One in three women has been asked to wear more makeup or change their hair while working from home, new research suggests, because while we’re interacting through a screen, sexism is alive and well.
Almost as many women were asked to dress more sexily or provocatively during video calls, according to the research by employment law firm Slater and Gordon.
In general, more than one in three women have experienced at least one sexist workplace demand since the lockdown started in March, the survey of 2,000 men and women found.
The most common ways bosses justified lurid comments about dress included saying it would “help to win new business”, it is important to “look nicer for the team”, and “it would be more pleasing to a client”, according to the study.
The law firm said it had hoped there would be a dramatic decline in reports of sexist behaviour as offices closed down, but that sexism had instead found “new and insidious” ways to thrive online.
Around two out of five women said demands were targeted at them or other women in their teams, rather than equally with male employees, leaving them feeling “objectified, demoralised and self-conscious” about their appearance.
Most women told to dress more provocatively did not report their boss to their HR department, and one in four actually agreed to change the way they looked for fear of a negative impact on 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.”
Slater and Gordon urged women to report any demands to change their appearance to their HR department, or seek legal advice.
Sue Harris, legal director of the GMB union, said: “The way women are treated in our society is absolutely reflected in the findings of this poll.
“Nobody ever considers what a man looks like or suggests he change appearance for the purposes of a team call.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Sexism and harassment at work has a huge impact on women’s lives, even during a pandemic. Trade union reps can help members who experience it, but we need better laws to stop it happening in the first place.
“Ministers should strengthen the law by giving employers a legal duty to prevent sexual harassment at work. This would help put an end to toxic workplaces where sexism and harassment are an everyday experience for women.”