This summer Laura Trott won her 4th Olympic gold medal, making her one of the most successful British female Olympians. A few minutes after this amazing achievement, her fiancé, Jason Kenny won his 6th Olympic gold medal. Laura Trott made her way over to her fiancé to congratulate him on this amazing accomplishment. Chris Boardman, who was commentating on the cycling events, said “He’s probably asking her what’s for tea?”
During the Olympics, swimmer Katie Ledecky broke the world record for the 800m freestyle. This was widely reported the next day as her being the “new Michael Phelps” or that “she swims like a man”. Katinka Hosszu, the Hungarian swimmer, won a gold medal in the women’s 400m individual medley and smashed the world record. Immediately after the race the screens cut to her coach and husband who the commentators stated was “responsible for her success”. Simone Biles won 4 gold medals at the Rio Olympics and following one of her routines, the commentators stated that “she can jump higher than some men”. A common theme at the Rio Olympics was for the commentators to compare the female competitor’s performance with their male counterparts. Their achievements could not be seen as their own.
The above are just some of the many instances of casual sexism that happen every day. It is shocking that in 2016, people still have such an old-fashioned view of women and what women think about or want.
Such sexism also happens in the workplace every day. It is important to understand that it is not only the intent with which you say something that is key; it is the way that it will be received. We see examples where comments have been made or heard have meant something very different to the person saying them compared to the person hearing them. Also sometimes words are not even needed. It can be something as simple as someone rolling their eyes and being patronising when speaking to a female colleague, treating her differently or being derogatory about her skills or assuming that she is worse at performing a certain task because she is a woman. Alternatively, invading a female colleague’s personal space, commenting on her appearance or making unwanted advances can constitute sex harassment.
Sadly, some women say that they are now resigned to such casual sexism. They feel that their complaints will fall on deaf ears or that they will be accused of inviting sexist comments. This should not be the case. It is very important for employers to hold training sessions to ensure that staff are aware of how their behaviour affects those around them. Employers should also have equal opportunities policies to which they pay more than lip service.
So, what can we do about casual sexism, both in the wider world and in the workplace?
Don’t be that person who listens to someone making sexist comments and doesn’t confront them. Speak up – we can all help to change attitudes.
Don’t be the casual sexist yourself. Think about what you are saying, how it will be received and if you have any doubt about it, don’t say it. Imagine how those words would sound read out at an Employment Tribunal.
Thoughtlessness is no defence.