Gender discrimination in the workplace has been explicitly outlawed in most countries around the world. In the United States, for instance, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex. Although such labor laws have existed for a long time and ensured extensive protection to countless female workers, gender discrimination is still rampant in contemporary workplaces.
If you or someone you know has been discriminated at work for being a woman, you can consult a gender discrimination attorney to find out if you have a valid claim and the kind of legal recourse you can take. Since most female workers do not understand what constitutes gender-based discrimination at work, it’s a good idea to understand the basics.
What Is Gender Discrimination?
Workplace gender discrimination can occur in many different ways. Gender discrimination generally means that a job applicant or employee is treated unfairly, differently, or less favorably due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. Although ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ have different legal meaning, laws against gender discrimination in workplaces around the world generally use them interchangeably.
Here are some of the most common examples of workplace gender discrimination against women:
- A job applicant is not hired because she is a woman
- A job applicant is offered a low-paying position in a company or an employee is fired because of their gender identity
- An employee is subjected to slurs or derogatory language in the workplace on account of being a woman
- A female employee is paid less than an employee of different gender performing the same set of tasks
- A female employee is denied promotion, training, pay raise, or benefits that are given to employees of other gender identity in a situation wherein she is equally or more qualified than them
- A female worker is disciplined by the supervisor or HR managers for actions that employees of other gender identity indulge in all the time but never get called out or punished for
- A female worker is subject to unwelcome sexual advances, quid pro quo sexual favors, or other harassment of sexual nature in the workplace
In a nutshell, gender discrimination in the workplace can be disparate treatment based on a person’s gender or sexual orientation. It may include sexual harassment as well. Such discriminatory acts aren’t always perpetrated by men. People of all genders indulge in gender discrimination. Therefore, legally, the gender of the perpetrator of workplace gender discrimination may not be important.
How Workplace Gender Discrimination Affects Mental & Physical Health of Female Employees
Gender discrimination in the workplace can be a potent source of stress for many female employees. A 2020 study published by the Lancet details the extensive impact of gender discrimination on women’s mental health.
Researchers found that women workers who reported having experienced gender discrimination over the last one year scored significantly higher than others on various metrics related to depression. Depending upon the nature and intensity of gender discrimination, it can also lead to severe anxiety and psychological trauma.
Depression, anxiety, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), eating disorders, etc. are more prevalent among women workers. Researchers argue that gender discrimination in the workplace plays a major role in creating this gender gap in rates of mental health issues among all workers. Women are twice as likely to be suffering from depression; they are about 1.5 times more likely to attempt suicide; eating disorders are several times more common among women workers.
A study published in 2018 highlights that gender discrimination can also affect the physical health of women. Researchers argue that women who have been subjected to sexual harassment are more likely to report ill physical health. Gender discrimination is a serious stressor and can worsen chronic health conditions, including diabetes and blood pressure.
Unhealthy Living Conditions
Gender discrimination at work can also lead to female workers having less access to opportunities and benefits they require to survive and thrive. Some women may even struggle to access the basic facilities required for healthy living.
Gender pay gap due to discriminatory policies of a company, for instance, will result in female workers earning less than their male counterparts even when they perform the same jobs.
Women of color are worst affected by the gender pay gap. African American women, for instance, have historically occupied low-paying positions, despite higher labor participation rates.
Compared to men, women are more likely to experience financial difficulties. The rates of poverty among women are higher. When they are discriminated against in the workplace, it reduces their ability to afford healthy food, health insurance, and housing.
Gender Discrimination Affects Women in Multiple Ways
Women experiencing gender discrimination in the workplace may not be able to concentrate on daily tasks. When they have to focus on dealing with discrimination or harassment in the workplace, the attention they may be giving to assigned duties may be significantly reduced.
Persistent discriminatory behavior may also have an adverse impact on female workers’ self-esteem. They may quickly develop feelings of anger, frustration, or paranoia in the event discrimination is severe. In a hostile work environment ridden with direct or indirect abuse and discrimination, women may also feel unsafe.
Gender discrimination also creates unnecessary conflicts in the workplace. Women workers may find themselves alienated from their co-workers.
How workplace gender discrimination affects a woman will invariably depend on the nature and context of gender discrimination. Also, not all women may respond or deal with workplace gender discrimination the same way.
Employers Can Play an Important Role in Eliminating Gender Discrimination
Gender discrimination isn’t always intentional. In many cases, it may have become a part of company culture or policy to treat female workers in a discriminatory manner. Whether conscious or unconscious, workplace gender biases are still rampant.
Business leaders, employers, HR managers, and supervisors can play a key role in eliminating gender biases at work. First things first, they should educate all their workers on gender bias. Next, they should evaluate and standardize their hiring/firing policies and salary/incentive structure to make them gender-neutral. Those in position of strength should stand up to gender discrimination when it occurs in the workplace. Creating an inclusive workplace is one of the most recommended employee retention best practices.
It is in the best interest of an organization to put a full stop to workplace gender discrimination. Besides low productivity, poor team dynamics, and poor brand reputation, gender discrimination can also result in high employee turnover. No one wants to continue dealing with harassment or discrimination. Even if a woman has no choice but to continue working in a hostile work environment where gender biases are commonplace, they are likely not to put in their hearts and minds to work.