Sexism so subtle, we fail to notice it

Sexism in the workplace is alive and well. But as one astute HC Online reader pointed out, it’s often so subtle we fail to notice it.

Misogyny may be a rare beast in today’s modern workplace, but sexism is alive and well. The problem is that all-too-often, it’s so subtle we fail to notice it.
It’s not the conservative male making anti-woman, misogynistic comments that crops up in modern workplaces today – in most cases, that man “would get laughed out of the lunchroom unless he adapted his language and behaviours,” high profile businesswoman Janet Holmes a Court told attendees at the CEO Voice series.
Rather, it’s the covert, seemingly meaningless incidents that propagate the deep-rooted belief system that men automatically have a higher ranking in society than women.
For instance, there are the vague assumptions that a man is in charge. Cancer Council chief executive Susan Rooney recalls being subject to assumptions that she worked for her male colleagues, rather than being the one in charge, describing it as “a cultural problem in Australia”.
Southern Cross Austereo General manager Linda Wayman can sympathise; at an industry function last year, the host wrongly assumed that her male date was running the show and introduced him as the event sponsor, rather than Wayman.
Even at HC Online, we’ve been known to fall into this trap. In our recent news story, 3 scenarios where line managers need to man up, we quoted an expert on making difficult employee decisions. “Sometimes you need to man up and make the right decision, even if it isn’t easy,” said Lawrence Polsky, managing partner of PeopleNRG.
His choice of using the words ‘man up’ was subtle an unintentional, but it still caught the attention of HR professional Kelly Rafferty.
“I think that gender should not be a reference point for strength or an individual having the willingness to step into difficult situations,” Rafferty rightly pointed out.
“Obviously, both men and women can be compassionate, strong, capable, inspiring leaders. I’m hopeful that we can move to a place in this country where strength and fortitude are regarded as capabilities that both genders can be recognised for.” 

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