AuthorEuropean Institute for Gender Equality (EU body or agency)
European Institute for Gender Equality6
Part 1.Understand
What is sexism?
Sexism is linked to beliefs around the fundamental nature of women and men and the roles
they should play in society. Sexist assumptions about women and men, which manifest
themselves as gender stereotypes, can rank one gender as superior to another. Such hi-
erarchical thinking can be conscious and hostile, or it can be unconscious, manifesting itself
as unconscious bias. Sexism can touch everyone, but women are particularly affected.
Despite legal frameworks set up across the EU to prevent discrimination and promote
equality, women are still under-represented in decision-making roles, left out of certain
sectors of the economy, primarily responsible for unpaid care work, paid less than men
and disproportionately subject to gender-based violence (2). Sexist attitudes, practices
and behaviour contribute to these inequalities.
Within the European institutions there is no specific definition of sexism. Sexist behaviour
is partly covered under Article 12a of the Staff Regulations on psychological and sexual
harassment, where sexual harassment is defined as:
conduct relating to sex which is unwanted by the person to whom it is directed and which
has the purpose or effect of offending that person or creating an intimidating, hostile, of-
fensive or disturbing environment(
Sexist practices are prohibited under Article 1(d) of
the Staff Regulations, which prohibits discrimina-
tion based on sex (among other forms of discrimi-
nation), as well as under Article 21 of the Charter of
Fundamental Rights of the EU.
However, while some sexist behaviour may
breach these anti-harassment and anti-discrim-
ination rules, some does not reach that thresh-
old. Additionally, the European Court of Auditors
has found that while the ethical frameworks of the
European Parliament, the European Council, the
Council of the European Union and the European
Commission are largely adequate and staff rate their
own ethical knowledge highly, less than a quarter
believe their colleagues would not hesitate to
report unethical behaviour (
) Directive 2006/54/EC on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal
treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation outlines provisions
Member States are obligated to take to stop sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as direct
and indirect discrimination
) Regulation No 31 (EEC), 11 (EAEC), laying down the Sta Regulations of Ocials and the Condi-
tions of Employment of Other Servants of the European Economic Community and the European
Atomic Energy Community (https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A0196
(4) European Court of Auditors, Special Report The ethical frameworks of the audited EU institutions:
scope for improvement, Publications Oce of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2019 (https://
(5) https://eige.europa.eu/thesaurus/terms/1367
Definition: sexism
Sexism is linked to power in
that those with power are typi-
cally treated with favour and
those without power are typi-
cally discriminated against.
Sexism is also related to ste-
reotypes since discriminatory
actions or attitudes are fre-
quently based on false beliefs
or generalisations about gen-
der, and on considering gen-
der as relevant where it is not.
Source: EIGE (5).
Sexism at work: how can we stop it?
Part 1.Understand
What is the impact of sexism at
Sexism is inefficient
Sexist assumptions and practices can hold employees back and channel them into the
wrong roles. Women may be shut out of senior positions or diverted into roles seen
to require stereotypically ‘feminine’ skills. Men have been found to rapidly leave jobs
dominated by women due to social stigma, with some preferring unemployment (6).
This is a waste of human resources.
Sexism harms employees
Sexist expectations and behaviour
have been shown to negatively affect
employees’ performance, sense of be-
longing, mental health and job satisfac-
tion (8). Sexist behaviour and practices,
when frequent and normalised, have
been shown to be as detrimental to employees’ occupational well-being as sexual
harassment (9).
(6) Torre, M., The ip side of segregation: men in typically female jobs, London School of Economics
and Political Science Business Review, 2019 (https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/businessreview/2019/01/29/
(7) EU Open Data Portal, ‘Special Eurobarometer 465: Gender equality 2017’ (https://data.europa.
(8) Rippon, G., The Gendered Brain, Bodley Head, London, 2019;
Bollier, T., Dardenne, B. and Dumont, M., ‘Insidious dangers of benevolent sexism: consequences
for women’s performance’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 93, No 5, 2007, pp. 764–
779 (https://orbi.uliege.be/bitstream/2268/6525/1/Dardenne %20et %20al_jpsp_07.pdf);
Rubin, M., Paolini, S., Subaić, E. and Giacomini, A., A conrmatory study of the relations between
workplace sexism, sense of belonging, mental health, and job satisfaction among women in
male-dominated industries’, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Vol. 49, 2019, pp. 267–282
(9) Sojo, V. E., Wood, R. E. and Genat, A. E., ‘Harmful workplace experiences and women’s occupa-
tional well-being: a meta-analysis’, Psychology of Women Quarterly, Vol. 40, No 1, 2016, pp. 10–40
(10) https://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoce/publicopinion/archives/ebs/ebs_428_en.pdf
Less than half of EU citizens believe
gender equality has been achieved at
Source: Eurobarometer (7).
Sexism damages an organisation’s image
94 % of EU citizens believe gender
equality is a fundamental right
Source: Eurobarometer (10).
When employees feel that sexist be-
haviour and practices persist in spite of
efforts to build an inclusive workplace,
organisations can be accused of ‘gen-
der washing’, i.e. only making cosmetic

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