Workplace sexism, how can we fight it?

Here’s how it all went down… 

Recently, I started a waitressing job in a posh hotel and well… lets just say I didn’t last long. I want to be clear that the waiting staff were all kind, open, independent and supportive team players. Unfortunately, however, the chefs created a pretty toxic environment to work in. The majority of their time they would either throw things in a rage or shout sexist comments across the kitchen, asking female members of staff if they were on their ‘jam rags’, to ‘get their nipple out’ (persistently… for an hour), saying they’d ‘give her one’ after female staff had left the kitchen and that they would ‘shag you unconscious’ (which constitutes as rape). This was kind of wearing but I reached a limit on what was supposed to be a 12 hour shift. We had a wedding, which meant serving 3 course meals to over 30 people, not including the customers in the restaurant. As we were rushing in and out of the kitchen, the chefs decided to ‘play a game’ where they would turn off all the fans, leaving the heat from the industrial hobs, ovens, heaters and steam from the dishwasher to build up to 51 degree heat. Entering the kitchen was like being hit be a heat wave in Mumbai. While the chefs were laughing ‘if you can’t take the heat, get out the fucking kitchen mate!’ the waiting staff were dripping with sweat in unworkable conditions. What made matters worse, was that managements meager pleads with the chefs, to turn the fans on, were ignored completely. The waiting staff were told to stand outside and cool down until they turned the fans on. Sitting outside in the restaurant with water in our hands, the assistant manager asked me what was wrong. ‘To be honest, I’m pissed off. I’m sick of the sexist comments. I’m sick of-’ she interrupted me to divulge that 4 other female members of staff had reported this, mentioning comments about the chefs being able to ‘fit five dicks into a vagina’ at once. When she publicly mentioned this to the manager, on the restaurant floor, the manager replied ‘I heard it’s not true’. The hotels system for reporting was evidently non-existent because the managers prioritised gossip over taking women seriously. Management were reasonable people, yet ineffective. Unfortunately, what it drains down tom, is normalised expectations and money. I can only assume that the manager was scared to lose any of the chefs because that would cost time and money spent trying to recruit new ones. 

How it effects us

This got me thinking… I was privileged enough to be able to quit and get a new job the next day but other workers had children to feed or money to send back to their families abroad. They’ve been shrugging off this behaviour for months and still have to. Some members of staff explained that the reports were ‘shit stirring’ while the chef’s simplified ‘they should come and say it to my face’. This creates a fearful atmosphere, giving staff a choice to try and address issues with ineffective management or laugh it off to protect themselves because ‘it’s not a big deal’. The fact that the chefs faced no consequences permitted them to continue. Begging the question, who will be protected if this play for power gets physical? Putting up with discrimination is not something that women should have to do, and it’s unwise to think that encouraging bullying doesn’t affect men either. When I complained, one male member of staff began to say that he couldn’t see a problem, despite the fact that they were making inappropriate comments about his sister earlier on. Either he was defending their behaviour, desensitised to it or had evaluated who clearly held the most power at his workplace and decided to tactically side with the safest bet. The reality is, many of us, myself included, could say we’ve experienced worse because this kind of stuff is arbitrary, common,  ‘normal’.

How can we stop workplace sexism? 

Firstly, managers need to have a confidential reporting system which respects women or anyone who reports and operates on a warning/strike basis for the perpetrators. Without consequences, there is no justice. Of course, then comes prevention. If we have no education on feminism, how can we know or learn what’s appropriate? Staff need training or briefings to outline what all types of discrimination looks like. In my situation, the workforce was predominantly female, but male lead. The problem with women talking to men about gender related issues, is that they may not listen to you, because you’re a woman. Fun! ISN’T IT?! To engage men on the subject, we need to build, utilise and include male allies, whilst being careful to check biases. This can have long-term effects. 

So your managers don’t protect you… now what? 

You could always take the time to discuss the above ideas with your managers. Ideally, the workers would come together and make a proposal to management, taking matters into their own hands on their own terms. However, in the very possible version of reality where your managers are not prepared to act and the mood between staff is hostile or fragmented, it is not unreasonable for you to seek support externally. You have every right to contact your union or join one, and every right to be transparent with your manager about doing so. Quite frankly, any whiff of a union will make your managers shit the bed. In your job interview or whilst at work ask what the policy is around gender based discrimination. Ask how the reporting system for sexual abuse works. This is not abrupt and you do not have to apologise for protecting yourself.

Tips from friends on how to fight it

“In what would be considered ‘minor’ incidents… very clearly say exactly how what has happened makes you feel… or give them the confused and disgusted face with an awkward silence”

Katy

“Report culture needs to be promoted”

Linda

“Something that really helped in my office experiences with a lot of men was an older woman who had all the women’s backs, whenever something happened my female colleagues and I started going to them and they would strongly encourage us and support us to complain and get the person sacked or to write an apology letter”

Sophie 

“Prevent it by showing support to others who have experienced it”

Alexa

“A transparent pay policy – teachers wages are set by gov so means harder to pay men and women differently!”

Helen

“I’d say the main one is not being afraid to call people out on it and realising that the fear of being seen as ‘precious’ etc for taking offence to sexist remarks is just something bred in us by the motherfuuuucking patriarchy”

Katie

“Creating campaigns or asking the managers to join national feminist/workplace sexism campaigns… Seeing if there’s a union you can join”

Kaleya

When it feels right, try out some of these tips to fight sexism in the workplace, so that we are no longer swimming against the tide.

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