Combatting sexism in the workplace

Sexism as a problem in workplaces is passé but entrepreneurs must ensure they're on the right track to eliminate the epidemic of discrimination against women. Female founder Rita Trehan offers some handy tips to achieve equality

Combatting sexism in the workplace

Institutional sexism has unfortunately plagued workplaces all over the world since the conception of business itself. While sexism exists everywhere, it doesn’t mean that policies and regulations exist in an inherently sexist way but that work cultures and attitudes have a similarly detrimental effect for women.

Working towards ending workplace discrimination needn’t be intimidating. In fact, with a few like-minded employees and some simple steps, moving towards it could be easier than you think.

Empower female members of staff

It’s common practice for female employees to assume that sexism applies to them as individuals. It’s important to remind them that as wrong as it is, this is historically how it’s always been and not necessarily a reflection of their capabilities.

Thankfully the boys’ club mentality that has monopolised many industries is showing signs of dying out but more work needs to be done to start levelling out the playing field. Ensuring that management, mentors and leaders give female colleagues the opportunity to reach their potential and the ability to voice their opinions will make a monumental difference in readdressing the balance and in creating a more comfortable environment for everyone.

Most female professionals would admit that their greatest critic is usually themselves and that, accompanied by the difficult environment the workplace can provide, can be hard to thrive in. Helping them to have the ability to hold their own in the office is an invaluable weapon in the fight against institutional sexism. Being able to stick to their guns and articulating a solid argument can help them work towards being seen as more of an equal.

A report suggests that two-thirds of women in the UK suffer with Imposter Syndrome at work. Such strong feelings of self-doubt and insecurity can make them feel as though they’re not worthy of their positions at work, which in turn can deter women from going for more senior roles, resulting in gender balance within management harder to achieve. Other than promotions and climbing the ladder, combatting workplace insecurities can of course improve work performance, as well as giving female staff the confidence to trust their instincts and to pursue their ambition. 

Encourage female staff to back each other

Implementing some kind of informal networking group and assisting women to find allies in the workplace can help them become more confident and it can also start to solve the issue of women being forced into the background because it’s a lot harder to ignore five women than one. It certainly isn’t a quick fix but having professional support helps women to be heard in the workplace and can be beneficial for their wellbeing.

For instance, during the Obama administration, women within the White House would use their amplification strategy to ensure women were being heard in meetings and in group settings. If a woman offered an opinion or idea that went unnoticed, other women would echo it until it was acknowledged by the chair. This technique doesn’t need to be performed solely by women, male employees can support this initiative. Just having someone who can help convey a message when it could get lost in a busy work environment can make all the difference.

Encourage diversity

Celebrating strong women in the workplace and using them as role models can help address the imbalance within institutions as well as allow teams to lead by example. Capable, bold women in the workplace may feel like a novelty to some but as the number of these role models increase, not only will more women have the opportunity to shine but it will become the norm as it should be already. 

It doesn’t end with promoting more women to senior roles. Asking for feedback or inviting staff to give their ideas on how to tackle the diversity problem will highlight that there’s an issue and will encourage staff to think of creative initiatives to solve the problem.

Being transparent about wanting to make a change is essential for decision-makers. Remember that some people can be resistant to change, especially if it’s always been that way. Ask staff direct questions like: “Why should we make a change and how can we make it?” and witness their motivation to drive that change soar. 

Call it out

Don’t be tempted to laugh along with any jokes that could be seen as discriminative or to ignore anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. These passive acts can often be just as bad as outright sexism. Encourage your female staff to take direct action and discuss the issue with their colleagues to get them to realise why they’re wrong or stop their behaviour. If the thought of confrontation is worrying to them, perhaps take the responsibility into your hands.

Just because workplace discrimination exists, doesn’t mean it has to. Everyone deserves a workplace to feel comfortable in – let’s help support each other to thrive in workplaces and help the workers reach their potential. 

Rita Trehan
Rita Trehan

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