With the majority of office workers working from home since lockdown came into force in March, you’d think that the office-based sexism prevalent in far too many workplaces may have subsided in the security of people’s own homes.
But a new poll has found that far from a decrease in workplace sexism, working from home has simply meant that sexism has manifested itself in different ways.
One in three women working from home have been told to ‘dress sexier’ or wear makeup during video calls, among other sexist demands, the new survey from employment law firm Slater and Gordon found.
Two out of five of the women surveyed said such demands on dress and looks were placed only on women in the office and not equally with men, leaving them feeling “objectified, demoralised and self-conscious” about their looks.
In addition to being asked to dress more provocatively or wear makeup, others were told to ‘work on their hair’.
The most common reasons that managers gave to justify such sexist requests was that it “would help to win new business”, would be “more pleasing to a client” or that it was important “to look nice for the team”.
Commenting on the law firm survey’s findings, Slater and Gordon employment lawyer Danielle Parsons said, “It’s extremely disappointing that we are still having these conversations, particularly during this time when women are juggling a multitude of roles from home, and may be also struggling with childcare responsibilities.
“This type of archaic behaviour has no place in the modern working world.”
The survey also found that a majority of women did not report sexist behaviour to HR, and about a quarter of those polled said they complied with requests to change their appearance for fear of how it may damage their careers.
But Parsons went on to say that such requests are often not legal.
“Requests of this nature are discrimination and unlawful where male counterparts aren’t treated in this way, or where such unwanted requests create a humiliating or degrading environment for women,” she said.
Unite national officer for equalities Siobhan Endean agreed and noted that joining a union can give women the confidence to fight back against sexism in the workplace.
“This survey is sadly reflective of the fact that far too many women still face sexism at work in today’s society,” she said.
“It may be that during the coronavirus lockdown, those who hold these repugnant and outdated views have been emboldened to express them more openly because they can hide behind a computer screen,” Endean added.
“Unfortunately, many women who are subject to this kind of unacceptable behaviour are worried to speak out because of the impact it may have on their job.
“However, the first and best line of defence against sexism in the workplace, in whatever medium it occurs in, is to join a union.”
“Trade unions provide support and advice for women workers having to deal with sexism and fight on their behalf both at work and, if necessary, through the courts.”
Find out more about how Unite supports women in the workplace and how you can join here.
By Hajera Blagg