sexism in the workplace

Discover 12 examples of sexism in the workplace

Sexism in the workplace can occur in many ways that must be addressed to create a fair, professional environment for millions of women. These are undesirable situations that harm the productivity of companies because they hurt women’s mental well-being. This article discusses types of sexism in the workplace, how a DEIB strategy can help organisations prevent these situations, and how International Women’s Day can be a good way to begin (if your organisation hasn’t already).

12 examples of sexism in the workplace

sexism in the workplace

1. Restricting my participation because I’m the only woman

Participating is not always easy, especially if you belong to a minority. This can happen to some women in environments where most of their colleagues are men. They may feel invisible, anticipate that they will not be taken into account, or assume that their ideas are not valuable and not worth the effort of putting them forward. 

Being the only woman in the room is not an example of male sexism in the workplace, but establishing a work environment of overwhelming masculinity can be. It is not easy to overcome the feelings that this provokes. Still, they should give themselves more credit, allow themselves to be heard, and not assume that their proactive and creative attitude goes unnoticed because their ideas are discarded or less heard. 

sexism in the workplace

2. The glass ceiling

For some women, the glass ceiling is a reality proven by facts. This generates a feeling of helplessness, fed by the lack of references. 

No glass ceiling can be broken by believing that it cannot be broken in any way. It is necessary to look for alliances, point out the damage of this phenomenon to workers and companies, and demonstrate with facts, assertiveness, and persuasion that one is a valid candidate for what one is applying for. 

In the glass ceiling, there are indisputable realities, but there are also beliefs that strengthen it. We must be aware of these rigid beliefs that inhibit action and make women fall into hopelessness. It is not that she has to consider fighting all the sexism in the workplace in the world on her own. Still, she must think about how she will face the difficulties she encounters, nurturing a realistic hope, believing she has potential, and remembering that if she does not progress in this company, there are other possibilities for promotion. 

3. Working mothers’ guilt

Guilt is not an example of sexism at work either, but sexism in the workplace can lead to more intense regrets than they should be. When we have children, it is not unusual for us to feel pain when we have to leave them to go back to work or to think that we are taking too much time away from them to devote to our professional careers. In the case of women, this remorse can be intensified, as they are traditionally attributed more responsibility (and obligation to make sacrifices) than men for the care and attention of their children. 

This attribution would be an example of sexism in the workplace and generates enormous discomfort in them, in the form of guilt and frustration. This phenomenon is strongly influenced by learned beliefs about how prospering professionally is incompatible with being a good mother or that more time equals more quality of care. 

To tackle sexism in the workplace, it is important not to overestimate the presumed lack of attention to the children or the influence of our work on their mental well-being. We must remember that, usually, they are not the only ones responsible for their children and that the quality of care is more important than the quantity. 

It is good that we ask ourselves whether we are taking good enough care of our children from time to time. However, this self-criticism must be healthy, not a tyranny that makes bad mothers out of those who want to be intensely involved in their professional careers

4. Mansplaining or the infantilisation of women

For some reason, some men think that women are not ready to understand some issues the first time or do not consider them adult and insightful people. This leads them to what is known as “mansplaining”, a paternalistic and condescending attitude of the man towards the woman when giving her an explanation and which constitutes an example of sexism in the workplace

Suppose this is also done in front of other colleagues or superiors. In that case, it is harmful to good relations, the employee’s self-esteem, and the establishment of her reputation as a worker in the eyes of others. 

As far as she is concerned, it is essential that she detects this without falling into paranoia and reminds her co-worker that she can understand anything that is well explained to her and can take responsibility for many issues. She does not need to be “protected” from certain complexities or treated less seriously than her male or older peers. 

5. Sexual harassment at work 

It is an abuse consisting of verbal or physical manifestations of a sexual nature that intimidate, offend, denigrate or pressure the person who suffers it, being a woman more often than a man. So, it would be one of the most aggressive examples of dealing with sexism at work

These situations generate a lot of anxiety, make the workspace unsafe ( both physically and emotionally), and affect the person’s performance and commitment to the company. 

Victims of sexual harassment should remember that they are not the cause of the harassment. They should try to gather – if available – evidence of the situation and seek advice from their company’s HR and legal department (and external) on how best to protect themselves from such a situation.  

6. Judging by clothing or general appearance

When their appearance becomes a recurring topic of conversation, the focus is always on how they look but not on how they work, even if it is with positive opinions about their appearance. 

Prejudices may then appear about what kind of person they are or what performance they can offer based on issues that have nothing to do with talent. They may feel that they are being questioned inappropriately or may be tempted not to act naturally out of fear of being misjudged professionally. 

As long as the clothing or appearance is appropriate for the task, there is nothing wrong with personal style. Once again, it is necessary to deal with sexism in the workplace by using self-assertiveness, freedom, and naturalness, putting into perspective the judgments we receive and keeping our distance from them.  

7. Discrimination in recruitment processes

In many selection processes, many women are still perceived as worse candidates because of unconscious biases about their character or how their performance will be affected by the family they have or will form in the future. 

This example of sexism in the workplace is detrimental to the company because of the talent it fails to employ. It also affects the self-esteem and mood of many female candidates: in addition to perceiving themselves as less valid or feeling that they have to answer invasive questions, they have to juggle when communicating to convince of their solvency. 

When facing a job interview, it is important to prepare well for possible answers to such questions and to train the ability to redirect the conversation to talents and achievements, conveying security and confidence. 

If the decision has been made beforehand, there is not much to do, and there is always a reflection: maybe I don’t want to belong to a company that treats women like this, and that will always try to prevent me from moving up if I get in. 

8. Pregnancy as an occupational hazard

Fear of telling the company that you are pregnant or fear of not being able to progress in your career if you become pregnant may be due to sexism in the workplace.

A company that functions optimally does not see that its employees have children as a problem. However, not all companies work this way, and many women fear the moment of informing that they are mothers or that they are going to be.

When we are afraid to tell someone something that, in theory, is not a problem, there is a problem in the relationship: we do not have enough trust, and we feel threatened by the possible reaction of the other. The same happens in the relationship with our companies: there is a lot of distrust

Fear blocks us and drives us to flee and hide. That may be fine as a first step in the face of danger, but how does it affect the relationship between the company and the employee? What does this fear say about the way the employee perceives the company? Nothing good.

9. Family care: double shift

Although some families are quite well organised, family care tasks fall more heavily on women than on men. This makes it difficult for many women to balance work and family life. It stresses them out and makes them feel used.  

Decisions about who is more in charge of these issues are highly influenced by availability and mobility. However, we also fall into routines, automatically assume responsibilities that we could distribute better, take on responsibilities that are not ours, or sacrifice our time so others can live more peacefully. 

Each family does what it can, but we should not bring home sexism in the workplace, but rather take care of the balance, asserting our time at the same level as that of others and defending a co-responsibility that avoids physical and psychological overloads. 

10. Excessive “toxic masculinity” during pre-meetings

In the moments before a meeting, or during the meeting, for example, with external male clients, an exclusionary atmosphere is created, based on allegedly “guy” topics of conversation that leave women out or pretend to leave them out. A prior empathy is created with the man, and, subtly, the woman is left in the background before the meeting even begins. This gives the impression that the woman is a subordinate to her partner – when perhaps she is not – and is there only for support. 

It is essential to prepare the meetings, agreeing on everyone’s participation. If necessary, we can indicate to our colleagues that specific comments or attitudes are best left out and adopt a purely professional register

11. The need to justify the achievements more than men

In particular work contexts, the explanation of women’s professional achievements is related to all kinds of excuses, except for their merits. With women, we tend to think more than men about “what they must have done to get to that position”. This is a clear example of sexism in the workplace.

This generates distrust in the female worker, who has not attributed the authority she deserves since she is not believed to be worthy of being where she is. Sometimes envy underlies these interpretations: the work environment is affected

Women should not spend their energy deconstructing colleagues’ prejudices, giving them explanations they do not need or asking for forgiveness for getting promoted. The employee and her superiors know why an award or promotion is given, and time alone will prove the wisdom of that decision. 

12. Gender pay gap

Many people have inevitable conflicts when negotiating their salary since their work is not given the value it deserves, or they anticipate that asking for a certain amount will not be considered. Sometimes they are not up to date with their job’s salary range. 

It is difficult to know whether male colleagues are being paid more or less than them for the same work: people are very secretive about their salaries. In the end, sexism in the workplace strengthens their belief that their work is not worth as much as they thought it was or that it is, but there is no point in claiming it. Frustration and dissatisfaction then appear or, as “revenge”, not offering an optimal performance (because they do not feel well paid). This ultimately works against them, because it damages their image and provides no reason to pay them more.

It is important to have up-to-date information on a reasonable salary for a given job and to believe that you deserve it based on the responsibility you assume, your seniority in the company, and your talent.

Learning about the situation in other companies in your industry can help you gauge how much to ask for in the next salary review. It will also be necessary to train skills to defend our position and be strong enough to indicate what performance we believe to be adequate regarding the salary offered. 

The role of DEIB to address sexism in the workplace

DEIB goes a step further by embedding the crucial element of “Belonging”. This not only highlights the need for diversity in terms of characteristics and backgrounds but also underlines the importance of women feeling a sense of acceptance, value, and purpose within the company.

A DEIB policy, which focuses on fostering a sense of belonging, contributes significantly to women’s mental well-being and address sexism in the workplace. It provides an environment in which women can bring their authentic selves to work, reducing the stress associated with identity concealment.

The positive impact of implementing a DEIB strategy, such as improved employee performance, increased corporate reputation, and overall company success, is directly felt by women by providing fair opportunities, creating an inclusive environment, and reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness. DEIB, therefore, emerges as a critical strategy to address the specific needs and mental well-being of women in the workforce.

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Tackling sexism in the workplace on International Women’s Day

Although tackling sexism in the workplace should be a year-round policy, International Women’s Day serves as a powerful reminder to refocus efforts and expand initiatives to create an equitable and inclusive work environment for women. Here are just some initiatives your organisation can do on IWD to reinforce this key date and future policies:

  • Host workshops addressing unconscious biases with a professional psychologist
  • Highlight success stories from the company (eg. new policies implemented for women)
  • Set measurable goals for gender diversity
  • Provide learning and training programs for career advancement

Mental well-being for companies

At ifeel, we are committed to gender equality. We are well aware of the implications that sexism in the workplace can have on the well-being of female employees and the organisation’s progress. 

To support companies in this process, our team of expert workplace well-being psychologists has created a mental well-being solution for businesses that improves talent retention, reduces presenteeism, and combats employee stress. 

With our mental well-being solution, your company’s HR managers can receive personalised, data-driven advice on improving mental health at work. In addition, this solution offers employees a 360° mental well-being service structured at different levels according to their needs. Try our solution now to see how it could help you.

We hope you found this article about sexism in the workplace interesting. If you would like more information about our mental well-being solution for companies, simply request it, and we will contact your team as soon as possible.

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