Another week, another *ahem* ‘naïve’ company running an event that actively stereotypes women…  Whilst it can seem that regular stories about women being stereotyped in the workplace are almost the status quo, it is worth noting that the fact they are viewed as newsworthy (when, arguably, twenty years ago they wouldn’t be) is a positive in today’s modern society in terms of helping prevent future discrimination.

So, what’s happened this time? Well, a Russian company recently announced the holding of a “femininity marathon” during this month.  So far, so naive…

However, initiatives within the so-called femininity marathon include:

  • Cash bonuses for wearing a dress or skirt “no longer than 5 centimetres from the knee” upon them sending a picture of them wearing the relevant clothing to the company; and
  • A competition to see who is quickest at making dumplings!

To make things worse, the company also holds competitions
for male employees, the last reported competition being a ‘pull-up contest’!

The company’s defence?  That the CEO is concerned about women “mixing gender roles” by wearing trousers, so wants to encourage the wearing of dresses and skirts and, also, “wants to maintain the female essence in every female employee” by ensuring that “young women do not have male haircuts” and “project all their warmth into raising children”.

Wow!  There is little wonder social media was quick to react with allegations of sexism and attitudes ‘from the Middle Ages’.  Quite simply, if any employee came to me with reports of similar behaviour against them by a UK company, it wouldn’t take long before we were discussing their potential gender (and, perhaps, sexual orientation) discrimination claims!

Naturally, such overt gender discrimination is now rather rare in the UK.  In this way, most successful claims within Employment Tribunals are for ‘indirect’ gender discrimination (i.e. policies and practices that adversely impact on men or women without
necessarily meaning to) rather than ‘direct’ gender discrimination (i.e. intentionally treating both genders differently, such as would be the case against the Russian company).

However, we still see reports of enduring sexism (against both men and women) within the simplest things like, for example, the issue of dress codes.  From a female perspective, we have seen campaigns against dress codes including high heels (and I note that Japan is currently having a social debate about the same online following comments from the Government about high heels being ‘necessary’ for work) and, from a male perspective, I note several cases of men (mostly train drivers and postmen) not being allowed to wear shorts in hot weather, when female colleagues can wear skirts, leading to men turning up to work in skirts until the dress code was changed.

Obviously, it can be sometimes be difficult to see where the ‘line’ is between legitimate workplace rules and gender discrimination but, thankfully, the “femininity marathon” would clearly be a non-starter in the UK!