As used in everyday discourses, sexism can be a confounding term as it expressed differently in various contexts by different people. Sexism, as elaborated by Barnett, implies that one gender is superior to the other. It is an ideological concept that is ingrained in the society often expressed consciously and subconsciously through socialization, workplace interactions, decision-making, or policy-making. Sexism burgeons through societal attitudes, stereotypes, beliefs, explicit as well as implicit bias directed on people of another gender. Barnett demonstrates that in the workplace, some positions are deemed better for men or women. For instance, it is widely believed that women are good in secretarial work while their male counterparts are good in technical tasks, leadership, and problem-solving roles. Sexism imposes thresholds on what men and women should do. As a term that emerged in the second wave of feminism in the 1960s, sexism has evolved over the years with researchers highlighting types of sexism as hostile and benevolent sexism.
Sexism takes various and can be expressed in ways which can be challenging to notice. Benevolent sexism, as outlined by Glick and Fiske, is where people (men and women) subconsciously feel that a particular gender favorable. With this, women are taken as compassionate, tender, and fragile, often requiring men’s protection. On the other hand, men are seen as bold, tough, and devoid of compassion. Glick and Fiske define hostile sexism as antagonistic behavior cast upon women with feministic attitudes. These are women who are standing against long-standing stereotypes that women are weak. In business and corporate spaces, when a qualified woman is not given a job because managers believe that she is not capable based on her gender, this takes the form of hostile sexism. People endorsing traditional gender roles in the workplace can be viewed as sexist towards women. Glick and Fiske exemplify hostile sexism by explaining that people (particularly men) argue that women, through feminism, are trying to gain the power to control over men. In the office, women can experience sexism through sexist jokes and comments, which usually hurt them. Such remarks can go a long way towards a woman’s success in the workplace. Unintentional sexism is where people who believe in gender equality, and do not conform to stereotypes about traditional gender roles, express sexism inadvertently through their remarks or activities. For instance, when a man says that a woman is “emotional,” it is a form of unintentional sexism that stereotypes women as emotional instead of portraying them with terms such as passionate or empathetic.
Impacts on Individuals
Pew Research Report of 2017 indicates that 53 percent of the total of the US workforce is male, while the remaining 47 percent are women. Parker, notes that the gender composition across various occupations is skewed owing to the traditional gendered roles. The researcher notes that most women work in caregiving, healthcare, or teaching. For instance, 98 percent of pre-school kindergarten teachers are female, while in the automotive industry, 99 percent of mechanics are men. These statistics showcase how the employment sector is graphed by benevolent sexism. However, in workplaces with decent gender representation of males and females, women are the most affected by sexism.
It is imperative to note that the most insidious kind of sexism often goes unnoticed, and it often manifests as micro-aggressions in meetings and day-to-day interactions that make most of the workdays. Overt sexism towards women in the workplace is not prevalent in today’s corporate world, but sexism expressed in daily interactions exists and can affect women psychologically. Glick and Fiske assert that sexism in the workplace comes as sexual harassment and discrimination. Unwelcome sexual comments, as well as sexist questions, can offend, humiliate or intimidate women. Affected women are psychologically disturbed, thus making them lose concentration in work. If sexist behavior towards women in the workplace continues, it can cause stress, anxiety, and depression, thus affecting one’s way of life. Some employees may not know the implications of sexism, and therefore, it is invaluable for organizations to have training programs and policies in place that educates employees on how to avoid sexism. On the management level, executives have to ensure that every employee, regardless of their gender, receives equal treatment regarding career development opportunities and rewards. Being aware and sensitive to other people’s emotional needs and well-being is paramount. It enables males and females to avoid making remarks or jokes that can induce stress or make one uncomfortable.
When males or females advance in their careers because of their gender and not merit, it can lead to low productivity. Also, organizations with a good representation of both genders espouse a mixed culture, thus opening up new opportunities for innovation and competition. Also, Glick and Fiske, elaborate that attitudes and beliefs exposed to women from their young age tend to influence their future productivity. Also, women growing in sexist societies have short working years as they tend to marry early or leave their work to take care of their families.
To prevent sexism penetrating daily workplace interactions and behaviors, sensitization through communication is vital. Training sessions and workshops can help nurture a culture that embraces gender equality in the workplace. Also, legislation and regulation would help eliminate aggressive behaviors such as sexual harassment and micro-aggressions, such as jokes of one’s physical appearance.
Although overt sexism is uncommon in modern workplaces, workers can be sexist through benevolent or unintentional sexist behaviors. Sexism affects mostly women than men, and it can affect them psychologically causing stress and depression. Educating workers and regulation can help prevent sexism from taking root in organizations.
Barnett, Rosalind Chait. “Ageism and Sexism in the Workplace.” Generations, vol. 29, no. 3, 2005, pp. 25–30.
Glick, Peter, and Susan T. Fiske. “An Ambivalent Alliance: Hostile and Benevolent Sexism as Complementary Justifications for Gender Inequality.” American Psychologist, vol. 56, no. 2, 2001, pp. 109–18. APA PsycNET, doi:10.1037/0003-066X.56.2.109.
Parker, Kim. “Gender Discrimination More Common for Women in Mostly Male Workplaces.” Pew Research Center, 2018, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/07/women-in-majority-male-workplaces-report-higher-rates-of-gender-discrimination/.