Groped by colleagues, passed over for promotion, and under pressure to conform: women still feel discriminated against in the workplace


  • Over a quarter (27.4%) of women say they have experienced gender discrimination at work

  • 30% of women feel having children has held them back and one in five feel they missed out on a promotion as a direct result of taking maternity leave

As the debate surrounding sexual discrimination rages, Business Environment, a serviced office provider, polled 1,500 people on their attitudes to gender in the workplace. The results make for difficult reading as it becomes clear that the UK is far from winning the battle for equality between men and women at work.

A worryingly high proportion of women – 27.4 per cent – claim they have experienced some kind of gender discrimination in the workplace. When asked to expand on their experiences responses ranged from being groped by male colleagues and being the subject of lewd innuendos to finding they are passed over for promotion or questioned about their intention to start a family.

In a bid to protect themselves against this type of discrimination many women are taking matters into their own hands by adopting a more sombre dress code in hope they will be taken more seriously. More than one in five (21.3%) has changed the way they dress to display less cleavage, while 14.9% have worn longer hemlines at work. However, women also feel they are forced to conform to society’s beauty norms with as many as 43.4% stating that they feel pressure to juggle a career with their appearance.

David Saul, co-founder and managing director at Business Environment said: “These results demonstrate just how widespread the problem of gender discrimination in the workplace is. I am saddened that despite huge progress made in the last decades, such a high proportion of women in the workplace still find they come up against the same old problems. More needs to be done by employers to have an open discussion about what is and what isn’t acceptable in the workplace. It should be clear where the boundaries lie and that what some may consider a joke at someone else’s expense, is in fact the epitome of mindless discrimination. Something can be legally right but morally wrong”

The problem extends far beyond physical appearance. More than a quarter (27.47%) admit that they would be reluctant to hire a woman of child-bearing age and 26% would have reservations if a women already has children. A quarter of women (25.67%) who are in work and have had children feel this has held them back in their career and worryingly nearly one in five (18.67%) think they missed out on a promotion as a direct result of taking maternity leave.

David Saul added: “What these results show is that employers are still discriminating against women who choose to have children as well as work. The ‘you can have it all’ generation are being failed by their employers. No one should go into work feeling that they will be undermined or harassed due to their gender, appearance, ethnic background, sexuality or if they have a family.”

The results also show that it is not just women who experience this type of discrimination and pressure to conform. One in five men (20.8%) say they have experienced gender discrimination at work, while nearly a quarter (23%) of men feel their appearance has held them back in their career. More than a third of men (38%) have felt compelled to shave off facial hair and 48.4% have changed the way they dress to fit in with the crowd.

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