We’re being bombarded with evidence of discriminatory practices against women, but like fish in a fish bowl, we don’t notice the water we’re swimming in.
Last month, Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick released Working without fear: Results of the sexual harassment national telephone survey 2012 which shows that sexual harassment is not only widespread in Australian workplaces, but that progress in addressing it has stalled.
This week the ABS Pregnancy and Employment Transitions Survey found that 67,300 (19%) of women who held a job while pregnant perceived some kind of discrimination associated with pregnancy. Of these, the majority (91%) said it was directly associated with their pregnancy [page 6].
The discrimination or bias does not have to be huge to have an impact.
It could be a series of small and subtle acts that serve to invalidate a person’s experience, knowledge, contribution, or deny them the same opportunities and advantages of their peers.
- Being allocated a certain type of work ‘because you’re so good at it’ and then being pigeon holed or told you don’t have the experience to take on something different or bigger;
- Assumptions made about your reliability or commitment
- Being overlooked for elite developmental opportunities without explanation
- Given feedback that is focused on past performance rather than future potential
- Being talked over or overlooked in meetings
- Being singled out to prove your point when others are not required to do the same
- Missing out on a promotion even when well qualified because ‘you’re not quite ready’
- Being excluded from invitations to informal social gatherings outside work.
It seems, though, we’re so used to being discriminated against most of us no longer notice it.
I frequently hear women rationalising or even defending others’ behaviour: ‘They don’t mean it.’ ‘It’s because I’m not very good at thinking on my feet…’ ‘It was my fault because I wasn’t prepared/self-promoting enough…’ ‘I’m just not assertive/confident/experienced enough…’
Discrimination and bias may not be conscious or necessarily intentional – but its cumulative effect impacts our ability to fully contribute and frequently affects our esteem and confidence.
You have been impacted by discriminatory practices if you
- Are unwilling to speak up or put your view forward
- Avoid doing or saying anything that’s different for fear of ridicule
- Feel the need to dress down or be less visible
- Make concerted efforts to ‘fit in’ by adapting your behaviour and style to that of those around you
- Readily defer to others
- Over-prepare for meetings
- Feel lonely and isolated at work
- Experience self-doubt or lack confidence
- Feel reluctant to ask for help.
It’s not all bad, though.
Women who achieve senior positions and succeed in organisational life despite acts of bias and discrimination are
- adaptable, flexible and highly attuned to the politics of an environment
- resilient and tenacious
- highly qualified and usually more competent than their male colleagues
- outstanding performers.
It’s just that many decide the cost is too great and decide it’s not worth it.
And that’s a shame for all of us.