Five top tips to avoid sexism

Yesterday was International Women’s Day and it seemed a shame not to recognise this with a post. Gender equality has not been achieved. The gender pay gap has been in the news again this week, as has the news that attempts are at last to be made to tackle sexism in football.  It’s great that these issues are being publicised but why is it taking so long to address them and what can we do about it?

Don’t leave casual sexism unchallenged.

Challenge concept in word tag cloud of speking bubble shapeSadly we all hear sexist jokes on a regular basis and it’s all too easy to become conditioned to them so that, even as women, we barely hear or acknowledge them. Things aren’t going to change if we are not individually prepared to call to account those who joke inappropriately. Fortunately, as a society, we have made huge progress in not accepting casual racism. We need to make the same progress with sexism. Challenge doesn’t have to be directly confrontational, all you need to do is note your attitude. Most people will probably respond to a calm:

“That’s rather a sexist remark, I don’t find it funny or appropriate.”

Obviously think before you speak though. Make sure that by speaking out you will not be putting yourself at risk.

Don’t use the default male pronoun when you write – EVER!

It’s clunky to write she/he all the time and sometimes confusing when you alternate between the female and masculine pronouns. To use “their” when you mean “his” or “hers” is just plain wrong, so does it matter if you just write “he” and “his”? Yes, it does! Sexism is structurally embedded in our society and it’s easy not to notice it. The more we work towards promoting equality in everything we do, the greater the chance that we can move forward to a more equal world.

Men can be feminists too!

Women probably can’t win this fight on their own any more than ethnic minorities can defeat racism without the support of the white population. Men, we need you to be prepared to help us! You can speak up too when you become aware of casual sexism or more serious inequality. Your masculinity is enhanced rather than diminished if you refuse to be part of laddish behaviour. Have the confidence to promote equality. As a first step you might be interested to hear Emma Watson on the subject.

Don’t let the glass ceiling hold you down. Believe in yourself.

glass_ceiling300While writing this I have just read an article in The Lawyer about the paucity of women in the top management of law firms, and another about the gender inequality in academic social science publishing. All of this is shocking;  for twenty years the majority of entrants to the legal profession have been women and there are a large number of feminist female academics involved in social science. It seems that the problems are also endemic in the wider business world. This comment in The Lawyer article citing a comment by “Yum!” general counsel Sarah Nelson-Smith about her company did raise a wry smile for me.

“In our last panel review we met more people named Mark than women!”

So what makes a difference according to The Lawyer article?

“A big part of what drove (successful) women into senior roles was their drive and confidence in their performance. That is reflected in the fact they were all closely involved in the management of their respective practice areas and displayed an active interest in developing their firms’ external and internal profiles.”

So how you might develop such confidence?

Consider attending the Warwick Sprint programme.

This is a blatant plug, not something I usually do, but if you are a female student at Warwick consider signing up for the next Sprint programme, due to be run early next term. Here is the link.  Sprint has some very well-known corporate sponsors and aims to address the salary inequalities present in the graduate labour market by working with women to develop their self-belief, confidence, and assertiveness. The course teaches women to understand how to harness their personal power, to boost their personal effectiveness, develop networks and to link with sponsoring organisations. The first course held last term was a huge success and the programme is set to be a regular feature at Warwick. This is only open to women and gives you the opportunity to be mentored by highly successful women and to develop your own confidence. Here’s what Anne Wilson, Head of Careers here at Warwick and one of the Sprint trainers said about it:

“By day 4, when students were delivering their presentations, all were standing taller than at the start of the programme. Student confidence had increased measurably, with many examples of student success in evidence. It was very moving to see how empowered the participants had become. Warwick women students are incredibly capable and talented. Some simply need some time out to develop the self- belief that will ensure their success.”

And my take?

Let’s work together to make some progress before the next International Women’s Day. How about starting by sending this post viral?

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