Subtle Sexist Traits: Work Edition

Faija Tasfia & Marwa Kazi Mohammed 

A few mornings ago, I woke up to discover the wonderful news of Cricketer Virat Kohli and actress Anushka Sharma expecting a child together. As the world went gaga with happiness, I came across a fun little thread of comments that started with a woman saying, ” Oh now that Virat is going to be a father, will he be able to handle parenthood and captaincy?”

This was followed by many women chipping in to put in their two cents of humor laced commentary, saying Virat should just quit playing cricket and take fatherhood more seriously, he should willing resign from captaincy as nobody needs a cranky player messing up the game, how Anushka can help him by changing nappies every once in a while.

It made me laugh, how women jumped in the chance to switch up the roles and showcase the double standards people have for men and women, and the inherently sexist notions of that thinking. I laughed and scrolled on, but couldn’t quite shake it off. It’s staggering that this is the year 2020 and although the rate of women in the job sector has increased remarkably over the last few decades, women still face various discriminatory and sexist behavior in the workplace. Women are victims of discrimination starting from the hiring to the promotion process. 

According to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) 2015-16 by Bangladesh Bureau Statistics, the unemployment rate among female graduates is about 2.5 times more than their male counterparts. It makes us question why? Are women less qualified? Are they incapable of doing their jobs? What is it that prevents them from reaching an equilibrium with men of the same skills and qualifications?  The words to explain these behaviors is Prejudice and Sexism.

It starts with the big things, like employers often considering women as an extra cost burden. They are opted out for inane reasons like lack of authority, maternity leave, having to create facilities for women in the workplace, etc. Employers often say hiring a woman is a waste because she will get pregnant and leave the job eventually, or she won’t prioritize work over family or motherhood, or women have too many “female problems”, referring to women’s menstruation and blaming it for whenever a woman makes any mistakes. Women aren’t preferred to get hired simply because of their gender and the preset patriarchal stereotypes that employers have in their minds. If they do miraculously get hired, often it’s with a much lower wage than their male counterparts, or in roles that don’t require traditionally, stereotypically male job roles such as working in the field. 

And it doesn’t get any easier after getting hired. The entire office gossips about how she must have slept with someone to get the position, disrespecting the qualifications and ethical strength of the woman. Any promotion so gets is credited to her being pretty, seductive, characterless. But if the same things are achieved by a man, they are applauded for their hard work with nobody shaking their heads and questioning how much of this he deserves. Women are, moreover, excluded from important meetings, and decision making discussions. Their ideas are many times undermined, even ignored. They are made to feel that they’re only here because the organization had to take women and they are nothing but accessories. If a woman acts strategically and professionally, they are labeled as calculative and bossy, when a man is just a boss, a hustler. 

Even if a woman struggles through all of this and manages to reach a top position, men tend to not take their authority seriously. They are scrutinized more and exposed to worse experiences for being “the only woman” or “one of the few women” in that position.  Another danger of being in this position is the “glass cliff” phenomenon. This phenomenon happens when women achieve leadership roles during periods of downturn, crisis, conflict, or failure within the organization, so if the organization fails during these times of trouble, the woman is blamed and used as the scapegoat.  

And this is just scratching the surface of the big things at play. For a society that is patriarchal in its roots, the struggle for women is every day. And so is sexism. It happens in the workplace in the form of office conversations, compliments, or simple office banter that often sounds like, “Make sure you wear your low-cut dress to meet with that client,” “Please get everyone their coffee, don’t worry about missing anything you only have to take the minutes,” “Why are you so angry and hysterical, is it your time of the month?” This kind of casual sexism often goes unnoticed or may seem harmless as they are often cloaked in-jokes, and any retaliation to them is labeled as not being able to. take a joke. This casual sexism affects the perception, value, and productivity of a woman very deeply Saying a colleague is doing great for a woman, making sexual comments, talking in a condescending tone, attributing her behavior as hormonal or because of her menstrual cycle, etc makes her unsure of her own self-worth, question her credibility and shake her confidence, ultimately resulting in the woman dropping out of the workforce. And the numbers reflect this story as well.

With the exit of Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo, the number of women has reduced to below two dozen in the list of CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies. The discrimination against women, along with casual sexism to battle, women are discouraged to continue pursuing their passions and career by enduring toxic workplace culture every day. 

But it isn’t just the discrimination and sexism for the women of this subcontinent. The cultural pressure of “settling down” and focusing on family and children stigmatizes women working severely. In the face of the increasing pressure of expanding family and uneven family responsibilities, women have not much choice left except to cave.   Even today women are forced to choose between motherhood and career, a choice men seldom face. This normalized paradigm of parenthood and career being either or for women is the very root of the problem that the patriarchy has manifested over the society, which makes feminism and gender struggle still very relevant today, creating terms like ‘the glass ceiling’ and putting the responsibility on women to fight and overcome these double standards by popularizing terms like “breaking the glass ceiling” instead of holding the system and the people who create these disparities accountable.

‘’The only way you run the company for the duration of the company and not the duration of the CEO is to invest responsibly in the transformation when the world demands transformation’’, said Indra Nooyi at the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival Afternoon of Convention. Unfortunately, even in this age and time, the lack of conscious action to eliminate the damaging sexism at work is contrary to the vision Indra Nooyi dreamed of. This is causing a loss of a whole percentage of talented hardworking women over the ego and reluctance to change the opposite gender and the patriarchal system that has created those people. From Taylor Swift to Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, women in every sector has to not only exceptionally excel at their work, but they also have to constantly shake off the gender-based obstacles thrown at them just to even survive, standard men, don’t have to reach. So if the change doesn’t come soon, we are at the brink of exhausting half the workforce with these impossible standards, ultimately losing women of great potential to the societal and patriarchal notions that are keeping women from reaching their deserved heights.   

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