HRD forum is the place for positive industry interaction and welcomes your professional and informed opinion.

Still the 1940s? Sexism in the workplace

Notify me of new replies via email
HC Online | 27 Mar 2014, 11:01 AM Agree 0
Despite strides towards equality, sexism is still alive and well in many workplaces. Some of these stories will make you shake your HR head.
  • Vera P | 27 Mar 2014, 12:25 PM Agree 0
    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).

  • Deborah Pearson | 27 Mar 2014, 02:19 PM Agree 0
    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....
  • Helen Harvey | 27 Mar 2014, 03:20 PM Agree 0
    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.
  • Vera P | 28 Mar 2014, 09:16 AM Agree 0
    Agree with both Helen and Deborah; and it is interesting to note that much of the 1940's sexism comes from females as well as males.
  • Helen Harvey | 28 Mar 2014, 09:44 AM Agree 0
    Given most of the older generation of women aren't in management positions, I'm much more enthusiastic about sexism from the older generation of men dying out :).
  • M TeBay | 28 Mar 2014, 12:22 PM Agree 0
    wait what! - in the 40's men aged between 25 and 45 would now be aged 94 to 119 years old. Male Pilots 30 years ago would now be 60year plus and not likely to be in the industry. Waiting for sexism to die out is not working!
  • Vera P | 31 Mar 2014, 12:41 PM Agree 0
    No it isn't working, we have sexist language and sexist attitudes very prevalent in all walks of life (see the other HC article "Sexism so subtle we fail to notice it"). At the risk of raising ire, does it matter? I think that the perception of sexism can often incorrectly colour the relevant topic; we can go off at a tangent instead of focusing on the real subject matter.
  • Helen Harvey | 31 Mar 2014, 01:59 PM Agree 0
    I'm confused Vera - what is the real subject matter? I thought sexism in the workplace was the topic we were discussing? Read another report recently about a group of resumes being presented to two different groups. The only difference between the two sets of resumes was that one group received them with male names attached and the other group received them with female names attached. The male "applicants" were not only perceived as being more qualified and skilled but were also seen as worthy of more pay. Surely sexism is relevant to all women in the workforce?
  • Vera P | 31 Mar 2014, 02:26 PM Agree 0
    Thanks Helen, in this case the real subject matter is of course that sexism exists in a lot of industries. But that all the anecdotal comments within the article point to outsiders, observers or clients being the sexists rather than colleagues (except for the mathematician). My comments were not intended to cause any confusion, but rather to ask the question "does it really matter if customers/clients etc still have sexist attitudes towards the roles that women hold?".
    And if it does matter (as I suspect it does!) how do we educate the public, rather than the people within our own professions?

    Is it more public perception that keeps sexism alive and well, rather than the attitudes of professionals who know better?

  • Maxine M. | 08 Aug 2014, 04:46 AM Agree 0
    This comment concerns what I believe may be sexism and ageism within a corporation and perpetuated by men in power. I'm wondering if anyone else has experienced something similar. I am a midlife professional who, four years ago, switched to a different career. I spent two years in a very low-level role - which was fine - and then finally got a chance for a promotion. The interview process was a little awkward as I was being interviewed by folks I already worked (very hard) for. In the end I did not get the promotion, while women who are 20 years younger - and wear to the office more makeup, higher heels, and more expensive clothing than I can afford - are in the type of job I did not get. They also have a lower skill level (as evidenced, for example, by the fact that many do not use correct grammar and believe that percentages are high-level math). For a while I chalked up this failure on my part to a lack of what they call "cultural fit." Then, today I heard from a female colleague who is a similar age to me, but much more accomplished. I work with her regularly and look up to her a great deal. She is being passed over for a position that she would be amazing for, because, as her male supervisor told us, her skill set "may not be sufficient." I could not believe what I was hearing. She is extremely capable and one of the best professionals I have ever encountered. I can't help but wonder if certain male supervisors have as their objective to sow insecurity in their female subordinates who may no longer be 22 years old. Any thoughts on this?
  • Renie | 08 Aug 2014, 09:42 AM Agree 0
    Maxine, you open another layer of discussion here. I agree with your comments, and I also wonder whether older more accomplished women are not promoted is from fear that they are then perceived (from the outside) as the superior of the younger (usually male) manager?

  • Maxine M. | 08 Aug 2014, 10:14 AM Agree 0
    Renie, I'm a bit relieved to know that you have witnessed this phenomenon as well. You might be right about men in positions of power feeling threatened by accomplished women that have been around a while. It might be easier for a man to feel powerful when surrounded by men who he believes are like him, and/or young women. I don't believe that male bosses are specifically, consciously thinking that they are going to stick it to us older gals. They probably have some kind of gut feeling that they don't want us to advance nearer to their position, so they then conclude that we are not a good fit and make up some reason. Does anyone think this hypothesis may have some validity? If so, how do we bring it to light and start to do something about it?
  • Renie | 08 Aug 2014, 10:42 AM Agree 0
    Maxine, it certainly depends upon the business, and whether the male concerned is the owner (in which case there is probably very little that can be done).

    I immediately knew exactly what you meant in your post. I have been the victim of the "sexism/ageism"; when two younger chaps purchased the practice where I had been employed for many years, in a very senior role, and well respected within the community.

    The clients still regarded me (and another older woman) as the person "to go to". Instead of seeing this as a strength and an advantage; their egos saw this as a threat.

    An older male may have been content to let us be a public face of the practice, and continue to reap the financial rewards.

    But we were constantly belittled, asked when were we going to retire, left out of discussions; and then finally made redundant when they decided they had no positions available for "seniors" who were not partners.

    Since then, they have surrounded themselves with very young graduates, mostly female.

    I don't think it is only our sex, nor our age; but also our experience that frightens them. We may question what they say or do! (and just quietly, we may be a bit more clever than they). Our very being undermines their perceived position.

    Mine has a happy ending. I opened my own practice, and many of my old clients have followed me.

Post a reply