Sexism is everywhere: in the street, in the private and family sphere, at school, but also at work. Although this violence affects everyone, it particularly affects women, and the figures show it. According to a European study, 60% of women in Europe have already experienced some form of sexism at work. 11% of respondents even say they have had "forced or unwanted" sex with someone in their professional environment. It is essential to know how to identify and sanction sexist behaviour in the workplace. What is sexism and how can we fight against it?
Sexism in the workplace: what are we talking about?
Since the advent of the #MeToo movements, women's voices have been encouraged and liberated. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the gender-based and sexual violence they suffer. Situations that were tolerated yesterday are no longer tolerated today and many testimonies highlight the abusive and degrading behaviour that women are subjected to. Sexism, in the street for example, is increasingly denounced. On the other hand, in the world of work, it is still all too often camouflaged. Fear of losing one's job, feeling of shame and injustice, being left behind... Women don't necessarily dare to speak up. As a result, these degrading acts are rarely punished.
The notion of sexism can be complex to grasp, because of the different forms it can take. Negative stereotypes ("Not very smart, blonde!"), jokes and inappropriate gestures, colloquial nicknames ("my chick"), whistling, comments about the way of being ("well, are you on your period today?"), the way of dressing ("Are you going to walk the sidewalks dressed like that?"), insistent looks, touching, discrimination, violence, rape... From ordinary, often unconscious sexism to sexual harassment, the field of possibilities is wide.
According to the 2019 Recommendation on preventing and combating sexism, sexism is defined as "any act, gesture, visual representation, oral or written statement, practice or behaviour based on the idea that a person or group of people is inferior because of their sex." In other words, sexism proclaims the superiority of one sex over the other.
Sexism in Belgium
Belgium was the first country to have a law that punishes sexism : the 2014 Sexism Law. It aims to combat sexism in the public space. However, it is not limited to street harassment: forms of sexual harassment at work or online are also concerned and can be punished thanks to this law. Unfortunately, it is still not widely implemented and is not known to everyone.
The Consequences of Sexism in the Workplace
Sexism in the workplace has many impacts on women's mental and physical health. According to the CSEP/LH2 survey, 93% of female employees say that sexist behaviour modifies and decreases their performance at work, and 92% consider that it harms self-confidence. Finally, 92% feel deeply unsettled at work as a result of such behavior. Overall, sexist behaviour generates stress for the people who experience it.
Many studies have been conducted on the subject, and everyone agrees on the results: no matter the intensity, whether sexism is implicit or explicit, it is harmful to the health of the people who experience it, with high levels of psychological distress. In addition, it is important to point out that it impacts spectators with such behaviors. Indirect exposure to sexist remarks leads to an almost similar impact on workers' health and well-being.
How to fight sexism in the workplace?
Within companies, it's about getting the message across zero tolerance for sexism. This must require an assertive position on the part of management, which will provide the impetus and can really change the corporate culture. Here's how employers can (at their own level) fight against sexism in the workplace :
1) Define prohibited acts and behaviors via an official document
An official document outlining the measures and behaviours sanctioned is a first step in raising awareness of sexism among teams. Display this text in your office and/or on screens so that it is visible to as many employees as possible.
2) Establish accessible support and warning systems
Many women are afraid to testify if they have been victims of gender-based and sexual violence. Having the label "victim" stuck on your forehead is not always pleasant. To do this, the company can set up anonymous mechanisms to encourage women to speak out. An anonymous help phone number, online training/questionnaires...
3) Integrate the fight against sexism into the company's social dialogue
No, talking about sexism on March 8 is not enough. But talking about it every month is much better! Repetition will help change the company culture. The company can organize various workshops to talk about the topic openly. Round tables, brainstorming workshops, internal debates, sharing of experiences, training and best practices...
4) And above all... Don't divide men and women!
An approach that demonizes men is likely to elicit bad reactions from both men and women. Luckily, not all men are sexist and many are willing to help! It is necessary to include them in the system, in the same way as women. In addition, men can also be victims of sexist behaviour. The interest of awareness-raising concerns both sexes.
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