Survey shows scope of sexism in the workplace. Newsflash: statistics don’t always tell the truth.

Posted: January 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

I’m going to do something I’ve not done before for this entry. I’m going to be really lazy and take a post I made on Facebook and simply flesh it out a little bit here. When I shared the link on Facebook that I’m going to be talking about in this entry I didn’t intend on it turning out the way it did, I knew I wanted to do an entry on it so was just going to do a couple of bullet points. That turned into 8 bullet points and a pretty good overview of what I’ll be talking about here.

If you can’t be bothered to read the entry and just want to read the status, my Facebook page is The status was posted on the 29th of December, you might have to scroll down to find it. Or, if you’re even lazier than that, it’s here:

Normally I don’t make statuses that long; I try to save most of the deconstruction for entries on this blog, simply because I don’t think Facebook statuses should read like essays, that’s why I created the blog. I may highlight certain points on Facebook that I then later blog about, but I try to keep the longer posts confined to here. On this particular occasion though, I got carried away.

Here’ s the link for today’s entry:

But John, how can you possibly say there’s anything wrong with that article? It highlights how pervasive the sexism in our culture is, how would you like to go to work and get abused or discriminated against or bullied? Well, that’s how it is for every women in this country, they face this every day, it’s disgusting! People like you are just misogynists who are bitter because women don’t want to fuck your small dick! Er, well, do I need to remind you I was sexually assaulted by a member of staff at my school? And please, leave my dick out of this.

 All sarcasm aside, that little sentence was part of my first point. Where’s the link to the actual study? Without that, all those numbers mean absolutely nothing. Statistics can be manipulated to show anything you want, they can be manipulated to be extremely one-sided. Case in point, I once asked my year 13s to do a survey on how they had found the first half term at school. 100% said they enjoyed English and were making good progress. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Well, 100% is a pretty amazing number, considering there are 20 students in that class. It’s not so impressive if I was to tell you that, out of that group of 20, only 1 person took the survey. Yeah, that little nugget of information changes everything, it takes an amazing statistic and, just by adding a tiny bit of context, proves it to be meaningless. 1 person out of 20 saying they love English, despite providing a magnificent statistic, actually gives me fuck all in terms of overall opinion. With no link to the original survey, all this article can do is present the statistics. With no context behind it, as with any study that does this, there’s really no way to believe or trust the numbers provided. We have no idea what the questions were like, they could have been extremely limited in their scope. Questions on surveys like this can be extremely misleading, it’s very easy to create a survey and guide people to the answers you want. With that it becomes very hard to really trust anything else the article says.

Even with all that said, let’s take the statistics at face value. 52% of women say they’ve been discriminated against. 53%, sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Well let’s look at the wording. It says women have been subjected to ‘one form’ of discrimination, which Laurie Penny goes on to clarify as including things like sexist jokes and pregnancy discrimination. There are numerous things I want to point out here. There is very little clarification on what ‘discrimination’ is, and that 52% is women who have been subjected to ‘at least’ one form of discrimination. That means that some of the women polled have only ever heard one sexist joke. As discrimination goes, that’s pretty fucking minimal, yet it contributes to the statistic that makes the workplace out to be anti-women. Is it beginning to become clear how statistics can be manipulated? With no clarification as to what exactly constitutes discrimination, and by not putting any kind of number on it, limiting to only ‘at least one’ form, again there’s no way of knowing just how widespread the problem is. I’ve been told, when asking where something is, to make sure I ‘don’t have a man look’ when I go looking for it, on more than one occasion. Technically, that means I’ve been discriminated every time that’s said. Do I see it that way? No, of course not, it’s a light-hearted mockery of my genders’ stereotypical ability to be looking exactly at the thing I want and still not see it. Also, pregnancy discrimination, despite being pretty low, is something that all companies have to be wary of. It’s not an ideal situation, but can you blame a manager, particularly of a small business, of being weary of a woman possibly going off for a year on maternity? No, it’s not fair, but then, as I’ve said in the past, life isn’t fair. Making tough decisions if what life is about, sometimes you just have to accept that you can’t plan on having a baby and expect to climb the career ladder with no gaps. I get that that might seem discriminatory and, as far as I’m aware, it’s illegal in the UK to discriminate against a woman because she might have a baby, I’m just saying it’s an understandably difficult position, for both parties.

The important thing is to not get too carried away. Discrimination is such a varied thing, what one person considers discrimination might not be applicable to others. It’s movements like feminism that are constantly shifting the goalposts on what does and doesn’t constitute abuse and discrimination that’s making it impossible for people to say anything without being labelled. I’ve been mocked at work for my hair colour, height and weight, technically all forms of discrimination. Do I bitch about it? No, because I understand it’s all part of the camaraderie of my department and I can give as good as I get. Am I saying that people aren’t allowed to be offended? No, of course not, I’m just saying that something said in jest doesn’t automatically constitute discrimination and, if you don’t like it, you can always ask the person to stop. I would like to know how many of that 52% just took offence to a remark, perhaps being called ‘love’ or ‘duck’ by a man, and just seethed in silence without actually saying anything to the person involved.

81% of women feel that having a child will affect their career progression. Again, this goes back to the discriminatory behaviour towards women who might get pregnant. Currently, women in the UK get 1 year of maternity leave, some of it paid, some of it not. Men get 2 weeks. This might just be me, but do women really think they can take a year out of work, and if they have more than one child then 2 or 3 years overall, and expect to just slot back in to the job they were doing before they left? Again, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, and as a man I luckily don’t have that dilemma, but there’s a choice to be made, if you want to have 2 or 3 kids then you might just have to accept that your career will have to be put on hold. Is it fair? Probably not but, again, life isn’t fair. Until paternity laws are changed, and they are in the process of changing, if you want one parent to stay with the baby for as long as possible then it’s a situation you have to face. Is it discrimination that women’s careers might stall while they spend a year out of the workplace? I don’t think so, as harsh as that sounds. This comes down to the feminist idea that women can ‘have it all’. I’m sorry but, in the real world, the real world that we all live in, you can’t have it all, you have to make compromises and sometimes, just sometimes, you don’t get to do what you want to do. It sucks, but, hey, life’s a bitch and then you die. Sorry, you wanted this, you deal with it.

25% say they’ve been unfairly criticised or overloaded with work. Welcome to the real world. You honestly think men haven’t ever felt unfairly criticised or overloaded with work? Perhaps your thoughts of being unfairly criticised are because you don’t want to accept that the criticism is entirely justified? Ever been criticised and instead of thinking ‘shit they’re right, that was piss poor’ you’ve thought ‘well, fuck you, you piece of shit!”? Yeah, me too. With a subjective question like ‘have you ever been unfairly criticised’ (though I’m completely guessing with that question because there’s no fucking link to the survey) how can you trust an answer when someone says ‘yes’?

17% say they’ve been overlooked for their promotion because of their sex. Well, this is a tricky one. IT would be easy to say that these women are just bitter because they didn’t get the promotion, and it’s a possibility that, in some cases at least, this is exactly what happened, women have been passed over because they weren’t right or good enough for the job, only to find any reason other than the truth to explain why they didn’t get it. I’m not saying it accounts for all 17%, but it could account for some of it, people are just that weak when it comes to admitting why they didn’t get something at work. However, there’s also every possibility that they were passed over by some horrible sexist boss who doesn’t think they’re good enough. That particular instance is entirely illegal; you can’t pass someone over for promotion simply because of their sex. If that has occurred then the woman involved needs to go to whichever body deals with that kind of stuff and make a complaint. If she isn’t willing to go through the proper channels to report something that’s against the law then I’m definitely not going to have sympathy for them if they choose to whine about it in a survey like this.

The one thing that bugs me most though, more than all the ambiguous data, is the picture used in the article. As well as being no link to the study and no clarification as to how certain things, like discrimination, are measured, there’s no mention of who is doing the discriminating. No mention of whether it’s men or women that account for that 52% of people who have faced at least one form of discrimination. But, The Daily Mail decided to be ever so helpful and put a picture of two men looking at a woman with some level of disdain. Thanks for that, Daily Mail, thanks for putting it in our heads just who are the most sexist bastards in the workplace, of course it’s all men, women would never abuse other women. But then, you look at the comments and it would appear that women do abuse other women in the workplace, it’s just not something we should be willing to accept. The fact is, as much as it shouldn’t, bullying in the workplace does happen, I’ve seen it and experienced it myself. It sucks, it makes you feel shitty, it makes you feel like you don’t want to do your job anymore, but it’s entirely gender symmetrical. I can honestly say I’ve not seen a preponderance of bullying from one particular sex, it seems to be pretty even across the board. I’ve even heard my headteacher make sexists jokes against men in staff meetings, which would be incomprehensible and probably grounds for some kind of lawsuit if it came from a man.

I’m not saying women haven’t experienced sexual harassment, or bullying, or some form of discrimination, what I am saying is that articles like this one, and the study it’s talking about, cannot be taken as absolute truth without knowing A) what the questions asked were, and B) what you qualify as ‘discrimination’ or ‘sexism’. The scope at the moment is too broad, some women care offended by some things that other women aren’t offended by. If it only offends one woman, can it be called sexism, or is it simply down to that one woman’s lack of humour or inability to brush off something crass from a colleague?

Until this study is open to public scrutiny then the statistics in this article are, for me, to be taken with a grain of salt. Yes, they show what some women think they go through in the workplace but, without context or clarification, it’s not as simple as just accepting them outright. If we are prepared to do that then we face the possibility that any number of surveys can be created and published that only serve to push through an agenda that benefits the people creating them, rather than actually showing the scope of the problem. We’ve seen how manipulative ad campaigns can be with the UNs campaign supposedly showing the extent of sexism towards women by using Google. What that campaign so wonderfully failed to take into account was the numerous other factors and topics that could be put into Google to get similar results.

If you are willing to believe these statistics outright you are only doing so to further your own belief that sexism towards women is rife in the workplace. By being unable to objectively look at this set of data, by being unable to comprehend that statistics can be manipulated and twisted, that the questions posed can be limited and closed in order to guide the women to the answer that is required, you only serve to confirm your own beliefs and prove that, in fact, you are not for equality of the sexes, you are only for finding facts and statistics, no matter how disputable, that help prove, in your mind, the oppression women face. That is not campaigning for gender equality, that is called confirmation bias, and it’s pathetic.

The telling piece, stuck right at the bottom of the article, is that a comparable survey was completed for men. Ignoring the 40% statistic quoted, for the same reasons as I’ve been spouting all through this article, the really important thing to take note of is the number of men polled and the number of women polled. 25,000 women took part in the survey that dominates this article. 500 men took part in the male equivalent survey. 25,000 versus 500, do you really think we’re going to see anything resembling a comparable result when the results of the male survey are published? Again, if you think that’s an acceptable way to look at sexism in the workplace, by looking at 25,000 of one gender and then barely more than 1% of that for the other gender, your bias becomes pretty clear.

Statistics: they lie.


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