Shelley Bridgeman 's Opinion

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Sexism is alive and well at work

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Women continue to be discriminated against in interviews by having to sit through sexist questioning. Photo / Thinkstock
Women continue to be discriminated against in interviews by having to sit through sexist questioning. Photo / Thinkstock

So sexism is alive and well in the workplace as revealed in Firm slapped for quizzing jobseeker about baby plans. Who'd have thought? Well, me for one. I had no reason to believe the issue of gender discrimination had disappeared since the 90s when I was last actively involved in the job market.

I applied for plenty of roles during my years in the corporate world and I lost count of the number of times I was quizzed by potential employers about whether I was poised to procreate. How rude! Yet this appears to be the lot of women of childbearing age.

But, of course, knowing that a militant feminist isn't likely to star on many lists of desirable employees, I just smiled through the interviews when I actually should have reprimanded them for their blatant sexism. I have the greatest admiration though for women who are prepared to report un-PC interviewers to the appropriate authorities.

Job-seekers and interviewers have an asymmetrical relationship. The former needs a job in order to survive while the latter, as gate-keepers to employment, have the privilege of holding all the power. It takes a brave woman to complain to the Human Rights Commission about being discriminated against.

In addition to being questioned about whether she planned to have a baby, "Abby", who featured in the story above, was asked what her partner did for a living. I can't decide if that is more or less offensive than when an interviewer asked me what my father did for a living. Both questions doubtless stem from the same misogynistic belief that women are defined by their relationship to the men in their lives.

It's important to understand that such reports of inappropriate and unlawful questioning reveal just the tip of the iceberg. I'm certain that people like me, unprepared to make a fuss, would far outnumber principled and outspoken heroines such as Abby. Women are continually discriminated against at interviews and when we put up with it we silently allow this practice to flourish unchallenged. It's such an entrenched and natural part of the employment landscape that many of us don't even comment on it amongst ourselves.

But, hey, it seems there's a bright note on the horizon. Not all sectors treat women quite as badly as they could possibly be treated. In 2009 the NBR reported that NZ's female engineers suffer less sexism than Aussies. That's right, only 12 per cent of Kiwi female engineers endured sexism while 42 per cent of their Australian counterparts did.

I think that was supposed to be a good news story. Well, firstly, reports of sexism can never constitute good news. And, secondly, since Australia doesn't hold the world's most exemplary record for human rights, comparing favourably to that nation on discrimination against women can't convincingly be sold as a cause for celebration.

Women in the workforce in New Zealand are still paid less than men for an equivalent job - estimates range from 10 per cent less overall to up to 17 per cent less for graduates. The article Talley's blasted for sex discrimination reported how in a frozen food company women were made fish trimmers while men were given the higher-paying role of fish filleters. A High Court ruling determined that this was discrimination but, let's be honest, in light of the ongoing poor treatment of female workers, it could equally well be described as "business as usual".

What's your experience of sexism in the recruitment process and the workplace? Do you make a fuss when you encounter it or do you diplomatically ignore it? Will the situation ever change? Are you aware of instances in which men are paid more than women for the same role?

Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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