Here are some recent statistics about women in employment in the U.K.:
- Women earn less than men in over 70% of occupations
- Occupations with higher levels of female employees have lower earnings
- The average woman earns 40% less than the average man
- 4 in 10 women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace
- Only 19% of employees think there is gender equality in their workplace
- Over 8 million employees feel that they have been discriminated against because of the gender
While we might think that we have improved as a society in terms of gender equality, it appears that we aren’t very progressive at all. Especially when it comes to the world of work.
There is a huge issue of gender bias within the workplace. Women are being paid less and promoted less, but harassed more and excluded more. If you are a woman in the workplace, you might be wondering what you can and should do when such issues arise. It is likely that you will encounter them at some point in yourself or others, unfortunately, and so it makes sense that you would want to be as prepared as possible.
At Aspiring to Include, we want to help with the cause of inclusion and diversity at work. A big part of this is gender inclusion and equal treatment of genders. We want to help both employees and employers work together to create the best possible working situation for everyone. With this same aim, we have created today’s blog. This specific blog aims to help female-identifying/presenting people deal with instances of bias in the workplace. The more we know, the easier it is to cope with these uncomfortable and inappropriate situations.
Let’s get started by looking at bias and what it really means.
What Is Meant by Gender Bias?
Gender bias is the favouritism of one gender over another, or the prejudice against one gender compared to another. Gender bias can happen on both sides of male vs female and female vs male, but the most common version in the workplace is a prejudice against women and favouritism of men.
As we can see from the statistics in the introduction to this blog, gender bias is alive and well in the U.K. workforce. Men are very often treated more favourably at work in lots of different ways. Women are very often doing the same job for less pay, less recognition and less chance of promotion to higher levels. We have seen for decades that women are less represented at the higher levels of employment and that this is a trickle-down effect on how other women are treated. If women aren’t represented at the top, then their needs further down the pyramid aren’t considered either.
Gender bias disadvantages women all across the U.K. in a multitude of ways. Therefore it is a very important topic to discuss and work to solve.
How Does Gender Bias Present Itself?
To challenge gender bias when we see it, we need to know when we see it. The following are some common scenarios in which you might find yourself on the wrong end of gender bias:
- You go for a promotion at work. You have 10 years of experience in the role, a Master’s degree and your job performance scores have been consistently high. Instead of you getting the promotion, your male counterpart with much less experience and education qualifications is promoted. This is due to the fact he “won’t get pregnant and leave the job for a year”.
- You are a skilled and qualified member of a team. However, in every group meeting, male colleagues speak over you when you try to talk and you cannot get your points across. You are even asked to take notes for everyone when this is not your job and is below your pay grade.
- The men in your office go for a weekly golfing trip, to which female colleagues are never invited. On this golfing trip, important work decisions are made and so the women in the office are consistently excluded.
- You are asked by your male colleague to make tea for everyone in the office every day and he makes stereotypical comments about your gender. He makes comments about your appearance and sexualises your presence in the office.
- A job advert is posted and specifically geared towards male applicants. Male pronouns are used throughout and there is the implication that no flexible working hours will be accepted.
- Periods and menstruation are seen as shameful within your office. If you speak about periods, you are made to feel that you are being inappropriate. Time off requested for period pain and/or endometriosis either isn’t accepted or is shamed by others.
There are lots of ways in which women are treated unfavourably in the workplace and these examples are by no means an extensive list. However, they give you an idea of the kind of things we are looking out for. The bottom line is if you are treated differently and as “lesser” because of your gender, this is gender bias and discrimination.
What Does the Law Say?
Gender is a “protected characteristic” under The Equality Act of 2010. This means that you cannot be discriminated against at work because of your gender. The same applies to pregnancy and maternity. All of the examples we listed above are, in fact, examples of illegal discrimination. Whether it is direct or indirect. This kind of behaviour should be reported and can be criminalised under equality law.
Knowing your rights around discrimination is key in the fight against gender bias.
What To Do Next
If you come up against gender bias, it is important that you know what you are able to do about it. The first thing to know and remember is that gender bias is completely inappropriate and illegal. You are well within your rights to speak up about it and report any instances. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you are simply being a problem for reporting gender bias or sexism. In fact, this is likely to be victimisation and furthers your case that there is a problem in the first place.
Once you know that there is a problem with gender discrimination in your workplace, here are the steps you can take:
- Address it directly within the company: If you feel comfortable and safe doing so, bring up the issue with your manager or HR department at work. Sometimes certain issues can be solved within the company without any external help and this can be easier for you. Mediation and internal disciplinary procedures can often be enough to deal with the problem that you have had.
- Speak to external sources for support and guidance: The Equality Advisory Support Service is a great option for support for any issues with bias or discrimination. They can help give you professional and experienced advice on how to handle your specific situation. Check out their site for more info.
- Speak to a solicitor: While hiring and working with a solicitor does of course incur a fee, it can be a very worthwhile way to deal with discrimination and bias. A solicitor will be able to help you with knowing your legal rights and helping to determine whether a certain situation has crossed a boundary or not. If you can afford to do so, working with a solicitor can bring very favourable outcomes to such situations.
- Change your job: While it is not always right to run away from an uncomfortable situation, this may indeed be one of your best options if you are experiencing gender bias and discrimination at work. You deserve more than working somewhere you can’t be safe or happy. If you want to be free of gender bias, it is key to find the right employer. A diversity-positive employer can make a world of difference.
If you want to find a diversity-positive employer of your own, check out our list of approved companies on Aspiring to Include. You can also take a look at our live job board for inclusive, accessible and diverse job postings.
We all deserve equal treatment at work. Let’s ditch the jobs that don’t provide it.