Sexism, particularly in the workplace, has always been considered a taboo subject. Well – that is of course until the recent backlash of top female actresses in the USA who took a stand against what has been going on and ignored for far too long, dubbed the “Weinstein Effect” after the now infamous Harvey Weinstein following allegations of abuse from more than 140 women, including Hollywood giants like Angelina Jolie. Industry earthquakes such as this one have the power to radically change people’s views and forever sully reputations, with abusers losing work, favourable public opinion and their families.
Many people feel that gender relations is an awkward topic they would rather ignore, which has allowed ‘silent sexism’ to become ingrained within certain cultures, and particularly that of corporate culture.
Sexism is something of a conundrum as it is still widely tolerated, as seen by the election of the current US President! Nevertheless, that some people permit it does not change the fact that it is wrong and that it causes untold torment to victims. While some cultures and traditions are sexist, it is completely unacceptable and harmful in the workplace, interfering with organisational harmony and leading to staff destruction. The only way to safeguard against sexism is through open dialogue. Through the use of gender sensitisation, which forms part of a diversity training strategy, corporates are successfully able to close any current or future gender gaps. To be successful, training strives for mutual understanding within workplace relations. For example, qualified facilitators can draw out individual views and concerns of members of a new team, establishing a good foundation for future interactions. Hypothetical examples and role play can also be used to teach acceptable behaviour successfully.
Sakhumzi Mfecane, a Professor of Anthropology at UWC, reveals eye-opening facts about gender relationships. As an expert on masculinities, Prof. Mfecane, has spent years studying men in the African context, explains there is a misunderstanding of what feminism really is: ‘Feminism has done more than any other paradigm to enlighten us about the society in which we live, which is not only gender-unequal, but in terms of race and class as well.’ The idea that feminists hate men is based on a misunderstanding that is compounded by the lack of attention paid to sexism. When women try to call attention to it, it is easy for others to dismiss, saying, for example, that the woman simply hates men, is overreacting, and that the problem is not that serious. The problem is serious because there is no woman who can say they have not experienced gender discrimination and/or one or more forms of gender-based abuse. One only needs to speak to women in a way that makes them feel safe to disclose their experiences, or to look at movements such as #MeToo, to see that this is true. In keeping with what feminism really is, it certainly goes both ways, and men should not be unduly pressured or abused either. Thus, everyone needs to be trained on gender dynamics, particularly managers who can, in turn, foster a culture conducive to the success and growth of all.
Prof. Mfecane further said, ‘Feminism talks about bringing about a society where we are all treated for who we are and not our gender.’ Everyone wishes to be fairly treated, yet this is particularly not the case for women. Feminism addresses the needs of communities and individuals, including the poor and other marginalised groups. All employees should be trained to behave well from the start of their employment term, as it is essential that employees, especially women, feel safer and free to advance in their careers. Likewise, employees can thrive in their careers by learning what acceptable behaviour is, rather than committing offences in the midst of respected companies.
Establishing ground rules and conducting group training early on is a highly effective way to prevent sexism within a workplace environment. Prudent executives can put safeguards in place, for example, by making it clear from the word go that no sexual advances are tolerated at work. ICHAF Training Institution offers gender sensitisation as part of its training programme for organisations. ICHAF programmes foster mutual understanding among employees and seek to solve the problem of sexism by establishing what behaviour is expected within the professional environment.