The topic of gender diversity and equality have finally found their place in everyday conversations. Though sadly, not for the right reasons. Brought to the fore by serious allegations of sexual harassment against powerful Hollywood players, the #MeToo campaign and its global variations now seek to champion the plight of every woman in every workplace.
City Hive contributor Fiona McAnaw is an employment law specialist and partner at BTMK Solicitors. Here she shines a light on some perhaps less obvious discrimination and suggests what to do if you think you have cause for concern.
The shameful behaviour of high-profile individuals never fails to grab the headlines, but the everyday discrimination suffered by women in the workplace rarely gets a mention.
Subtle sex discrimination often arises from practices or behaviours which are deployed discreetly and are, by their very nature, difficult to prove or challenge. From complex indecipherable pay structures and 'discretionary' bonus schemes, to shrewd exclusion tactics and flagrant plagiarism; subtle sex discrimination can be equally as damaging as its blatant counterpart.
Recognising overt discrimination can be far easier than spotting subtle bias.
Let’s consider an example.
A woman who faces a redundancy procedure immediately following her return from maternity leave will often set alarm bells ringing.
However, what if an employer made a decision to permanently reassign a woman’s portfolio during her leave on the grounds of business continuity? A situation like this may, on the face of it, appear difficult to question.
Despite campaigns, charters, women’s networks and glossy new HR initiatives, progress is slow and the disappointing fact remains that asset management is still a largely male-dominated sector, with only one in five investment funds having a woman at the helm.
Last year's FTfm Women in Asset Management survey made for depressing reading, indicating that two-thirds of women in the fund sector frequently experienced sexism at work.
But the situation has improved significantly over the decades and is being supported by the government. The introduction of the Women in Finance Charter indicates the broader desire to address gender inequality.
However, the Charter is unlikely to give much comfort to women suffering from discrimination today. Fear of reporting discriminatory behaviour can be overwhelming and women often dread reprisals and harm to their career if they come forward. It's all far too reminiscent of being bullied in the school yard and scared to tell the teacher; and are feelings we all deserve to have left far behind.
The key to exposing subtle discrimination is to address the behaviour head on. Consider the following tactics:
- Tell your employer. At first, it may be wise to raise the matter informally with a trusted colleague.
- Do not be afraid to question a behaviour or practice, even if those around you appear to accept it.
- Use your employer’s internal procedures to report the behaviour if the matter cannot be resolved informally.
- Keep detailed records.
- If you are able to record the behaviour and specify details such as dates, times, and anyone who might be a witness, your notes could become valuable evidence in any subsequent Employment Tribunal proceedings.
- Seek legal advice at an early stage. Your legal adviser may wish to guide your through internal processes and ensure your complaints are articulated effectively.