Still the 1940s? Sexism in the workplace

by HCA27 Mar 2014
It seems some industries still have problems accepting women into the workplace. The UK-based website Everyday Sexism featured these unfortunate examples of sexism in the workplace.

I'm an airline captain. I don't even notice all of the everyday sexism any more. It occasionally gets pointed out to me by my first officer and I have to tell them it happens all the time. Passengers think I'm cabin crew, engineers I talk to ask if I've told the captain yet, dispatchers invariably talk to my (usually male) first officer before he directs them in my direction. When passengers on the airbridge can see into the cockpit they actually point and stare at me – it's exhausting. There isn't a tremendous amount I can do to counter it, apart from having a sense of humour about it and being bloody good at my job.
I am a female doctor working in a public hospital. I am constantly reminded by patients and other hospital staff that being a female doctor is not yet accepted by society. The first thing a patient says when they see me is "Nurse, can I get another sandwich?", "Nurse, can I get another blanket?" or my personal favourite, "Are you a nursing student?" There have been several occasions when I have spent over 40 minutes with a patient, explaining to them that I am their doctor and running through the investigations and treatment I am going to provide, and all I get in response is: "OK, but when do I get to see the doctor?".
Veterinary medicine
I am a vet (working solely with horses), and working in a traditionally male-dominated industry is very difficult. I experience sexism on a day to day basis: "Last year when he had this done, he didn't need sedation, but then it was a male vet that saw him". When I turn up to assist in delivering a foal: "Is there any chance you can call a male vet – I just don't think you will be able to do this as a girl." I could stay here all day writing the various comments I have received.
I am a mathematician working in academia. One day I found out that one of my colleagues would frequently check with a male colleague to verify whether what I had just said (about university regulations or department politics or whatever) was true. He never does this to any of our male colleagues (at the time I was the only woman here). This is the same guy who was on a hiring committee with me. When we received a letter of recommendation praising a female candidate, he told me "The writer obviously only wanted to promote women."
While visiting one of my farming clients I was shown a plant and asked if I knew its identity. The farmer was interested that feral deer were jumping over 6 foot high fencing to get into his paddocks to eat this plant. I told him its scientific name (I didn't know its common name) and why the deer found it so palatable. He was surprised that I knew the answer and responded with "Fancy a slip of a thing like you knowing that!" I am a professional ecologist with a strong interest in botany and was on the property in that capacity. How did he think I could do my job if I couldn't even identify common pasture species!
Have you witnessed sexism in your workplace? Share your stories in the comments section.


  • by Vera P 27/03/2014 12:25:43 PM

    Even in Accountancy - still happens. "Are you one of the secretaries?"

    Other side of the coin - it happens in reverse, a male friend works as a volunteer in an ED; he wears a red shirt with Volunteer printed across the front and back. He is quite often called "doctor' by patients!

    Another recent example was when I was interviewing a male candidate for a role. together with the "Chair" of the board, also female. The candidate spoke over us both, answering questions before they were even finished and generally treated the whole interview as pretty much a foregone conclusion. He was shocked to learn that he had not been successful; and actually believed that we had been sexist against him.
    (Not so, we appointed another GENTLEman).

  • by Deborah Pearson 27/03/2014 2:19:02 PM

    My question is not intended to offend, but I wonder if a percentage of sexism is driven by an older generation where females in certain positions simply didn't exist 30yrs ago. Think about it - it wasn't that long ago where it was rare for females to be pilots, large animal vets or even tradespeople such as carpenters, etc. If that can be accepted, perhaps a large percentage of the sexism is occuring unintentionally simply due to it not being "the norm". And if that's the case, maybe sexism will simply, err, die out....

  • by Helen Harvey 27/03/2014 3:20:39 PM

    And it won't change until the men in industry change and support the women. Women "leaning in" cannot bring about change on their own.