Everyday sexism abounds in the workplace — and both men and women can benefit from this being addressed, says Rachel Hopkins, CEO of Diversity Works.

"It's one of those areas that's difficult to fully separate the social context from the workplace," she says. "Sexism is the status quo — it shows itself up particularly in the workplace."

Consider gender stereotypes where a woman who happens to be a lawyer is called a female lawyer, or there's a female CEO and we have to talk about male teachers and male nurses.

"There's a societal bias over which gender 'should' be in which profession. There are stereotypes of male and female characteristics, and what roles we assume they are appropriate to play in the workplace."


She says, men are not just the problem here — they're part of the solution. Men and women need to address this together.

"We need to acknowledge that men do benefit from inequity in the workplace, but they will also benefit from gender equality.

"You can't be your full self if you've got a stereotype on you.

"How constraining is it for men who think they have to be constantly on the move in an organisation; who think they can't be teachers, nurses or flight attendants? Men who believe those are girls' jobs?"

Diversity Works is a national membership organisation that helps businesses develop diverse and inclusive workplaces.

"What we do in Diversity Works is we work to get male leaders to play a leadership role in diversity and inclusion. We talk a lot about the facts and figures around this — it's real, it's not just what people feel.

"Male privilege, the amount of space they take, the time they take up talking, the amount of assumed authority that they have. This is all real and pervasive. It's not just men who are keeping the sexist status quo — it's also women."

She says that we get gender stereotypes before we're five years old, "before we're even aware of it". Men are constrained in their careers by these assumptions too. If you're a man and you ask about flexible work hours, which is a key element of bringing women into the workplace, you're not seen as being serious about your career. However flexibility for everybody means that people can have more control over how they mix their work with other responsibilities.


"It's really helpful for people with disabilities and it's something that men can take advantage of just as much as women.

"The fact that so many women take advantage of flexible working conditions means they often accept less money and it affects their mobility in the workplace.

"It becomes a non-traditional pathway to promotion. Working part time is not seen as a way of getting the next job, it's a sort of holding pattern. If men get flexible work times as well, there's an assumption that they're not career minded or committed. It's interesting thinking of these things."

Hopkins says: "We have 400 member organisations. The ones who are doing particularly well are making sure they're addressing the systems and processes that underpin everything in an employee life cycle. "

She says there is sexism and gender inequity hard-baked into every step. "There are organisations who are deliberately pulling those things apart and are intentionally making things more equitable. For example, there are some organisations that are doing "blind CVs" — they look at CVs without the name or photograph, so in the selection process they're not aware of gender or ethnicity.

She says, "If you talk to organisations who are doing well in the gender equality space, you will find they're doing well with employee engagement results, this leads to loyalty, better productivity and so on.

"So there's a business case, not just a social justice case in this. The thing is all change comes with awareness — but awareness isn't enough, it's the starting point. When we talk about the word 'sexism' it's quite negative and people get on to the defensive. It's important to talk about stereotyping, unconscious associations, how the brain works, those sort of things.

She says: "When we talk to our members, we talk about the mix of neuroscience, performance and inclusivity. The business case and the social justice case. You need to have deliberate action and look at systems. One person isn't going to be able to make a difference, it needs to be done in a systemic way."

Examples of everyday sexism

■Evaluating women less positively than men (e.g. in job application and promotion processes).

■Ignoring and talking over women.

■Side-lining women in social and work networks.

■Seemingly harmless comments about women, such as that they are naturally better at collaborating, detailed work, child care, cooking or shopping.

■Not offering women work opportunities out of misplaced concern that they may not be able to manage it (e.g. assuming that women can't travel or work in male-dominated or heavy industries).

■Choosing women for stereotypical assignments or tasks such as taking meeting notes, getting tea or coffee or cleaning up the room after meetings.

■Unwelcome remarks about a woman's body or clothing.