The Devastating Endemic of Sexism in the Workplace

Shocking – but, unfortunately, perhaps not too surprising – new mental health statistics released by the Scottish Health Survey have shown that young women of the 16-24 age demographic have “significantly lower” levels of mental well-being and societal confidence compared to all other age groups of either gender, but also revealed that mental health conditions are incredibly poor across the entire country. 67% of men and women, from all backgrounds and demographics, reported suffering depression at some point in their life, with a further 22 per cent admitting to suicidal thoughts and hopeless feelings. Among this 22%, 12% described self-harming behaviour – the majority of which reported being young ladies under 24 years old.

Unfortunately, I can’t help but wonder how inexorably intertwined these horrible figures might be with some other gut-wrenching statistics I read this week, this time ones focusing on the endemic sexism and harassment women face in the Scottish workplace and the harmful effect it has on their self-confidence, future prospects and overall happiness. The figures I read, taken from violence against women charity Zero Tolerance’s tireless research, showed that a mammoth two-thirds of female employees had suffered or witnessed first-hand sexual harassment or unwanted attention at work, and one in ten female respondents had actually been subjected to physical or mental violence in the workplace, even up to, and sometimes including, rape. The findings caused Zero Tolerance to refer to the everyday workplace and its corrosive atmosphere as a “mental health time bomb”.

To make the figures even worse, over thirty per cent of the women were hesitant about whether their boss or employer would be sympathetic and take the necessary action – or even take them seriously – if they reported the issue, with some saying they had felt unable to report sexism or harassment for fear of retaliation or accusations that they had only got as far as they had because they had slept with management.

Since even before these figures were released, Zero Tolerance has been loudly and proudly calling for urgent action from workforce unions, employers and Holyrood to tackle the still-endemic attitudes, mysogyny and stereotyping which perpetuates virile and regressive levels of gender inequality, as well as to establish a more accessible and confidential infrastructure of mental support for women who experience illegal harassment at work. Zero Tolerance was the leading force in the development of the PACT; a programme for businesses in Scotland to help them tackle violence and harassment of women at work. The programme not only targets women experiencing harassment, but their male colleagues managers, too. Having more initiatives like PACT is so important, not just because it’s a sexism is an utterly pivotal issue in the mental and physical well-being of women workers, but also because equality in the workplace is a basic human right as supported by the law of the land.

Nevertheless, nearly two-thirds of the survey’s respondents couldn’t tell of any progressive measures being taken to squash sexism in their workplace, and 73% denied knowledge of any person or department in the ranks of their employer involved in that cause.

Despite all of this, the responses do show a clear desire for change in Scotland’s workplaces, not just from women but from their male counterparts, too. It’s not enough to just desire a change, however. Change needs to be put into action – there needs to be real effort put into making a solid difference. If employers can try to make some positive changes to the long-instilled attitudes of the workplace, we could make real strides in creating and inspiring a more gender equal society, and relieve a great strain off of the mental well-being and failing self-esteem of women and young women, like me, in particular.

There’s still a long way to go, though.

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