7 ways women contribute to workplace sexism

by | Aug 16, 2018

How women contribute to workplace sexism without even realising

Many people believe that sexism is simply about gender imbalance. Gender bias and sexism is a gender neutral phenomenon and unwittingly women contribute to workplace sexism 

Research from the US found that women reported experiencing higher levels of incivility from other women than from their male coworkers. Typically this would include being addressed in unprofessional terms, being excluded both professionally and socially (a typical female WMD) becoming the target of negative comments and receiving negative non-verbal communication signals which some women have perfected to a fine art. We all know the "mean girl" looks survive way after high school.

Further research also suggests that women are five times more likely to be bullied or mobbed in the workplace by a man. Very often the perpetrator is a woman. The reason is rooted deep in our primal DNA and the preservation of the species, where women see other women as competition for the "best men." In a corporate sense powerful men are found usually at the top of the pyramid.

Toxic culture

The impact of working in an uncivil, disrespectful or toxic culture has a significant impact on employee engagement. A toxic company culture corrodes any organisation, reducing productivity, stifling innovation and eliminating positive communication. It can lead to conflict (not to be confused with creative dissent) leading to a negative atmosphere. Here we see high levels of sickness, mental health issues and unexplained absenteeism.

How unknowingly women contribute to workplace sexism

It's important that everyone becomes aware of their own behaviour to avoid adding to workplace sexism.

#1 Gender based expectations

Both men and women have biases around gender coded expectations. These behaviours and attitudes are reflected every day in the workplace and women contribute to workplace sexism in much the same way as their male colleagues.  For example they can:

  • ask illegal interview questions
  • assume women will want time off to take care of their kids
  • perceive assertive behaviour as aggressive
  • have pre-conceived views about certain types of clothes or make-up

#2 Sabotage

Women can be guilty of sabotaging other women by negative comments, harsh  feedback and criticism, and even their silence. If women fail to support their female colleagues then this can be a form of sabotage.

women contribute to workplace sexism

Supporting women in the workplace comes in many forms. One key method is through mentoring. Contact 3Plus now for more information about our range of experienced mentors.

#3 Exclusion

One woman reported how her female boss started to professionally exclude her from key meetings and email distribution lists. Colleagues  then stopped sharing information with her. This eventually extended to not receiving invitations to lunch outings and other social events within the department creating a sense of isolation. Feeling included is a critical component of employee engagement and productivity.

#4 Under-mining

Female colleagues can undermine another woman by deferring to their male colleagues. Dana told us that one of her co-workers gave the male members of the team priority in all her dealings, even if it meant keeping other women waiting. "It showed a lack of respect for our time." It can also happen verbally or by demeaning non-verbal communication. These actions call into question the level of professionalism, the value of their experience, qualifications or input. A woman might speak to a junior man in a meeting assuming that he is senior to the women present! It happens all the time.

#5 Unprofessional language

This could be in the way you address your female colleagues or the tone used in emails or other forms of communication. It can take the form of emoting, name calling, swearing or any other interaction which is not constructive or respectful.

#6 Gossip

Undermining female colleagues, reports or bosses by gossiping about them is also unprofessional.  To quote Life Coach Mary Lynn Zeimer:

If you feel you have to say something, be sure to venture down a more positive path. Change the topic to something more pleasant or excuse yourself and leave the conversation.  There is always a way to disengage politely.  (Excusing yourself to the restroom is always a good tactic.)

#7 Silence

Silence can be just as damaging as pro-active sexism. Women who stand by and watch sexist behaviour without stepping or speaking up, are complicit. They foster a culture of collusion. They might turn a blind eye or ear to "banter" or sexist comments. Remember that anyone who stands by without intervening also risks being named in legal action as a third-party.

It is important to recognise the subtleties of office life. 3Plus offers training and workshops on Unconscious Bias. They offer valuable insight into how to create a more inclusive workplace.

If you feel passionate about gender balance and topical issues impacting women in the workplace 3Plus would be delighted to publish your work. Don't wait - send it in

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