Author Topic: How to tell them it's discriminatory?  (Read 4678 times)

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StarFaerie

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How to tell them it's discriminatory?
« on: March 28, 2013, 03:26:41 AM »
My work had a fire drill a few days ago. As we were evacuating from the floor towards the fire stairs the wardens announced that women wearing high heels had to stay back and allow the men to go first, so they weren't slowed down by the women wearing heels. I felt this was very odd as I can go as fast down the stairs in heels as I can not in heels, the limiting factor on speed down the stairs is not people going slow but merely trying to get hundreds of people down a small staircase and only women wear heels so it is leaving us behind to die in a fire while the men get to escape.

So today I rang the Government department which deals with discrimination laws to discuss it. After the woman had stopped laughing at the ridiculousness of it, she confirmed that it is indirect discrimination against women (as wearing heels is a female attribute) and they would happily take my complaint if I wanted and start action against my workplace on the behalf of the women working there. I said I'd prefer to talk to my work first and discuss it with them rather then taking it that far before they've had a chance to change it, so that is where I now am.

Question: How to I let my bosses know that I am not OK with being left to last to evacuate because I am a woman and that the policy is discriminatory and probably actionable?

More info:

We do not have a HR department. We are a small business of only 13 employees.

My bosses are both male and have the habit of just dismissing anything that is brought up as unimportant or an overreaction. I want to let them know that my safety is important to me and I do not think it is OK that my safety is considered less important because I am a woman.  Also recently at my work we were forced to attend a webinar on appropriate work wear which was very clear that heels are the appropriate corporate footwear for women, so wearing heels is not just a personal choice.

I don't want to get into a debate about the legalities here please. I've already checked those out and the legalities are also likely to be very different in different jurisdictions.

Thanks for any ideas/input/feedback.

Hawkwatcher

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Re: How to tell them it's discriminatory?
« Reply #1 on: March 28, 2013, 03:40:40 AM »
I have one question.  Are women without heels also expected to stay behind?

StarFaerie

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Re: How to tell them it's discriminatory?
« Reply #2 on: March 28, 2013, 03:53:06 AM »
I have one question.  Are women without heels also expected to stay behind?

No, which is why it is indirect discrimination rather than direct.

gemma156

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Re: How to tell them it's discriminatory?
« Reply #3 on: March 28, 2013, 03:58:02 AM »
I wouldn't bother to raise the issue you will just look foolish in the workplace.  In the event of a fire don't accept the directions from the appointed wardens if that information is just plain ridiculous and stupid, just evacutate calmly and safely from the building.  In fact you can even shuck your heels hold them in your hands in the air, just to satisfy the warden, until you get outside.  In the end it is up to you and only you to see to your safety, and if the directions given to you sound stupid, follow your own instincts every time.

Next time there is a safety drill again shuck your shoes and calmly walked past the warden, if he says for you to stop tell him no and go.

Nikko-chan

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Re: How to tell them it's discriminatory?
« Reply #4 on: March 28, 2013, 04:06:37 AM »
Following gemma's advice, I wouldn't even shuck my shoes if I knew I could walk fast/run in them. I would just go. And if they yelled at me because of it, THEN I would bring it up that it is discrimination.

StarFaerie

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Re: How to tell them it's discriminatory?
« Reply #5 on: March 28, 2013, 04:07:25 AM »
I wouldn't bother to raise the issue you will just look foolish in the workplace.  In the event of a fire don't accept the directions from the appointed wardens if that information is just plain ridiculous and stupid, just evacutate calmly and safely from the building.  In fact you can even shuck your heels hold them in your hands in the air, just to satisfy the warden, until you get outside.  In the end it is up to you and only you to see to your safety, and if the directions given to you sound stupid, follow your own instincts every time.

Next time there is a safety drill again shuck your shoes and calmly walked past the warden, if he says for you to stop tell him no and go.

Thanks for that. I really do appreciate the opinion and if I was the only woman involved, I'd certainly do just that as politely as possible (though ignoring a warden's instruction during a real evacuation is a firing offence.)

However I really would like to bring it up because there is already a lot of non-overt discrimination in my workplace and a feeling from my bosses that women are less able. I don't get it as much as others as I am our technical specialist so they rely on my word (It has been a hard slog to prove it though, taking at least twice as long as a man would), but the other women certainly do. I am also a bit of a feminist and I really dislike sitting back and letting silly rules that harm women continue to exist. I'm not too worried about seeming like I'm foolish or a trouble maker, they already know I am.

Oh, and I should say, if I went the formal complaint route, it would be completely anonymous unless it went to court, but I think it's a bit far to go before discussing it with them.
« Last Edit: March 28, 2013, 04:10:31 AM by StarFaerie »

Danika

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Re: How to tell them it's discriminatory?
« Reply #6 on: March 28, 2013, 04:26:43 AM »
Well, I'm a bit of a firecracker who works in a male-dominated field and this kind of thing angers me greatly.

The warden is different than your bosses, right? Does the warden work for the company or outside of the company?

In your situation, I'd come up with what I wanted to say and then I'd either send a letter/email to the bosses or ask them for a meeting to discuss. Whatever is more appropriate for your work culture.

I'd ask them if the warden also planned to ask people with limps and injuries to stay behind and let faster people pass. What about short men who wear lifts in their shoes? Are they slow? What about tall men who have dress shoes with a slight heel? What about someone who has metal pins in their knees and has had surgery? What about women who are fast in high heels? What about platform heels versus pointed high heels? Are they suggesting that I should wear dress shoes that are flats from now on? And I'd be very serious that it's very sexist and insulting that only women in high heels can slow people down, but men and/or women over the age of 60-65, or young people with rheumatoid arthritis cannot slow others down.

That if the warden were really concerned about speed, he should have said "slow people, please, move aside and allow faster people to pass. Or remove your shoes if they are slowing you down."

I'd talk to my bosses first and say it's insulting that they call you slow because you have high heels. And that if it truly is going to be a matter of safety, then they should not make it "very clear that heels are the appropriate corporate footwear for women."

Of course, I, personally couldn't work in an environment where I was expected to wear heels, not just dress shoes that are flats, nor would I work in a place (not saying your work is like this, but my friend's law firm is) where women are expected to wear skirts not dress pants. Those things, in and of themselves, I find to be very discriminatory. Why must I show my legs at work if men aren't expected to? But that's my tangent.

I'd start with the bosses, and if they ignored me, I'd either write to the warden or proceed with the government department. The only reason I might not talk to the bosses or the warden first would be if they would then pin me as a trouble-maker and it would affect my job. In that case, I'd just go straight to the government, and meanwhile be looking for other employment because I wouldn't continue to work in a place where I was looked at as "lesser than" because of my anatomy.

StarFaerie

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Re: How to tell them it's discriminatory?
« Reply #7 on: March 28, 2013, 06:46:50 AM »
Thanks Danika. That's a really good summary of how I feel about it. I think I may be a bit of a firecracker too. I like those questions and I'm writing them down to use, if that's OK. I think I'll try to be gentle about it, though it is a bit against my nature. I always want to go in like a bull in a china shop.

YummyMummy66

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Re: How to tell them it's discriminatory?
« Reply #8 on: March 28, 2013, 07:09:29 AM »
I always have to wonder about these fire drills. 

If there is really a fire, is anyone going to actually leave the building in an orderly fashion?  I think not.  I might not trample someone, but my butt is beating it the heck out of there, high heels or not.

As for what happened, I would have not stayed behind.  I would have said, "I don't think so, unless someone wants to deal with a discrimination suit and headed the line".

Tea Drinker

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Re: How to tell them it's discriminatory?
« Reply #9 on: March 28, 2013, 08:49:04 AM »
I'd also be tempted to ask whoever ran this whether the fire safety plan really requires that some of the employees will die in case of a real fire.

Because that's the subtext: They can't evacuate everyone in time, so they want to limit the casualties by getting the men out. Either a woman in heels has time to get out safely--in which case someone walking right behind her should also have time--or she doesn't, in which case it's unethical and probably illegal to require women to wear heels in that workplace. It might even be illegal to allow women to wear heels, in the same way that you can't wear high heels or open-toed shoes in a workplace where safety requires steel-toed boots.
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Yvaine

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Re: How to tell them it's discriminatory?
« Reply #10 on: March 28, 2013, 08:56:15 AM »
That's a stupid policy. Do they really not realize that people kick off their heels in an emergency if they have to? It's not a summer blockbuster where the woman has to run in heels to increase the dramatic tension. I remember reading that the WTC stairwells were lined with discarded high heels.

lowspark

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Re: How to tell them it's discriminatory?
« Reply #11 on: March 28, 2013, 11:00:20 AM »
Your company consists of 13 people. I take it that you work in a large building with multiple companies, then? So are the wardens employed by your company to direct your company in a drill or are they general wardens for the building? Were they only saying this to the 13 of you who work for your company or was it directed at the general crowd?

What kind of training do they receive? Is it from your company or some kind of outside entity like the fire department, for example?

The reason I ask is because it seems that the directive came from the wardens, not the bosses. If the bosses are providing the training or instructions to the wardens, then yes, they are the ones to whom you should complain. My first step would probably be to approach the wardens to find out where this directive originated. Was it part of their training? Is it a company policy? A building policy? Did the wardens take it upon themselves to decide this?

This might be an actionable situation where you want to get the government involved. On the other hand, it might just be someone thinking that it was a good idea without actually thinking it through.
« Last Edit: March 28, 2013, 11:37:56 AM by lowspark »

Yvaine

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Re: How to tell them it's discriminatory?
« Reply #12 on: March 28, 2013, 11:28:07 AM »
The more I think about it, the more bizarre and incredible this seems. Is there any possibility it was a joke? (Yes, a tasteless, sexist, and awful joke that should definitely not be made in the workplace, but it's just bizarre to me that someone would suggest this as an actual procedure.)

Slartibartfast

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Re: How to tell them it's discriminatory?
« Reply #13 on: March 28, 2013, 11:43:19 AM »
I would bring it up informally with your boss first.  "Boss, during the drill, the warden said that women wearing heels have to wait and let the men go first.  Is that seriously the policy?  Do you realize how ridiculously sexist that is?  Because if it's not the policy, someone needs to make sure that warden is set straight."  Then you can judge based on your boss's reaction whether he (I assume it's a "he") takes you seriously or tries to brush you off - and if he brushes you off, I would definitely take it up the chain.  Especially since you have that in juxtaposition with the "women must wear heels" thing.

lowspark

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Re: How to tell them it's discriminatory?
« Reply #14 on: March 28, 2013, 12:04:00 PM »
Whoa, wait a minute. I guess I didn't read that right before till I saw what Slartibartfast posted.

...heels are the appropriate corporate footwear for women

Bolding is mine, but, are they saying women have to wear heels?
Or just that heels are acceptable/appropriate (but not required)?

Cuz that would be a whole other issue.