Female workers could be suffering sex discrimination without even realising it, according to solicitors’ firm Miller Hendry. And with gender bias and women’s rights hitting the news headlines, the Tayside firm is advising both employees and bosses to be vigilant.
Discrimination against pregnant and non-pregnant women isn’t always obvious, either to workers or bosses, said Miller Hendry, which warned employees and bosses to look out for “more insidious forms” of gender bias. The advice follows the recent launch of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s policy on equal rights for women, in which he sparked controversy by claiming that after-work drinks policies discriminate against mothers. Two days later, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon went public on a miscarriage she had five years ago in order to “challenge assumptions and judgments” surrounding women who don’t have children.
Also last week, the Women and Equalities Committee called for “urgent action” to give more protection to pregnant women and new mothers after what MPs called a “shocking” increase in cases of discrimination against pregnant women.
The Committee found that the number of expectant and new mothers forced to leave their jobs has almost doubled since 2005, to 54,000. Calls for tighter UK regulations surrounding dismissal or redundancy of pregnant women were welcomed by Miller Hendry. But the firm warned that gender bias in the workplace can be subtler than people think.
Alan Matthew, partner and employment law expert at Miller Hendry, said: “One tends to think of obvious examples when it comes to gender discrimination in the workplace, such as overt sexual harassment or unequal pay. But the fact is that there are more insidious forms of discrimination, brought about from years of social stereotyping, and both employees and employers need to be aware of them. These can fly under the radar of prescribed employment policy, which makes them more difficult to catch and for that reason sometimes more harmful.”
Hidden signs of gender bias in the workplace:
1. ‘Sorry, we didn’t think you’d want to.’ The mostly male department plans a go-kart outing followed by some beers in the pub but doesn’t invite the only female employee.
2. ‘Don’t try lifting that, love.’ The female employee this is directed at isn’t pregnant. She also lifts weights every day at the gym. Too bad because the males can’t get past the fact that she’s a woman.
3. ‘You’d better not have a baby. I’m writing it into your contract!’ A female boss jokes with her female employee but the implication is clear: pregnancy and having children won’t be supported. Comments like ‘Can you afford it?’, ‘Say goodbye to promotion then’ and ‘Your partner earns enough money you wouldn’t have to work’ send similarly negative messages.
4. ‘You come across as brusque/aggressive/uncaring.’ A female employee is seen as violating her prescribed ‘gender norm’ of being compassionate, caring and passive. She is called out for acting in the same way her male co-worker does.
5. ‘We like having our meetings then.’ Staff meetings are consistently scheduled for 8.45am, bang in the middle of school drop-off time.