 women working in part or full time roles in the UK and shows the underlying gender inequalities still at play in the workplace. According to the results, only 47% of the women interviewed agreed that they had been treated equally to their male colleagues and just 34% agreed that their employer cares about them and the issues that they face at work. Of those surveyed, only 33% felt that their employer was making an effort to improve workplace conditions for women.
Now, it would be easy to riff on the most prominent ways in which women are still treated unfairly at work – unequal pay being one. Limited opportunity being another. Most companies will publicly claim to be “addressing” these issues. They’ll tell us they’re using the gender pay gap data to reassess salaries and management positions, yet – if this evidence is anything to go by – the day to day experience of women in the workplace is yet to undergo any dramatic improvement. This could be because, often, the most damaging and undermining treatment is the least obvious.
In the current social climate, we all like to think of ourselves as unbiased, fair and open minded individuals. The idea that we – both men and women – could be unconsciously subverting gender equality at work is uncomfortable to swallow.
Yet if we’re ever going to reach a point where women, men and non-binary people are free to move beyond the negative gender roles expected of them, we all need to take on the responsibility of looking more objectively at our own behaviour and how it might be contributing to an imbalance.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of the subtle ways in which women are still being undermined in the workplace.
Greeting women with a kiss on the cheek
There’s a big meeting and all the men in the room got handshakes. For some reason, though, one of said men decided it would be more appropriate to offer the women joining the group a couple of cheek kisses instead. Whilst cheek kissing isn’t inherently bad or sexist, it’s not a particularly appropriate greeting at work. In a professional environment, unless you’re prepared to offer the same greeting to every single person, regardless of gender, it’s best to avoid doing this altogether.
Expecting female colleagues to take charge of all celebrations
You work in a company, which means it’s probably someone’s birthday. Who’s sorting out the card and the cake? Is it the same woman who always ends up doing it? It’s easy to fall into the trap of assigning ‘care-giving’ tasks to women, even if they don’t want them or there are others who prefer or are better at performing them.
Using derogatory language in an ‘ironic’ way
Yes – we all know one of these. The kind of man who thinks it’s okay to call a woman in the office a ‘slut’ because it’s ‘obviously just a joke.’ Any such derogatory language – regardless of how harmlessly intended – should be locked into a ‘never to be repeated’ box and thrown into the sea. Irony, as Alanis Morrisette once so helpfully pointed out, is finding 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife. It is not reinforcing degrading language that has been used to suppress a disadvantaged group for thousands of years.
Expecting all women to be good at multitasking
I’m a terrible multitasker. Always have been. In fact, I’m pretty sure most people are, so expecting women to ace this because apparently they’re ‘better at it’ than men seems a tad unfair. Sure – it’s often meant as a compliment but what this belief is actually doing is pressuring them to take on more than their share of work, just because it’s a trait stereotypically – and often incorrectly – associated with women. It also sets them up to fail, which not only enforces the idea that they’re underperforming in their womanly duties but also makes them look bad at their job. It’s a bit like expecting men to just ‘shake it off’ when they’re feeling low or upset because being ‘unfeeling’ is stereotypically masculine. It’s ridiculous and damaging and we should all just give up these notions immediately.
Cutting women off as they’re talking in meetings
Unlike the women you are constantly interrupting, this statement speaks for itself.
Using gendered language to describe work ethic
Hands up if there’s a female leader at your company that you’ve heard called either ‘bossy’ or ‘emotional’. Now hands up if you’ve heard the same about the male leaders. Thought not. Where men are assertive, women are bossy. Where men are passionate, women are emotional. Women who show any kind of seemingly ‘masculine’ traits in the office are berated for them yet held to their standards at the same time. Now, before I get lambasted for implying that women either can’t handle or don’t ever deserve criticism, I’d like to point out that this isn’t about the behaviours in themselves but rather the language we use to describe them. Words such as ‘bossy’ and ‘emotional’ are well known to be loaded with all sorts of gender-specific connotations that are designed to keep people in their assigned place. There are male equivalents too, like ‘manly’, ‘macho’ and ‘cocky.’ We should get rid of them as well. Basically, if an adjective isn’t gender neutral, don’t use it – send it to the bottom of the sea with all those other derogatory labels.
Making jokes about having to be ‘careful’ what you say these days
Yes, I get that it’s meant to be funny (and I can hear the cries of, ‘can’t anyone take a joke these days?!’ from here). But casually tossing out this phrase implies that: a) women or any minority group, for that matter, are just being touchy b) that the issues aren’t real – they’re just in our overly emotional, irrational female heads and c) that they don’t deserve to be taken seriously. By saying such a thing, it also puts women in an awkward position where they either just have to laugh it off or defend themselves – both of which give certain men the satisfaction of believing all the negative stereotypes they held about women in the first place.
Women, men and non-binary people deserve equal amounts of respect, regardless of gender. By stamping out these subtly sexist behaviours, we can actually begin to redress the imbalance that currently exists. As Zac Efron once said as he danced on a school cafeteria table, ‘we’re all in this together’, so let’s start acting like it.