The UK does not want 'Hooters'. It is a retrograde step for a country dedicated to gender equality

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Festive sexism - take a stand!

It’s Christmas time, mistletoe and wine… If you’re heading to your work’s Christmas party this year, hopefully it’ll be a fun excuse to let your hair down at your company’s expense. With any luck, the worst that’ll happen is you’ll wake up the next day with a sore head. And that’s what the case will be for most people.

But there is still a tiny percentage of companies who have their heads in the 1970s and think that sexism (the belief that one gender deserves inferior treatment) is still just peachy. Whether it’s inappropriate comments or gestures towards colleagues (drunkenness is no excuse), or the location of the party in a retro-sexist dive (like Hooters)… you don’t need to accept workplace sexism.

And with regards to your business’s Christmas party: it doesn’t matter if sexism happens outside of the workplace because it is still your company’s concern.

We should also add that we realise sexism works both ways – and men can be just as affected by sexism as women. It’s also perfectly reasonable for men to be offended if their office has chosen to host their staff party in Hooters or a similarly offensive dump.

If you’re going to your work’s Christmas party, or you’re organising your office Christmas do, please make sure you’re doing so fairly.

The Facts

Despite 40-years of anti-discrimination legislation in the UK, sexism is sadly still rife in many companies (certainly not all – and we salute the many companies that are pleasant and fair places to work).

Too often, sexism fails to be identified or called up, often because the victims don’t realise why it is they feel so uncomfortable or upset. Often it is because - via the media and peer pressure - they’re told to accept casual sexism, and made to feel frigid for taking a stand.

It shouldn’t be that way.

A 2008 report from the Fawcett Society shows workplace sexism lurks:

In the office, where 16% of men who have access to the internet have viewed pornography at work, and 15% of men have emailed sexual images to colleagues.

When entertaining clients, and it has become increasingly common to entertain clients in lap dancing clubs. Lap dancing clubs are increasingly targeting the corporate sector through tailored marketing.

The Law

This advice comes from About Equal Opportunities: “Sexism in the workplace, though illegal, is still an issue across the United Kingdom. Though there are laws in place to protect the rights of all workers, many workplaces seem to ignore these laws and continue on as they see fit. A concerted effort from all employers and employees is needed to ensure that all individuals are treated fairly and with respect at work. And why would any one want to settle for any less?”

Discrimination at work is an important issue, and Directgov has clear guidelines about what action you can take.

Directgov says: “If you think you are being discriminated against you may be able to bring a claim to an Employment Tribunal for discrimination. However, it's best to talk to your employer first to try to sort out the matter informally. You are entitled to write to your employer if you think you have been discriminated against or harassed because of your sex.”

Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) offers free, confidential and impartial advice on employment rights issues. If you are a member of a trade union, you can also get help, support and advice from them.

There may be outward signs that women are making progress at work, but a female at the top of a company doesn't neatly spell the end of sexism.

PS: Anyone who is planning a works Christmas do at Hooters (or a similarly sexist establishment) should bear in mind that they may be putting pressure on colleagues to attend an event in an environment where they may well feel uncomfortable, and which they may feel encourages inappropriate and sexist behaviour.