The 13th Doctor, School Boys in Skirts and Sexism in the Workplace

BlogHR Advice Posted: Thursday 20th July 2017 by

Last week, the wait was finally over for Doctor Who fans as the announcement of who would be cast in the role of the 13th Doctor was revealed at the end of the Wimbledon men’s tennis final. Within minutes of discovering that the ancient time-travelling Time Lord will regenerate as a woman – played by Jodie Whittaker – the internet exploded.

Whittaker will make her debut in the role during the Christmas special, when the 12th Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, regenerates. Whittaker is the first female to be cast in the role since the show began in 1963.

Speaking to the BBC, Whittaker said, “It feels completely overwhelming, as a feminist, as a woman, as an actor, as a human, as someone who wants to continually push themselves and challenge themselves, and not be boxed in by what you’re told you can and can’t be. It feels incredible.”

However, the move has polarised opinion amongst fans more than the announcement of any of her predecessors. And, it has led to an unbridled wave of public opinion wrapped up in a somewhat vicious row over sexism.

Most media outlets have praised the decision and have celebrated the fact that female sci-fi actors are breaking the glass ceiling, heralding the choice of the new Doctor as a historic moment for the show. Others have undermined the casting, coming under fire for running headlines such as ‘Doctor Nude!’ and ‘Dalektable!’ and publishing articles about Whittaker appearing naked or topless in previous film and television roles.

TV columnist, Adam Postans, ran an article stating, “It is frankly nauseating that the [BBC] should now get on their sci-fi high horse and gallop into Right-Onsville to plonk a woman sheriff in town.”

Equal Opportunities for all, not just for some

Although public opinion over the gender of a lead character in a TV show may seem nonsensical to some, once again it throws a spotlight on the subtleties of sexism in the workplace that still exist. An actor is paid to do a job; stage and screen is a workplace, albeit with a broader audience of thousands, if not millions.

As an employer, if you haven’t given your equal opportunities policy any attention for a while, perhaps now is the time to dust it off. Ensuring that your workplace is not only compliant but is actively promoting the importance of equal opportunities for all – not just for some – can lift your company’s reputation and go a long way to re-engaging your workforce.

Although many companies do instill good working practices to stamp out sexism in the workplace and ensure gender equality in roles, responsibilities, and remuneration, there are less obvious signs that subtle sexism still exists in everyday working life.

These subtleties can include sexist jokes, comments about a woman’s appearance, male colleagues over-explaining technical information to their female peers, uniform restrictions (for both men and women), gender targeting in recruitment campaigns, and the expectation that women will naturally take on duties like answering the phone, cleaning the office and making the coffee.

Recent examples of workplace sexism to have hit the headlines include the case of temporary worker, Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from a temping job at PwC in London because she turned up to work in flat shoes, when the dress code stated heels of 2-4 inches must be worn. When Thorp refused to wear heels on the grounds that male colleagues were not asked to do the same, she was sent home without pay.

Thorp later set up a petition calling for the law to be changed so that women cannot be forced to wear heels to work, but this has since been rejected by the Government. However, the Government will be producing new guidelines on workplace dress codes to help prevent discriminatory practices in the workplace.

Another story hit the headlines this summer when a group of teenage boys from Isca Academy in Essex staged a uniform protest over the fact they were not allowed to wear shorts during one of the hottest weeks of the year. To prove a point, around 30 boys turned up for school wearing skirts – a perfectly acceptable item of school uniform permitted to be worn by their female peers.

None of the boys were penalised for the decision, and the school has since revisited its uniform policy. Once again, the protest provoked social media backlash across the UK but has also been seen as an important lesson in gender equality to be learned from our children.

For support with your equal opportunities policy and advice on handling fairness in the workplace, contact our team of HR experts in confidence.

Image credit: BBC

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