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Sexism In The Workplace: Why It’s Time For A Change


The effects of sexism in the workplace are far-reaching. In fact, research has shown that women born in sexist places may go on to earn less money than women who are born in less sexist places. Misogyny in the workplace can show up in many different ways. There can also be sexism against men in the workplace, but it’s much more common that it happens against women, and we will talk about some theories why that could be the case.

No matter how it shows up, it should be met with zero tolerance. The thing is that it can appear in some less-than-obvious ways, so it’s important to be educated about examples of sexism in the workplace so that you can play a role in bringing an end to it.

Man and woman in a professional setting
Photo by Jopwell from Pexels

What Is Occupational Sexism?

Known as sexism in the workplace or employment sexism, occupational sexism is any form of discrimination against someone because of their sex that happens in their place of work. There are various theories as to why occupational sexism exists in the first place.

One theory called the social role theory looks at the way by which women’s traditional roles were historically within the home and the effect it has had on women in the workplace. Traditionally, men went to work and women took care of the children and the house. These roles created stereotypes and expectations based on gender. Then, when women entered the workforce, these stereotypes and attitudes still lingered.

It also has meant that the roles women hold are tied to the stereotypes of them having been the caregivers. So, an example is that many people think it is a women’s role to be a teacher or nurse, as opposed to being a doctor or a lawyer.

Types Of Sexism in Workplaces

Sexism in the workplace can be divided into two categories, namely:

  • Hostile: This type of sexism shows up as demeaning. It makes women seem inferior to men in the workplace. They can be regarded as too manipulative, emotional, or incompetent. Examples of this type of sexism can be when people deem certain tasks to be “women’s work,” like expecting women to take notes in a meeting when everyone holds the same job title.
  • Benevolent: Benevolent sexism shows up in more unconscious ways. It’s the idea that women should be taken care of and men should be the providers. In occupational sexism, this could be that women are left out of late work meetings under the assumption they’d rather be taking care of their family and wouldn’t want to go. Even though the general attitude is not one that is demeaning and it may even come from a place of “care,” it is undermining the fact that women should be treated equally.

Examples Of Sexism In The Workplace

Whether it’s benevolent or hostile, sexism should not exist anywhere. When it happens in the workplace, it may not even be so evident. Some examples of sexism that do show up may include:

  • Insults As Jokes: One of the most common forms of sexism happens in the form of jokes. Men may make comments that insult women because of their gender, but these comments are disguised as humor. An example of this may be a comment like, “Wear the low cut shirt to the meeting and I’m sure you’ll close the deal”.
  • Role Stereotypes: This shows up when there are different tasks at work, and people assign who they think should fulfill the duty based on stereotypical roles. For example, if there’s a meeting and food is ordered, men may wait until the woman opens up the packaging as if it’s expected to be the woman’s role.
  • Physical Focus: If there are comments about appearance, like body shape or the way a woman dresses that are associated with her professional abilities, then that is a form of sexism.
  • Gender Labeling: Another stereotype that happens is if a woman is assertive, she may be called bossy. If she’s not as assertive as expected, then she may be called too emotional. It may happen that someone says something like, “Man up!” in reference to not showing emotions, which is a form of gender labeling.
  • Devaluing Women’s Opinions: When men talk over women or over-explain things to them (which has become known as mansplaining), it could be a form of sexism. It may be showcasing the idea that a woman’s opinion is not as important or valued as a man’s voice.

Negative Effects Of Sexism In The Workplace

The effects of sexism within the workplace extend far further in a woman’s everyday life. It can cause issues in terms of finances, can negatively impact mental health, career advancement, and can even put her in a dangerous place physically.

  • Wage Gap: Women earn less than men in the same positions. In the early 80s, it was explained by different industries, titles, and levels of experience. Yet, even as women have begun to hold the same positions with the same levels of experience as men, they are paid $0.81 to the dollar that men make (which is known as the gender wage gap).
  • Mental Health: The remarks and attitudes towards women in the workplace can cause detrimental mental health side effects for women. It’s been found that women are twice as likely to be depressed as men, and this could be attributed to the social role theory.
  • Advancement: If both a woman and a man are equally qualified for a role, it is possible that a man will receive the promotion simply because of sexist beliefs or thoughts in the workplace. It’s very clear to see how unfair and wrong that is.
  • Assault: Sexism and the idea that women are inferior to men has led to sexual assault and harrassment in the workplace. While all workplaces should have a very clearly outlined and documented policy against sexual harassment, it is all too often ignored.
Fight sexism graffiti on a wall
Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

How to Fight Misogyny in the Workplace

If you’re not part of the solution, then you may be part of the problem. Whether you explicitly take part in sexism or idly watch it as it happens, you’re equally culpable. You have the power to speak up and fight against sexism anywhere, especially in the workplace.

Some ways to do so are to:

  • Speak out when you see sexism happening
  • Ensure equal contributions are welcomed
  • Allow everyone to talk in meetings
  • Question your own assumptions and beliefs
  • Double check how you talk and if you make sexist jokes
  • Reframe discussions
  • Look out for stereotypes

The Bottom Line

There’s no arguing that all people should be treated equally. A workplace is meant to be a safe space for both women and men to get their job done. Sexism against any gender in the workplace should be met with strict consequences. The effects of occupational sexism can stick with a person for a lifetime, so it’s important that every person helps to bring an end to its existence.