Many people feel that gender relations is an awkward topic they would rather ignore. ‘Silent sexism’ is thus an ingrained part of certain cultures, including corporate cultures. Here we examine the gender status quo, why gender is relevant in corporate training, and how it can be approached to build healthy workplace relationships. Hollywood and other industries have come under scrutiny after recent outpourings of sexual assault allegations against prominent individuals. That abused women are breaking the silence against powerful men has been named the ‘Weinstein Effect’, after an alleged sex pest accused by Angelina Jolie and over 140 other women. Such industry earthquakes have radically changed people’s views and forever sullied reputations. Abusers have lost work, the public’s favourable opinion and their families.

Sexism is something of a conundrum as it still appears to be widely tolerated, as is apparent in the election of the current US president whose shady past did not affect his popularity. Nevertheless, that some people permit it does not change the fact that it is wrong and that it causes untold torment to victims. Some cultures and traditions are sexist, but these are unacceptable and harmful in the workplace, interfering with Organisational harmony and leading to staff attrition. The only way to safeguard against sexism is through open dialogue. Gender sensitisation is part of diversity training and is aimed at closing gender gaps. Striving for mutual understanding in workplace relations is a crucial part of this. Fortunately, sensitisation can be taught in the training space. For example, qualified facilitators can draw out individual views and concerns of members of a new team, establishing a good foundation for future interactions. Hypothetical examples and role play can also be used to teach acceptable behaviour successfully.

Sakhumzi Mfecane, Professor of Anthropology at UWC, reveals eye-opening facts about gender relationships. Prof. Mfecane is an expert on masculinities who has studied men in the African context for years. He explained that there is a misunderstanding of what feminism really is: ‘Feminism has done more than any other paradigm to enlighten us about the society in which we live, which is not only gender-unequal, but in terms of race and class as well.’ The idea that feminists hate men is based on a misunderstanding. Compounding this is the lack of attention paid to sexism. When women try to call attention to it, it is easy for others to dismiss it, saying, for example, that the woman simply hates men, is overreacting, and that the problem is not that serious. The problem is serious, however, because there is no woman who can say they have not experienced gender discrimination and/or one or more forms of gender-based abuse. One only needs to speak to them in a way that makes them feel safe to disclose their experiences, or to look at movements such as #MeToo, to see that this is true. In keeping Devan Moonsamy CEO if The ICHAF Training Institute with what feminism really is, it certainly goes both ways, and men should not be unduly pressured or abused either. Thus, everyone needs to be trained on gender dynamics, particularly managers who can, in turn, foster a culture conducive to the success and growth of all.

Prof. Mfecane further said, ‘Feminism talks about bringing about a society where we are all treated for who we are and not our gender.’ Everyone wishes to be fairly treated. Yet it is often not the case, more so for women. Feminism addresses the needs of communities and individuals, including the poor and other marginalised groups – highly relevant for CSR. We can learn much from feminism about how to train men and women from various contexts. All employees can be trained to behave well from the start of their employment term. It is essential that employees, especially women, feel safer and free to advance in their careers. Likewise, employees can thrive in their careers by learning what is acceptable behaviour, rather than committing offences in the midst of respected companies.

Establishing ground rules and conducting group training early on is highly effective in preventing sexism. Prudent executives can put in place safeguards, for example, by instructing employees that sexual advances should not occur at work. As part of its training programmes, ICHAF offers gender sensitisation for organisations. ICHAF programmes foster mutual understanding among employees and seek to solve the problem of sexism by establishing what behaviour is expected in the professional environment.