How to write about women in the workplace without being sexist?

(17 Posts)
blinkowl Tue 02-Aug-16 15:13:47

I've been asked to update some copy for work which will go into a public-facing document.

It includes a small section women in the workforce (as it's relevant to the publication). It's well-meaning but the copy is all about family commitments, balancing career and family life etc.

The focus purely on family unsettles me. What about the gender pay gap? What about other issues women might specifically face that are nothing to do with family (can't think of them right now but they must exist!)

There's no escaping the fact that maternity specifically is a women's issue. But then when it gets to parenting, I wonder ... the reality is still that women are expected to do the parenting more, so am I ignoring reality if I leave out mention of supporting parents entirely?

The company would be happy if I just copy and pasted last year's entry, but as I can update this I feel I should!

(I'm not a journo, honest!)

tribpot Tue 02-Aug-16 15:16:52

I would definitely want to update this section to talk about about balancing work and family commitments without reference to gender. What is the context of the section? It's hard to advise without knowing that but I appreciate you may not want to share if it's too identifying.

blinkowl Tue 02-Aug-16 15:30:28

I meant to say ...

If you were writing abut women in the workplace, would you mention parenting / work-life balance or is it sexist to do so?

blinkowl Tue 02-Aug-16 15:33:18

Cross post, tribpot!

Do you not think it could be read as implying that women = the "natural" parent and therefore sexist?

Or is it just reflecting reality?

blinkowl Tue 02-Aug-16 15:35:18

It's hard to say the context, but it's just a bit of blurb to be read by the public (or glanced over more like!) and the point is to show that the company I work for is supportive of women in the workplace because that's relevant to the subject matter of the publication (and they are, they're a good employer generally.)

blinkowl Tue 02-Aug-16 15:37:01

The current wording just makes me think that the company sees women only as mothers outside of work, and it feels outdated and sexist to me, a bit of an own goal if they're trying to show how supportive of women they are!

But then as I said, perhaps that is the reality. Personally, becoming a mother affected my career more than I had imagined.

blinkowl Tue 02-Aug-16 15:38:50

tribpot sorry I misread your post! I read is as with reference to gender.

Yes, I could update the section to write about how supportive of parents they are. But then I need to add a section on something relating to women specifically else it looses its relevance.

tribpot Tue 02-Aug-16 16:16:32

So it sounds as if the company should want two things, even if they don't know it yet:

1. To be supportive of women in the workplace
2. To be supportive of parents in the workplace.

In Venn diagram terms, neither of these is a sub-set of the other.

And yes, to answer the question based on what you thought I'd written, I think it is sexist and unhelpful to talk about parents as if the term was synonymous with women. It makes my teeth itch.

So no doubt the existing stuff can be adapted to big up their parent-friendly credentials, the question then is to find some other way in which they demonstrate their supportiveness of women in the workplace. If they don't have any then that itself speaks volumes. Do they have any women's support networks? Do they monitor the gender pay gap? Do they ensure the board is diverse and representative. If no, I would tell them they don't actually have any women-friendly policies and they'll need to write about their parent-friendly ones in a gender neutral way.

blinkowl Tue 02-Aug-16 17:24:17

The Chief Exec is male. The rest of the board is a 50/50 gender split however. The workforce is mostly female, by a large margin.

Do they have policies on this? I'm not sure!

sashh Tue 02-Aug-16 18:03:54

It's well-meaning but the copy is all about family commitments, balancing career and family life etc

As a childless by choice female this would make me think 'so only women have families and they expect me to have kids'.

It would really really annoy me.

Something that said 'we will not assume all women will take maternity leave, we will not assume fathers do not have family commitments and we will treat you as an individual'

tribpot Tue 02-Aug-16 18:29:42

If the workforce is predominantly female, who is it they are wanting to address when they talk about their women-friendly policies? I think sashh is spot on - we treat our workforce as individuals and we recognise that many of our employees, male and female, have caring responsibilities outside work. We recognise equally that plenty, both male and female, do not. As such we will not assume .. ' (and then into what sashh has written).

I would query why the board is not representative of the workforce, incidentally. The old primary school problem. Majority of workers female but the men get promoted faster and more often.

JacquettaWoodville Tue 02-Aug-16 18:38:26

Agree with others - a section on supporting parenting and caring responsibilities.

Then a section on women in the workplace covering pregnancy, Breastfeeding policy, maternity policy, women's groups, mentoring, gender pay gap audits etc

Any return to work programmes?

I agree that parent-friendly isn't synonymous with woman-friendly. Women with children can read the parent-friendly information, and take from it what relevant information they wish to apply to their circumstances.

Woman-friendly stuff would be things like (thinking about my own circumstances and experience now) does this employer recognise the ways in which women are disadvantaged by current systems and assumptions, the ways that sexism and/or unconscious bias from from colleagues and customers hold women back, the ways that mentoring and networking opportunities are skewed towards men and male dominated pursuits. And yes to the gender pay gap. Strict policies against sexual harassment would be another thing.

Felascloak Tue 02-Aug-16 20:27:15

With the new shared parental leave policy I'd argue that maternity leave should also be in the section about parenting and caring and made very clear how men can access and be supported in shared leave.

blinkowl Tue 02-Aug-16 22:35:02

Thanks for your help. I included some stuff about how the workforce is mostly female and deleted the bit about parenting entirely.

I totally agree that having only half the board as female when most of the workforce are women is not representative and sexism in action. However a 50/50 split on the board (not counting chief exec) is fantastic in an industry that is generally known to be very sexist at board level, so they are definitely moving in the right direction and I feel it's OK to recognise that surely? They are the exception in this industry rather than the rule sadly.

Very interesting food for thought about policies thanks.

AskBasil Sun 07-Aug-16 20:41:20

I think you can acknowledge how good 50% is, while a,so acknowledging that it still isn't good enough in a female dominated industry.

Other things I would look at, is whether there is an acknowledgement of structural sexism, of men tending to dominate meetings and not STFU when they've got nothing to add, of women's voices being drowned out and how the company addresses awareness of that and then rectifying it.

almondpudding Sun 07-Aug-16 22:11:31

It is something that has to be carefully written, and it is very hard to know without seeing the exact wording.

I think it is worth remembering that pregnancy and maternity are a protected characteristics, quite separate from sex as a protected characteristic.

I would want to see that a company was proactive on both, but didn't assume that covering only one of them was adequate.

It is the reality that many more women than men are bringing up kids. A third of households has a woman as the main earner, very many of those are single mothers or families in poverty. I do think companies need to have something in about families, flexible working etc. If your company is actually good at that stuff, it is a massive selling point.

So ideally cover both women and parents, but don't conflate the two. It's feminist surely to write about stuff that has a greater impact on women, without making out that it applies only to women?

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now