There is really no defence for this kind of attitude and sexism is clearly still alive and kicking in the UK workplace.
The research, by Slater and Gorden (2016) Click Here discovered some pretty shocking statistics:
- 37% of women said that they felt that they were ‘expected’ to refresh their wardrobe on a regular basis. 52% said that there was ‘an expectation’ that they would not wear the same outfit on lots of occasions
- 19% of women felt that there was more attention paid to their appearance by their bosses than their male peers
- 7% of women have been told by their bosses that they preferred them to wear high heels and to wear more make-up in the office or when with clients, because it made them look ‘prettier, more appealing and sexier’
- 8% of women said that they had been told off by their bosses in front of others over their appearence and had felt humiliated
- Shockingly 13% of the women interviewed said that they had succumbed to the pressure and flaunted more flesh while at work
- All of this was, according to 28% of women, because their bosses felt it was better for business.
As HR professionals we all work hard to try and create workplaces which are free of this kind of behaviour. There is nothing more socially troubling in the workplace setting than a boss who feels that he or she has the right to criticise someone because do not look pretty enough according to his or her own standards.
Workplace culture is a difficult one. Culture as a concept is hard to get your head around at the best of times, with definitions galore out there.
Of course if confronted about their attitude the bosses will say, as a defence, that they were simply acting in the best business interests of the company. The HR answer to counter that defence is that it is not in the best business interests of the company if their attitude offends someone. Also think about it this way; male bosses want their female colleagues to look sexier, prettier, more attractive at work and they say that to them and they do not have the same set of standards for their male colleagues, well that is discrimination.
Discrimination law, as we all know, supersedes all attitudes, policies and workplace practices. Human beings have the right to dignity at work. It derives from the social policy aspects of the law and is a very powerful part of the law. This something people do not understand. The law is made up of loads of different things. When you read a section or subsection of text within a statute there is a lot more to it than just the words.
When a judge interprets the law all of the considerations that were considered during the drafting of the statute, including the public policy considerations, are taken into account and the final judgement is based around an inclusive rational.
So for example the Equality Act 2010 is not just a bunch of words, it is an all-inclusive piece of law which is there to protect individual people, society as a whole and to protect the interests of the State. Also when a person at work wants women to look sexier and to flash more leg at the client in an attempt to win more business this is unethical. The damage that that person is doing to that individual, the company, society and the State is immense. That is why we have laws, laws determine and separate civilised and uncivilised behaviour.
Sorry to go on, but as HR professionals you all know what I am talking about here, but you try and explain the above to the ‘average man at work’, he is not going to get it.
The challenge therefore is to come up with practical solutions that incorporate the over-arching ideology of equality for all, that can be articulated in a simple but powerful manner.
At APM We are open for suggestions.
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