Employers urging women to dress ‘sexier’ in video meetings, study finds

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AFP/Getty Employers are urging women to dress “sexier” and wear make-up during video calls in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown, a new study has found. The research, carried out by employment law specialist Slater and Gordon, found more than a third of women were asked to put more make-up […]

AFP/Getty
AFP/Getty

Employers are urging women to dress “sexier” and wear make-up during video calls in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown, a new study has found.

The research, carried out by employment law specialist Slater and Gordon, found more than a third of women were asked to put more make-up on or redo their hair, while 27 per cent were asked to dress in a more sexy or provocative way.

Employers routinely justified their requests to dress more seductively by claiming it would “help to win new business” – with 41 per cent of bosses saying this.

Around 40 per cent of employers explained the demands by saying it is important to “look nicer for the team”, while more than a third said it would be more “pleasing to a client”. The demands were said to have left female employees feeling “objectified, demoralised and self-conscious” about the way they look.

Lawyers involved in the research warned misogyny has found “new and insidious ways to thrive” online as many employees have started working remotely in the wake of the public health emergency.

Around 40 cent of women said themselves or others they worked with were singled out for such requirements – with male colleagues instead remaining unaffected by the demands.

A quarter of those polled said they would spend more time on their beauty regime due to fears refraining from doing so would detrimentally affect their career. Some 60 per cent of women chose not to inform human resources about demands to dress in a more sexual manner.

Danielle Parsons, an employment lawyer at the firm, said: “It is categorically wrong for a manager or anyone in a position of power to suggest, even politely, for a woman to be more sexually appealing in the workplace.

“This is a powerful form of coercion which makes women feel as if they must adhere to the manager’s request and be more visually pleasing to be successful at their job. This is demeaning to women.

“It’s extremely disappointing that we are still having these conversations, particularly during this time when women are juggling a multitude of roles from home, and may be also struggling with childcare responsibilities. This type of archaic behaviour has no place in the modern working world.

“Requests of this nature are discrimination and unlawful where male counterparts aren’t treated in this way, or where such unwanted requests create a humiliating or degrading environment for women.”

Ms Parsons said the law firm is hopeful that as the new methods of working remotely continue, the problem will be “stamped out” – with the next generation of female workers no longer forced to endure these “harmful” practices.

She argued everyone has the right to feel “safe, comfortable and protected” at work but this is even more critical in the context of workplaces “increasingly encroaching into our personal lives” due to more people working from “dining room tables, living rooms or home offices”.

Ms Parsons added: “We can see from this research these comments about appearance suggest to women they offer little more than their looks. It wears down a person’s feeling of worth in the workplace and their own attitudes towards themselves.”

More than a third of women were found to have endured at least one sexist demand at work since the government introduced a lockdown back in March.

The study surveyed 2,000 people who previously carried out their work from the office but are now working from home due to coronavirus .

A quarter of women voiced anxiety about the effect it could have on their career if they chose not to follow the employer’s demands about changing their appearance.

Nevertheless, a third managed to stand up for themselves and call out the remarks during the meetings as being inappropriate.

A third of both men and women polled said they have tolerated remarks about their appearance over video calls in a way they would not accept in real life due to fears about the coronavirus crisis causing a recession and making jobs unstable.

Deeba Syed, senior legal officer at Rights of Women, a leading UK women’s legal charity, told The Independent: “These findings are appalling but unsurprising. It shows how systemic sex discrimination is a reality for many women in the workplace. Employers demanding women be ‘sexier’ exemplifies how misogyny and abuses of power hold women’s job security and careers at ransom, and encourage and embolden a culture of sexual harassment and sexism in the workplace.

“Until women can feel safe and secure in their workplaces, Rights of Women’s ‘Sexual Harassment at Work’ free and confidential legal advice line is necessary to empower women to understand their legal rights and demand justice.”

Vivienne Hayes, chief executive of the Women’s Resource Centre, the leading national umbrella organisation for the women’s sector in the UK, told The Independent the findings were reflective of harmful sexist beliefs.

Ms Hayes added: “So very disappointing that women remain primarily viewed by men for their sexual availability and desirability and viewed as commodities to improve business. Until we dig this misogyny out of society at its roots I can’t see much changing.

“We only have to look at the entrenched gender stereotyping and the disease of pink and blue to see we are actually in reverse gear when it comes to dismantling what are extremely harmful sexist beliefs, that actually lay the foundation and allow for the continued abuse of women and in some cases murder and rape by men. We must join up the dots of sexist beliefs and the continued terrorisation of women and girls globally.”

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Women subjected to new forms of online sexual harassment in lockdown

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