Sexism in business

When you hear the word 'business', what word do you expect to follow? Most people would say 'man', of course, because that is the vision and the reality. Only 4.6% of America's Fortune 500 CEOs are female, and in the UK, only six women are CEOs of FTSE 100 companies. The business world, along with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, has an incredible lack of female employees, and even more so in leadership.

Girl lego

It's easy to dismiss this phenomenon and blame women for their absence in the fields, with typical comments including 'Well, maybe women just don't want those jobs'. But it's critical to analyse why women don't fit into the STEM world as they should.

Maybe it starts with 'micro-aggressions' – the ones that shove Barbies and make-up kits down our throats while our brothers get Lego, construction toys and other things that help develop STEM skills at a young age.

Even when young girls, such as myself, gather interest in STEM subjects or business later on in life, we're ridiculed and immediately treated as outcasts who are much less intelligent than our male counterparts. While I was in my junior year of high school, I was the only girl on the Advanced Placement (AP) Physics course, and this experience proved to me just how horrible sexism and harassment in these areas can be.

In places where women lack a presence, especially in areas that result in high paying jobs and powerful positions, we are treated as if we are invading some sort of 'man cave' and sexualised to be nothing more than a body.

Since starting a feminist blog site for teenagers like myself, I have encountered girls who claim that boys have dropped out of high-school engineering clubs because a young woman was elected president and later shunned from future business-leader clubs by boys who made jokes about women belonging in the kitchen. And when young women do find themselves progressing in business despite the lack of support and overwhelming stigma, we are not offered the same opportunities to make it to the top and are forced to stay in lower-paid, middle-management areas.

Why we need more women in STEM areas

  • Women make up 14.4% of UK STEM workforce
  • 28% of the world's researchers are women
  • 15% of engineering graduates are female
  • 8.2% of engineering professionals are female
  • Women make up 17.5% of ICT (information and communications technology) professionals
  • Only one in 10 STEM managers are female

Women in the US make up 9% of top management positions. Women in the UK make up around a third of managerial jobs but remain virtually invisible in high-ranking jobs. These basic facts prove that women don't get the same opportunities. Yet according to the National Center for Education Statistics, women make up 60% of all master's degrees, 44% of US business masters and nearly the same in the UK.

Women know they are shunned, and so do the girls who hope to one day be a part of these industries. A recent survey showed that an average of one in every three women have been sexually harassed in the workplace, and one of the top reported sexual harassment areas (31%) are STEM-related jobs. Statistics for women in retail businesses are at 36%, and any woman near legal industries report around 30%.

According to the Center for Creative Leadership, 33% of women have been called bossy in the workplace. Which makes women nearly twice as likely to be called bossy than their male counterparts. Sharon L Harlan conducted a study that also suggests that when women increase in presence and in authority, resistance from men in the office harden and discrimination becomes "more open".

It is also important to note that many women in high positions are used to being degraded, asked about their family life and questioned if their job negatively impacts their children's wellbeing. Over time, we've seen many pieces that suggest women cannot 'have it all' and must prioritise either a career or a family. But we shouldn't have to make this choice.

As my generation slowly moves closer to gender equality, it is important that we destroy these stigmas and ensure that there isn't just one girl in a physics class, but 10 of them. It is society's moral responsibility to provide a safe and healthy environment for girls to study and learn. Whether it be teachers monitoring classrooms for hostile environments, better representation for women leaders in male dominated subjects, or speaking out against people we know who tear down women at a personal level, we can all play a part in the success of young girls.

Women belong in business, and as my generation is ready to lead in the future, it's about time we were shown there are places for us at the top. Open the doors to us so your daughters can be more than just princesses.

Alexis Isabel Moncada is a teen activist who created the blog Feminist Culture to give a platform to young people to discuss gender equality, race, sexuality and global issues.