Sexism so subtle, we fail to notice it

by Human Capital14 Mar 2014
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.” 


  • by Guy 14/03/2014 12:59:03 PM

    Really? This is what concerns Kelly Rafferty these days? It's an expression and rightly or wrongly it is widely understood to mean "deal with the situation". It is not intended as a sexist comment nor should it be taken that way. If someone suggested that a male needs to get in touch with their feminine side, should all men who are in touch with their feelings then be similarly offended at the sexist comment?
    I think we have bigger things to worry about quite frankly than a couple of occasions where someone has mistakenly thought the male was in charge. It's not necessarily a gender bias as people make assumptions on all sorts of non-verbal indicators like body language, wardrobe, self-projection and so on. Perhaps when Susan Rooney is out with her colleagues she doesn't give of a CEO vibe. Maybe Linda Wayman defers to her date in public.
    Seriously, instead of continuing to flog this dead horse (no offense to equine readers) why don't we start to focus debate on more important issues.

  • by Richard Frazer 14/03/2014 1:18:06 PM

    Absolutely. I attended a International Womens Day event and one take away was the level of microagrressive behaviour from otherwise well meaning men.
    The gender specific joke
    The focus on attractiveness over ability
    The demeaning use of language. Imagine
    International Ladies Day.
    Men have to get better at calling other men when the choose to indulge in sexist behaviour

  • by Catherine 14/03/2014 1:39:26 PM

    Thank you so very much for acknowledging this issue (& why the "man up" phrase is inappropriate)

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