SEXISM IN THE SERVICE INDUSTRY
The thought of women being catcalled and grabbed at might seem outdated to some and unimportant to others, but it is still something that women working in the service industry tackle every day when they go to work, something I know from personal experience. It’s 2017 and it’s time to shine a light of the dark side of working in this sector.
For anyone that has worked in the service industry whether that be behind a bar, waiting tables in a restaurant or café, or even in the local family friendly pub, you know that sexism is alive and well in the modern world. During my time working in the service industry I was no stranger to men thinking I was on the menu, someone they could call what they wanted and grab at, and they got away with it every time because I wasn’t allowed to react. Some might think it’s easy to put on a smile and brave it every day but I can tell you it is very difficult. We’re forced to endure some rather disturbing things, all with a smile on our faces and I can tell you that not only is it frustrating and angering at times but it can also be rather emotionally draining and frankly frightening. A teenage girl shouldn’t have to fend off a grow man just because he thinks he’s entitled to something because a woman who is paid to be polite was nice to him. Working in this industry is demanding enough with abnormal hours, few to no breaks, demanding and often drunk customers all for in many cases minimal pay, on top of all this sexism, and inequality should not be something that women should have to deal with.
Everyone deserves the right to a professional working environment, women should not be treated any differently just because of their gender, Just last year researchers from the Trade Union Congress and the Everyday Sexism Project published a study that found 63% of women aged between 16 and 24 in the UK have reported unwanted sexual harassment while at work.
Key findings relating to the extent of sexual harassment in modern workplaces were:
- 52% of women polled experienced sexual harassment in some form.
- 35% of women have witnessed female co-workers experiencing sexual harassment.
- 32% have had to experience inappropriate sexual jokes in the workplace.
- 28% of women have had to deal with sexual comments regarding their body or clothes.
- 1/4 of women have endured unwanted sexual touching.
- 1/5 of women have experienced unwanted sexual advances.
- In the majority of cases, the offender was a male co-worker.
- 1/5 women reported that the perpetrator was their manager or someone with direct authority over them.
- 4 out of 5 women didn’t report the sexual harassment to their employers.
And yet in spite of this, very little is being done to stop this growing problem, woman have to go to work every day face harassment or even sexual assault from customers, co-workers and even their superiors. Yet society views the majority of these problems as “just a bit of banter,” or “boys will be boys”
Man women have to deal with frequent micro-aggressions, these can be described as “small, subtle, and often unconscious actions or comments that marginalize people in oppressed groups.” And although these comments are often “well intentioned” they are incredibly discriminatory and can result in a hostile work environment. An example of a common micro-aggression is “You’re really good at [insert skill typically associated men] for a woman!” When you tell a woman she did something well despite the fact that she’s a woman, you’re telling her that she isn’t as good as a man doing the same job.
A common micro-aggression that women working within the service industry have to face every day is the stereotypical pet names that unfortunately come with the job. These include names like darling, sweetie, babe, and hun. During my time working in the service industry I was only ever referred to by names like these every day, and what men don’t seem to realise is that when they call us anything other than our names, their dehumanising us and attempting to make us feel inferior to them. This is something that women have to deal with from customer, co-workers and even our superiors on a daily bases, if men can be afforded the luxury of being referred to by their own names then why can’t women.
Another area that needs to be addressed is dress codes and all the comments that accompany them. Many businesses institute policies like preferring that women wear skirts as opposed to trousers, however many places within the service industry take it to further extremes. For example many female servers or bartenders are forced to wear often uncomfortably revealing clothing as part of their “uniform” to attract customers. Although some woman may want to dress in a more revealing manner, as is their right, there are often many who don’t, and their choice should not be taken away by a mandatory dress code. The short skirts and low cut tops that are often associate with working in bars or clubs can also open women up to a how barrage of inappropriate behaviour such as unwanted sexual advances and physical assaults. A WOMAN’S CLOTHES DO NOT MEAN CONSENT. An example of a business that forces employees to wear an unreasonable ‘uniform’ is a coffee shop chain called Cowgirls Espresso, a “business” that has their all-female staff wear nothing but themed lingerie while serving coffee.
BuzzFeed recently published an article featuring eye-opening stories depicting nine different women’s experiences working in the service industry. It seems that women across the pond are experiencing the same disgusting treatment that we are in the UK. I interviewed four women who work in this sector and asked them to tell me about some of their experiences.
Although all of the women were very willing to talk to me and open up about the harassment they’ve received, each of them asked to remain anonymous. This in itself speaks volumes to a larger issue, these women didn’t want me revealing their identities due to fear of losing their jobs among other repercussions.
THE GENDER PAY GAP
However, it’s not just harassment that women have to deal with at work they also have to cope with earning less money than men for the same amount of work. The current pay gap for full time workers is 13.9% overall.
Recent research has found that women often face discrimination at work when it comes to maternity, as roughly 54,000 women are forced to leave their jobs each year due to harsh treatment after having a baby. Under societies influence women also continue to play a major role in raising children and caring for sick or elderly relatives. As a result of this women can find themselves returning to a career in a lower paying job role while their male co-workers are promoted ahead of them.
On top of all this, the labour market is still divided with 60% of women across the UK making less than the living wage; this correlates to the fact that 80% of people who work within the low paid leisure and care sectors are women. Men also still take up the majority of senior roles within the highest paid sectors, an example of this is that there are only five female chief executives within the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 index.
WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT?
There are many simple things that can be done to combat sexism in the work place. For starters equal pay, that is not too much to ask for, women deserve the same pay for the same amount of work. We still have to pay rent and taxes as well as pay for food, and how can women be expected to support themselves if we’re working just as hard for half the pay. There should also be a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment of any kind, and this needs to be something that all businesses actually act upon. It’s very easy to say you don’t tolerate something and then do nothing when something occurs. On multiple occasions while working in the service industry, customers and co-workers thought it appropriate to comment on my body and touch me without my permission, while management stood idly by. This is not acceptable:
- If a customer harasses an employee, throw them out.
- if a co-worker is sexually harassing one of your employees reprimand them.
- Unacceptable actions should not keep going un-punished.
And to anyone who has ever harassed a women who worked in a pub or a restaurant because you felt she owed you something, or to anyone who thought it was appropriate to harass your female co-worker just because you feel you can, start acting like human beings and treat women with respect. The pretty girl working behind the bar isn’t trying to flirt with you, she’s being paid to be polite and your female co-worker isn’t there to appeal to your desires, she’s trying to earn a living just like everybody else. Assuming that you wouldn’t want anyone treating your mothers or your sisters or daughters the way you treat other women, how about you take a stand to defend half the world population and become a part of the solution and not the problem. ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS AND IT’S TIME TO TAKE ACTION.