Just before a Zoom call I’d had scheduled with a journalism consultant for well over a week, I gave her a quick message asking her to ignore my appearance. Yes, I’d had ample time to make myself look pretty for my first time face to face with a new person, but in all honesty, I just couldn’t be bothered. To my pleasant surprise, she was also donning make-up free skin and a messy bun.
One of the biggest benefits of working from home, besides ditching the commute, is being able to dress and look however you want. Most days, I sit on the couch in my pyjamas with my hair in a ponytail. I think I’ve worn makeup around three times since March, with all of those instances occurring in the last month. There’s another layer of freedom to remote working when it comes to women and presentability, and it’s been refreshing not to worry about the way I look on a daily basis.
But, while the lockdown has allowed most women to evade a lot of the day to day sketchy behaviour of our male counterparts, like catcalling and getting felt up in a dingy club (please, can we leave that one in 2019, fellas?), workplace sexism has still managed to find a place to thrive online.
A recent study by employment law specialist Slater and Gordon found that one in three women had been told to put on more makeup or change their hair while working from home and interacting through video calls. On top of this, 27% of women had been asked to dress more provocatively, or ‘sexier’ by their bosses.
44% of bosses admitted to making these requests, with the most common reasons being “to help win more business”, that it would “be pleasing to clients” and it’s “important to look nice for the team”.
The report found nearly 40% of the 2000 respondents said demands about their appearance were targeted at them or other women in their teams, rather than equally with male colleagues. Looking good in professional settings (and all the time, for that matter) is a huge pressure placed on women, which is why escaping the daily torture of dressing to impress was such a relief for some. This is clear in that a quarter of respondents said that they would spend more time on their beauty regime due to fears that failing to do so would negatively affect their career.
Slater and Gordon employment lawyer Danielle Parsons 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.
“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.”
These (not-so) subtle forms of everyday online misogyny are endemic of the sexism women have had to face in professional environments for years. The survey found that a third of women had experienced at least one sexist comment while in lockdown. Unfortunately, only 60% reported these sexist misconducts to HR.
Speaking to The Independent, Deeba Syed, senior legal officer at leading UK women’s charity, Rights of Women, said: “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.”