Institutional Sexism – Does It Still Exist?

As we reflect on 2019, it would be fair to say that overall, we are, as a nation, more aware of sexism and equality in the work place than ever before. Not least due to gender pay gap reporting. Surprisingly, there have been two stories in the news this week, one positive for equality and one quite the contrary.


The first story in focus this week is the announcement by Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue service that they will no longer use the image of children’s TV favourite, Fireman Sam on their promotional material. They say that they have found it prevents women from wanting to join the fire service.

Their chief fire officer Les Britzman has stated that Fireman Sam should be renamed Firefighter Sam. This message is seconded by The Fire Brigade Union, who have stated that the character and his name do not reflect the attempts the Fire Service are making to get women into the fire service and that they are “bothered by the subconscious message the term ‘fireman’ has created as an issue in our recruitment.”

Is this inclusion or equality gone mad? There will be many people on each side of the fence on this one. Whilst potentially changing the character used and the name to ‘fireperson’ may encourage more women into the profession, is it not ask important to ask the question of what can be put in place to prevent sexism once an individual is taken on? Furthermore, secondary to inputting policies and procedures what culture shifts need to happen within a workplace to prevent men, and women, being subject to institutional sexism?


Whilst stories around sexism exist, it is difficult in 2019 to believe it still happens at work without being exposed to in some way. This is something we have seen crop up twice this week. Rhona Malone, a firearms officer in Scotland, has taken such a case to the Edinburgh Employment Tribunal this week.

Ms Malone, 43 has brought a claim against Police Scotland. Her case went to a Preliminary hearing on Wednesday and she has claimed that she was subject to constant sexist comments and behaviours which amounted to institutional sexism. In addition to this her lawyer is quoted as saying that female firearms officers were “set up to fail.” What perhaps is most surprising from Ms Malone’s comments at the Preliminary Hearing was that, when she raised her concerns to the female chief inspector they were brushed off as being “petty.” We will hear more in relation to this story once the tribunal hearing is heard early next year.

Similarly, a female banker Stacey MacKen, has been successful in her claim for sex discrimination and equal pay against French Bank BNP Paribas. Examples of the sexist conduct here extended beyond her not receiving equal pay to men employed to do the same job, to her line manager constantly belittling her by saying “not now Stacey” and her male colleagues placing a witches hat on her desk after an afternoon drinking session. Whilst we don’t have a figure for her compensation yet, she is claiming around £4million.


Sadly, all of these stories seem to indicate that institutional sexism still exists and for every attempt to be inclusive and equal, as Lincoln Fire Service are attempting to do, there is a setback (at least one employer getting it wrong!)

It is vital that as part of employee development and engagement these topics are discussed openly and honestly without judgement to enable everyone in an organisation to not only have a voice and opinion, but plan and to how to move forward.

Whether its assistance with equal opportunities policies, manager or employee training or even assistance with developing your support systems for men and women at work, we would be happy to help. Should you wish to discuss this further, or have any questions of how this may affect you, please contact a member of our Employment Team who would be more than happy to assist you.

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