Sexism and harassment should not be part of anyone’s job description. We hear too often though that women experience discrimination based on their gender at work.
You’ve heard the stories.
Remember a few years back when the lone female graduate of a class of sixty electricians in New Brunswick had to go to Alberta to find work because she was not welcome by New Brunswick employers. Employers never considered her skills, because they were too concerned about her gender.
She outlined in the media what one out of many potential employers said to her: “I’m not having a 20-something-year-old girl running around here getting the attention from all the guys and creating problems with their wives and problems with my wife. So I’m not hiring any women.”
Last month, a sex scandal in the United States military came to light. Six out of the twelve male military instructors in Texas, responsible for training American military recruits, are being investigated on sex-based charges. One instructor, Sgt. Luis Walker, is being court marshaled. He faces several charges, including rape, aggravated sexual contact and aggravated sexual assault. In this case, 31 female trainees have been identified as victims.
A similar drama is unfolding with Canada’s own RCMP, an organization that is supposed to uphold the laws of the land, not break them. According to the RCMP’s website, its vision statement says that the RCMP strives to be an organization that: “ensures a healthy work environment that encourages team building, open communication and mutual respect.”
So long as you aren’t a woman, I guess.
Since November hundreds of female Mounties have come forward with their stories of sexual assault, sexual harassment and discrimination based on their gender. A class action lawsuit is being filed. So far over two hundred current and former female Mounties have added their names to the lawsuit.
In some workplaces, women face harassment and violence not only from their co-workers or superiors but also from their clients or when it comes to the health care system from patients and their family. The New Brunswick Nurses Union (NBNU) has done a lot of work to raise awareness about the violence in the workplace that nurses face. The NBNU also details some of the changes to laws and policies required to diminish this prevalent problem. According to a survey conducted by NBNU of its membership, most incidents of harsh language, verbal threats and physical harm are perpetrated by patients.
These are blatant examples where women are either discriminated against, assaulted or harassed. But sometimes sexism is more subtle. In other cases it is not harassing. It still nevertheless negatively affects productivity in the workplace. An Australian study released last month found that sexist jokes and innuendo at work is bad for business and that companies should adopt policies regarding “low level sexism”. The study’s author, Victor Rojo, is quoted as saying: “This has negative impact on the health and performance of female workers, and it creates a culture where it’s okay to be a bully.”
A Canadian study conducted in 2011 listed similar results. It found that non-harassing sexual behaviour in the workplace, no matter how harmlessly intended, reminds everyone of the traditional gender roles – subordination of women to men, women as objects – which is likely experienced negatively by women, especially at work, where women are striving to be seen as colleagues, not as sexual objects.
This study concluded that even women and men who stated enjoying sexual behaviour at work, saw their productivity diminished.
Sexism, harassment and mere sex-talk and innuendo have no place in the workplace and merely hinder everybody’s productivity. It has been compared to junk food. Some may derive pleasure from it, but at a cost. It diminishes our energy levels and harms our health. So like junk food, sex-talk at work should not be a part of our regular diet.
We all have a role to play in diminishing gender stereotypes and sexism. When it comes to sexist comments, the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ring true: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”