Sometimes we speak without thinking
Unintentional sexism is very commonplace from both men and women
We can all fall into the unintentional sexism trap. It is easily done. And don’t forget that women as much as men can be caught out with the same gender based expectations when we judge situations and people based on stereotypes. When this happens people are generally making judgements and not all of them are positive or add value. So whether it’s “banter” about women not being able to parallel park and being unambitious or boys being good at science, unintentional sexism is rooted in unconscious bias. Sometimes it’s harmless but it can shift into hostility. Over time it is corrosive and wears many women down.
Research from Pew Social Trends in December 2017 suggests that the American public has very different views about what society values most in men and what it values in women and are rooted in gender stereotypes. While many say that society values honesty, morality and professional success in men, the top qualities for women are physical attractiveness and being nurturing and empathetic.
10 every day examples of unintentional sexism
- Assigning stereotypical characteristics to men (stronger, unemotional, rational) or women (over-emotional, illogical or incompetent.) This can play out in marketing campaigns and branding these stereotypes are so deeply embedded in our culture.
- Excluding people from places or conversations because of their gender “you girls wouldn’t be interested in this” or organising work events around social activities that are not inclusive – golf outings or other sporting events, spa days etc.
- Insulting people if they don’t conform to gender stereotypes. Telling a softer man to “man up” or calling him or perceiving an assertive woman as being abrasive. Both genders can experience blow back when they behave out of stereotype. Both men and women have the capacity to be both caring and assertive.
- Wolf-whistling, cat-calling, making sexual remarks or comments about people’s appearance in public because they should appreciate it and receive it as a compliment. This tends to be a male preserve although reports of sexual harassment of men by women is on the increase.
- Denying that sexism exists despite all the research to the contrary. There are still those who believe that sexism takes place and will refute any evidence. They think any calling out is excessive political correctness.
- There are those who think the natural order of things is via traditional gender roles and are resistant to change. They use “he” to cover men and women and think the word “guys” is gender neutral. It isn’t.
- Insulting someone with a sexist remark “you throw like a girl” or “she looks butch”
- Calling powerful women “bitches” and powerful men “charismatic leaders“.
- Victim blaming in areas of sexism and harassment – “she asked for it, she was dressed provocatively”
- Making assumptions around gender roles: addressing a man in a meeting even though the woman is the boss, asking a female co-worker to make coffee. One contact told me how she was upset that her manager who is a mother had refused her request to work two days a week from home because she had to think of the business.
Inadvertent sexism can often affect companies in ways they had never thought of. It leads to the development of a psychologically unsafe workplace. It is important to make sure that everyone in your workplace feels supported.