Sexual Discrimination in the Work Place

French Femal WorkerDespite women’s increasing numbers in the labor market and advances in women’s rights over the last several decades, women are still discriminated against in the workplace. This year’s U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that women who work 41-44 hours per week earn less than 85% of what men working the same hours earn.  As women work longer hours, their percentage of men’s earnings decrease: women working over 60 hours per week earn 78% of men who work the same hours earn.

Many workplaces experience “gender fatigue,” which causes workers to become tired of working towards gender equality and to become ambivalent to gender discrimination. For working women in any field, however, it is important to be able to recognize gender inequality and be able to protect and defend yourself when discriminatory situations arise.

Sexual discrimination means treating someone differently based on gender.  Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights act makes sexual discrimination illegal for employers when hiring, firing, promoting, and offering raises or other opportunities.  Furthermore, the Equal Pay Act (EPA), makes it illegal for an employer to pay unequal wages to men and women who perform jobs that require the same skills, effort, responsibility, and work conditions.  Gender discrimination still occurs nonetheless.  Below are some common situations in which women encounter sexual discrimination:

  • Not being hired or promoted members of a company are more comfortable working with men
  • Being fired or laid off because you are a woman.
  • Not being given equal pay as a male in your position or being at a disadvantage to receive commission or bonuses for your work.
  • Not receiving enough hours of work or hours that allow you to balance your job with your at-home responsibilities.
  • Not being hired back after your maternity leave.
  • Not receiving benefits because of the higher costs associated with maternity coverage, or not being able to receive coverage for your spouse because it is assumed he will have coverage through his employer.
  • Being forced to take tests that aren’t required, i.e. having to “prove” you are competent.
  • Being given “women’s” work, “behind the scenes” work, or menial assignments that do not use your full intellectual potential and receive little recognition.  This may include answering the phones, filing, or transcribing when this is not in your job description.
  • Being ignored when you make suggestions and proposals.
  • Being monitored and reviewed more closely than men.

Why does this happen?  Chaz Kyser, author of Embracing the Real World: The Black Woman’s Guide to Life After College, attributes much sexual discrimination to gender-roles stereotypes.  Some of these include:

  • Men can work under more pressure than women.
  • Men are better critical thinkers and problem solvers than women.
  • Women are not as fit to be leaders as men are.
  • Women in the workforce are competing against men, taking jobs away from the real breadwinners.

What should you do if you think you are being sexually discriminated at work?  Kyser offers some great advice for women:

  1. Identify the problem: Figure how the discrimination is being played out, make sure you have every fact straight, keep a log of occurrences with written documentation, emails, and voicemails.  You will need as much evidence as you can provide if your case develops.
  2. Talk to a trusted female coworker and ask for a second opinion.  A confidant may be able to see your situation more objectively and identify another cause for your situation.
  3. Calmly confront your offender directly, asking that the discrimination cease.
  4. If direct confrontation doesn’t resolve your problem, file a complaint with your company.
  5. If filing a complaint doesn’t work, consult outside agencies.  Remember, sexual discrimination is illegal according to the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act.

For more information about Chaz Kyser and her advice about women in the work place, visit her website, Embracing the Real World.

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