The 25th of November marked the start of the annual 16 Days of Activism for the elimination of violence against women and girls. The fact that in 2021, we still need such a campaign seems tragic, but unfortunately there is still so much to do to ensure the world becomes a fair, equal, and safe place for women and girls to grow, live, work, and thrive in.
Police Scotland figures report that, ‘every nine minutes an incident of domestic abuse is reported.’ Between 2009 and 2019, 112 women were killed in Scotland by their partner or ex-partner, nearly one woman every month.
The stark reality of the situation here in Scotland was recently highlighted by Engender – “Last year in Scotland, 58,810 incidents of domestic abuse were recorded by the police, which was an increase of 1 percent from the previous year. And in 2015-16, over 10,000 sexual offences were reported, a figure which increased by 7 percent from 2014-15”
But violence against women manifests itself in many different ways – including in the workplace. This is not one of the obvious ways people may think about violence, but it all contributes to a culture that systematically sends out the signal that women, their lives, and contributions are less valued by society.
The Close the Gap Equally Safe at Work campaign is a great starting point for any employer, or individual, who wants to better understand this issue and how to do something about it. Also, East Lothian Council’s material in support of the campaign – What Will You Do? – provides further insight and reference material, including guidance on starting conversations about what men can do to support women in the workplace.
In Equate Scotland’s report Women In STEM – An Intersectional Analysis of Multiple Discriminations it was clear to see how some of these issues manifest themselves in the STEM workplace.
Here is a snapshot of what we found:
- 60% of respondents had experienced sexism in the workplace or in their place of education.
- 1 in 3 women did not feel confident in reporting experiences of exclusion or discrimination to their employers.
- Within this over half of disabled women stated they do not feel confident reporting inappropriate behaviour, ableism, or sexism.
- Over half of BME women stated they do not feel confident reporting inappropriate behaviour including racist or sexist experiences
- Over half of LGBTQ+ women stated they do not feel confident reporting inappropriate behaviours, exclusion, or discrimination to their employers.
Experiences from women that are highlighted in the report ranged widely from sexual misconduct, to harassment, to everyday microaggressions that make some workplaces completely hostile, and at times dangerous, for women. This report highlights the widespread nature of microaggressions, that when accumulated make work environments very difficult for those on the receiving end.
Below we have recounted the experiences shared with us by a number of women in the STEM sector. These experiences starkly show the layers that undermine equality for women and minorities at work and in wider society each and every day.
“ Yes, [a] manager told me he didn’t actually want to hire me because I am a female, locked me in a toilet with him, was paid less than all other apprentices, was told ‘not to start the girly tears’, was told I was too skinny for the job and had to put on weight, was asked my age during a disciplinary hearing, was told that if I had a heart attack, they wouldn’t use a defib on me because I’m catholic and a protestant might need it”
“Comments about ability being affected by ‘being on your period’.”
“Not having as much involvement in things because the guys get together to discuss it.”
“People assuming I must like spicy food because I’m black. Men telling me I’m beautiful in front of colleagues and clients. Men acting like I need extra help getting in/out of 4x4s on site. People assuming I’m not Scottish or assuming one of my parents are Jamaican.”
“For example being told that you won’t get a pay rise because the money is needed to keep ‘the men on who threaten to leave.’“
A lack of effective policy making, and enforcement, gives permission for this cycle to self-perpetuate. While the use of Equality Impact Assessments in policy and legislation are talked about, they are not consistently or robustly applied, either at a government or an organisational level. There is a lack of intersectional data used in the development of policy, an issue highlighted in Caroline Criado Perez’s book Invisible Women which provides everyday examples.
Given where we are now, the question has to be what can be done to build a fairer, safer, and more equitable societal framework going forwards? New green jobs, new green opportunities, a new green agenda are coming – but if this is to be more than just “Blah, blah, blah” then different approaches are urgently needed to make that happen.
But the signs are not promising. Very little is changing in our talent pipeline. Women, even when attracted to STEM roles, women are lost to the STEM workforce, 73% of women STEM graduates drop out of STEM careers within 3 years of graduating. There may be new opportunities emerging but unless there are new attitudes, behaviours and consequences to accompany them then we will continue to exclude 50% of the population and 50% of the talent.
In industry, strategy or project plans would not progress without key performance measures, milestones, costs, an implementation strategy, and stating interdependencies. Traditionally, policy making at government level does very little of this, and if it exists it is not robustly or consistently applied. With so many policies cutting across portfolios there is a pressing need for an intersectional approach to policy making and budgeting if we are to truly take the actions that will finally effect real change to the lived experiences of women and minorities.
But in the meantime – what steps will you take to address this issue?
You can read more about our report and calls to action here:
If you, or anyone you know, are affected by any of the issues raised in this article please reach out for support from any of the following organisations: