I am particularly excited about the International Women’s Day 2020 theme this year – each for equal, as I’ve always been frustrated by the bystander effect when it comes to equality; that is the notion that demanding change is a job for someone else. This theme says we each have a role to play, and we all should pledge that gender discrimination stops with each one of us.
My favourite quote I like to use when talking to businesses about equality is by Lily Tomlin:
“I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realised I was that somebody”.
For me, I have always known I was that somebody – I was born outspoken, and have always stood up for my principles. I have never been happy that societal rules were different for me because I was female – I have lived life with the attitude that those rules need to be broken.
But that’s not to say I’ve not been affected by gender discrimination myself, because I have, on numerous occasions. From being given the drinks order in a meeting because I was the only woman (but actually one of the most senior], to being winked at in meetings, to having sexual comments made to me in a room alone by my ex-boss, to being told I didn’t get a promotion because I was in “childbearing years”. And that’s not the half of it.
But what was my reaction to all of these experiences? In most cases I spoke up and demanded better. In some instances, it did nothing – I lost my job and was struggling for money. In other instances, it opened people’s eyes. But years on, these things are STILL happening to so many women in our workforce.
Why do they put up with it if it’s so bad?
This is a question I hear a lot. The notion that people only put up with something if it’s enjoyable is somewhat laughable, considering the majority of Australians say they hate their job. But I’ll indulge.
The answer is – a multitude of factors, but in my experience, there are some that transcend country, age, and education level.
- The first is security. Many women put up with discrimination in the workplace for job security. It’s a huge gamble to give up a job, perhaps to only find it’s worse in the new office. Sometimes, it’s better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
- The second is flexibility. Many women are in positions in businesses that are beneath their skill set purely because they offer flexibility. Those caring for family members or those who don’t share caregiving roles with their partners are often left compromising their careers so they can do the school run. To keep that flexible job and the money coming in often means putting up with more. On the flip-side, many men don’t feel they can ask for flexible working arrangements to share their children’s caregiving duties, so the balance is always tipped.
- The third is that people don’t act rationally when they are being bullied or victimised. I’m sure you’ve heard people disbelieve those who have put up with domestic abuse for years saying “why don’t they just leave?”. Abusers whether at home or in the workplace make the victim feel they are worthless and deserving of the abuse. Never underestimate the psychological effect such abuse can have on its victim.
- The fourth is cultural norms. Offices are often micro-societies that have their own cultural and behavioural norms. I often hear people say after they leave a toxic workplace that don’t know why they put up with it for so long. They often describe their internal turmoil where they question if they’re just being sensitive because everyone else seems okay with the behaviour. Further, we know that women who work in certain industries put up with more than others because of the cultural norm that states “boys will be boys”.
- The fifth is small business. The majority of women are employed in small businesses in Australia – many of which don’t have a HR department. The ability for old attitudes to reign supreme in businesses that aren’t directly influenced by HR guidelines and policy can’t be underestimated.
- The sixth is fear. The majority of people don’t fancy starting a tough conversation with a colleague or boss about their concerns regarding gender discrimination – especially if the person doing the discriminating is more senior. Most people don’t like confrontation, prefer not to rock the boat and are scared to lose their job.
- Being tired. Sounds bizarre, but considering the last census revealed the majority of women working full time also do the majority of the domestic chores - tiredness can’t be underestimated. Many women’s days can be as long as 14 hours when you consider child care and / or domestic chores, and the majority never have weekends off. The effect this has on discrimination is that lack of sleep or adequate rest makes them less likely to stand up for themselves.
And this is before we’ve even thought about the gender pay gap, looked at how the media portrays women, or the lack female representation in parliament.
So how do we tackle this monumental issue?
- All businesses need to put gender on their agendas.
The theme each for equal is an opportunity for you and your business to act on gender equality. Create policies that ensure all staff understand their obligations. Let your staff and future staff know that in your business they will not be discriminated against. And if you need help, just ask us at ShireWomen.
Not sure where to start? Ask yourself:
Do you have an equal balance of gender in your workplace? Is there the same number of women in leadership and high paid positions as men? Are the women and men in the same positions receiving the same money and benefits? Do your staff understand what jokes, comments and behaviour is appropriate? Do you offer flexible working arrangements to ALL staff and encourage them to take it regardless of their gender?
And remember, just because you’d never put up with it, or just because no-one has reported anything, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Business owners must understand that by taking a stance on this (regardless of whether you think your business has an issue or not) you are protecting those that aren’t in a position to speak up. You are also saying to your potential customers and staff that it this behaviour stops with you. It’s a powerful stance to take, and a much needed one.
- It starts with you, personally
For those who are happy to speak out – do so. When you see something, say something. Say to yourself “it stops with me” and stick by it. For those that don’t feel comfortable speaking out, support those that are comfortable. Where you can, spend your money with businesses that outwardly advocate for gender equality. Ask at the interview of your next job what your future employer’s gender equality policy is, and how it’s measured. If you’re in a relationship, ensure that the domestic chores aren’t tipped one-way, and that your children regardless of gender have the same opportunities and support. And most importantly - demand equality from your politicians.
Written by Steph Rey, Managing Director of ShireWomen
ShireWomen supports both female and male led businesses in the local area who share our philosophy that women and men are equal.
Learn about membership by clicking here