Sexism is a prevalent issue that women all around the world face, both personally and professionally. At the workplace, this takes a more subtle, indirect form and is termed "Casual Sexism".
Women are frequently subjected to snide, deceptive, and flippant statements disguised as comedy, concern, or compliments, which most people fail to notice. These could include remarks such as "you look great for your age" or "you are so fit having just delivered a child", while these statements appear to be innocuous, they serve to maintain and reinforce the engrained stereotypes and biases against women.
While most organisations have a zero-tolerance policy against any form of harassment and bullying, something like casual sexism often goes unnoticed, unspoken or unreported, and overlooked. Most women do not report, as they feel this is "normal" or are often told that they are overthinking. This stems from our own social conditioning, where this kind of sexism is embedded in our culture.
So, what is the solution? How can organisations address casual sexism in the workplace?
"These ongoing comments over time negatively impact women, which can lead to feeling underconfident, anxious, developing a sense of fear to severe mental health issues forcing most women to quit the workplace in turn limiting their career progression," says Smitha Chellappan, the Head - Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Interweave Consulting Pvt. Ltd.
According to Smitha, there are some strategies that organisations can implement to address casual sexism in the workplace by "Creating awareness through training programmes for all employees on what constitutes sexism and how to respond to it. Along with the training programmes, it is also important to create an environment of psychological safety for employees to be comfortable speaking up and reporting discriminatory behaviour or biased comments.
"Implement policies such as anti-discrimination or zero-tolerance policies with detailed reporting mechanisms and communicate the policies clearly to all employees. This must be reiterated by leaders in all the meetings and communications to employees. The onboarding team must make this mandatory information for all the new joiners in the company."
She asserts, "Creating a culture of accountability where all employees across the organisation are held accountable for their actions and behaviour. Organisations must set clear expectations, provide timely feedback and take necessary actions against anyone violating this code of conduct. Develop allies at the workplace, who will step in and speak up when they see and hear derogatory comments or insidious remarks.
"Most importantly, When men become allies and call out each other for sexist comments, it sends a strong message that sexist language and behaviour are not acceptable. Provide coaching for women to identify and break the barriers holding them back to confront biases and sexism in the workplace. Women must reach out to people and groups who are willing to stand with them to address discrimination and harassment."
"The solution lies in education, consistent awareness, and collective efforts of all to bring about a change. There has to be a sustained commitment to challenge gender norms, and stereotypes and call out all kinds of discrimination and biases whether direct or subtle. Organisations must focus on building a culture that values and respects all employees irrespective of their gender or background. The change will take time but it is essential to stay on the journey and most importantly, for the senior management to invest time and effort to be strong allies and advocates for an inclusive and equitable workplace," concludes Smitha.