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Everyday Sexism

How to See it, Call it out, & Move on from it

NUSU promotes equality of all genders in the many campaigns we support or lead, this campaign will focus on *women and the inequality they suffer.  (* identify as women in a way that’s significant to them). Gender equality is a fundamental human right. Advancing gender equality is vital in creating a fulfilled society.  This campaign aims to educate, raise awareness, and empower you in order to reach your full potential.  

Most of us regardless of gender will know that sexism is alive and well in 2020. But post lockdown when we move into unchartered territory, will we recognise and be strong in calling out inequalities. This campaign aims to highlight and call out sexism in the ‘new normal’ and also aims to empower the leaders of tomorrow. More important than ever in a job market that will be more competitive than before. The UN Secretary-General said in April 2020, “Limited gains in gender equality and women’s rights made over the decades are in danger of being rolled back due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”  We want to help you feel confident in creating or continuing the crucial conversations needed to create positive change. By reading and listening to the information on these pages we hope to inspire you at whatever stage of your studies you are or if you are moving into the job market.  

So in order to move forward let’s take a look at 'the why', current progress, setbacks, and the work that needs to be done.  

Women and girls represent up to half of the world’s population and therefore up to half of its potential. Women continue to be underrepresented at all levels of political leadership and in many industries.  

In the UK today women are, on average, more likely to enter the workforce with higher qualifications than men, but earn less per hour. They are more likely to take on unpaid work, three times as likely to be working part time and likely to save less into their private pensions. – UK GOV Gender Equality Road Map. 

Men can also find themselves negatively affected by sexism because of and messages they receive from a very early age leading to old fashioned views and unrealistic stereotypes of what makes a ‘real man’. 

Some people think that the gender pay gap is fictitious because of national minimum and real living wage being non-discriminatory but the reasons for the stats run far deeper. The types of careers and opportunities (truly) available are not equal in many circumstances and this leads to an inequality in pay called the Gender Pay Gap.  

The gender pay gap for all employees was 17.3% in 2019. The full-time pay gap was 8.9%. The part-time pay gap was -3.1%. A sad statistics felt by women but particularly by intersectional women who find themselves at the very sharp end of the issue.  

Although progress is moving in the right direction it still seems slow. We can all do a little or a lot to encourage and inform those who are yet to ‘see it’ or who actively take part in sexist behaviour. Just over 100 years ago, Women in Britain were first guaranteed the right to vote. Although this seems like a long time ago women still struggle to make the changes and progress needed to gain equality.  

Unfortunately, the UK fell 6 places from 15th to 21st in the global rankings for gender equality 2019. Not the direction we hope for despite the UK Government pledging to take action - UK GOV Gender Equality Road Map.   Dr Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development), said in a People Management article the UK was making progress on gender equality, but that this report showed the pace of change was “far too slow”. “The thought that future generations will still be having the same dialogue as we’re having now is unacceptable,” she said, calling on employers to get serious about making long and short-term change to tackle gender inequalities and to start using the “happy to talk flexible working” tagline in their recruitment. 

However, there has been an important shift in attitude, what was once widely accepted is not acceptable in 2020.  The dinosaurs are slowly becoming extinct or at least becoming the minority! We also see progress in organisations where diversity, inclusion and equality are valued.  

Everyone can address unconscious biases and gendered language that often become a barrier to equal opportunity. If you are not a woman, you can work alongside women to achieve gender equality and embrace healthy, respectful relationships.  


  • “You’re quite funny for a girl” 
  • “Don’t throw like a girl!” 
  • “You should smile more” 
  • “She’s so dramatic – He’s passionate” 
  • “I like him but he’s a bit of a girl” 
  • “Man-Up” 
  • “She’s’ bossy – He’s assertive”  
  • “Time of the month?” 
  • “Going to Uni to find a boyfriend?” 
  • “My right-hand man” 
  • “She’s overwhelmed, poor thing” 
  • “She’s rude – He’s direct” 
  • “She’s moody – He’s serious” 

The list goes on…………… 

Use the guide below for helpful tips on how to call this out confidently. 

Once you see it, it’s hard to ‘unsee’. If you do witness sexism in its many forms, it can be tough to call it out especially when it is often cloaked in ‘humour’ or everyday sexism. You might find yourself on the receiving end of what is a feeling or tone, how do you handle this? Everyone has their own level of acceptance as well as their own level of managing situations but one thing we have learnt in our campaigning is to not hurt yourself in the process of doing what you feel is right, sexism is very much about power play and you might feel as though you are disempowered. Over recent years it has become easier to report and call out harassment and workplace sexism but there is still some way to go. Some comments or behaviour deserve to be reported but that is not always a great option. Here are some tips to help you decide on the best approach if you observe or are the target. 

  • Know your worth, some things might be ok to pass over your head but when it gets too much you have the right to highlight right from wrong. Remember to not be too hard on yourself if you don’t feel that you can raise it up, it’s a process.  
  • There are some ways of calling it out without it being an official report. Practice a bemused or dismissive reactive to sexist comments.  
  • Being called sweetheart, darling, pet etc. can feel condescending in a situation where others know your name, especially when male counterpart’s names are not forgotten. Answer by saying ‘I really like working with you so this is hard for me to say but….’ Or my preferred ‘sweetheart? It’s a good job I’m not just here to be a sweetheart or nothing would get done.’ 
  • Tackle ‘mansplaining (the art of talking over women, unnecessary over-explaining, devaluing women’s opinions) by talking 1-2-1 to ‘spailner.  It might be a case of a lack of self-awareness mixed with the privilege of always being listened to that has led to it. However, if women are not being heard at all this might take a group to make a cultural change. 
  • Be aware of role stereotyping. Examples would be women being the organisers of lunches or being first to offer to take minutes. Take a breath and don’t offer, every time. 

It may feel that this is too big an issue to actually make any change and there will be times that feel as though some people just won’t listen but remember the views of just 5 years ago and how social change is happening in front of us. Here are some of our ideas on what you can do.  

At work or Uni 

  • If you are in position to ask for a gender pay audit, do!  
  • Create networks that allow safe platforms for conversation and action.  
  • If the company, you work for already complete annual gender pay audits read it and utlise.  
  • If you are involved in recruitment, ask to take part in an unconscious bias course. 
  • Follow the guide in this page to call out sexism.
  • Get active with a charity or group. Check out the list of resources below. 
  • Ask if your workplace has a policy or mission statement if not look into the possibility of introducing one. 
  • Be diverse in your approach. Everyone has their own lived experiences and they may not always align with yours.