Overcoming Gender Inequality and Discrimination in the Workplace

Gender inequality in the workplace occurs when an employee is treated differently, unfavorably or unfairly because of their gender. No only is gender discrimination wrong, when it affects the terms and conditions of employment, it's against the law. Despite protection from the law, many people, particularly working women, feel that gender inequality and discrimination is still a big problem in some businesses. In fact, 68% of women who participated in a TNS Research survey responded that gender descrimination is quite commonplace in the work place.

Types of Gender Descrimination
So what exactly constitutes gender inequality? What are the signs that gender discrimination may be happening in your work place? Before answering these questions, it's important to know that while gender discrimination is usually directed toward women, men can also be subjected to gender discrimination.

The most overt form of gender inequality is unequal pay or unfair promotions. Unequal pay is typically a form of gender discrimination against women. Men are not supposed to earn more for performing a particular job just because they are men – but all too frequently they do. Under federal law, if a woman performs the same function, achieves the same goals, and works the same hours, she is entitled to be compensated as much as a man peforming the same job. Women often have to work longer at their job than men do to be promoted.

For most of history, women where discriminated against for giving birth. When a woman got pregnant she often lost her job, her position, and was replaced with a new "more productive" worker. Since a pregnant mother was often unproductive, employers felt justified in not continuing their employment or allowing them to return to work once their pregnancy and birth was over. Today, under federal law, an employer cannot discriminate against a woman based on pregnancy or child birth. Pregnancy must be treated as any other temporary condition.

Think you weren't hired because of your gender? If so, pay attention, you may have grounds for a lawsuit. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 specifically states that it is against federal law to refuse to hire someone based on their gender. The same law also specifies that it is illegal to fire an employee, or deprive them any job related opportunities, including internships, apprenticeships or promotions based on gender. For example, a hospital can't decide not to hire a nurse because he's male any more than they can fire a doctor because she is female.

Another form gender descrimination and inequality is harassment. In this day and age you'd think we were beyond gender driven harassment in the work place – but unfortunately it still exists. Harassment takes many forms and can be difficult to prove. Sexual harassment is arguably the most egregious form of harassment and may include overt sexual advances, unwanted sexual overtures, suggestive photos, inappropriate physical contact and the request for sexual favors in return for promotions, job security or any other job related benefit. Other common forms of harassment may include bullying, off-color jokes, and any patterns of behavior that fosters a hostile environment for an employee.

Effects of Gender Discrimination
To say gender discrimination isn't a problem is like saying bullying in elementary school is perfectly acceptable. The victims of gender discrimination feel its effects, as do the companies that allow gender discrimination to go unchecked. One of the biggest effects of gender discrimination – particularly for women – is increased stress. In fact, women who report experiencing workplace discrimination also report experiencing increased levels of stress – especially when discrimination involves any form of sexual harassment. Women dealing with workplace discrimination, in conjunction with increased stress levels, may also experience poorer health.

Decreased productivity is another effect of gender inequality and discrimination in the workplace. Not surprisingly, when faced with ongoing gender descrimination and inequality, workers tend to lose motivation and morale and they're unable to perform their jobs as effectively. Discriminatory behaviors that can lead to loss of morale and motivation – and consequently productivity – include off-color jokes, jokes that imply inferiority, jokes of a sexual or suggestive nature, or directly suggesting an employee's performance is sub-par because of his or her gender.

In corporate America these days, performance is often team based. While individuals contribute their skills, knowledge and services, overall production and final outcomes are often based on the continuity and performance of the team as a whole. There isn't much that creates more tension, hostility or lack of continuity for a team than gender inequality or discrimination. A woman doing the same job as her male coworker – and team member – will likely feel resentment towards her male coworker if she's being paid substantially less – even if the unequal treatment isn't his fault. An atmosphere or environment filled with tension often leads to lower productivity.

Conflict is a natural consequence when employees experience gender discrimination or inequality – regardless of whether it originates from other employees or management. If, for example, a junior employee is promoted ahead of his female supervisor to a managerial position, without sound rational, it will likely be difficult for the female supervisor to accept this man as her new manager, and she may take issue with management's decision and claim that gender discrimination has occurred.

Gender discrimination can lead to high employee turnover, which in turn equates to higher than necessary hiring, training and operating costs for a business. If an employee feels that his or her value is based on gender, rather than job performance, they'll feel demoralized, develop a bad attitude, performance poorly and ultimately look for a different job where gender discrimination does not exist. Even worse, employees who experience gender discrimination and then quit usually don't have nice things to say about their previous employer. Businesses who don't nip gender discrimination, inequality and bias in the butt can develop a poor reputation and find it more difficult to attract good employees.

Not only does gender discrimination affect workplace performance, productivity and attitudes, it can negatively impact every aspect of a worker's life, including their overall emotional and mental health. Just like bullying in school, discrimination can take a tole on the emotional and mental health of the individual being discriminated against.

Overcoming Workplace Gender Inequality
Gender discrimination is in many instances illegal, definitely immoral and just plain wrong. In the workplace, workers should be judged, promoted and valued based on the merit of their effort, contribution and ability – not their gender. So what should you do when you think gender discrimination is occuring in your workplace? Consider the following:

  • An important first step in overcoming gender discrimination and inequality is to recognize that it's actually happening. Just as an alcoholic can't deal with their alcoholism until theyadmit they have a problem, gender discrimination can't be overcome until all relevant parties are willing to admit that it's occuring in their organization. Unfortunately, recognizing that gender discrimination exists is uncomfortable, and many people would rather remain silent or pretend it's not taking place.

  • Start talking about it – especially if you're the one getting discriminated against. No one should be treated unfairly. Talking about discrimination or inequality due to gender brings the issue out into open so it can be addressed. If you feel comfortable confronting the offender, then do so. If you don't feel it's appropriate to confront the person doing the discriminating, then speak with a trusted supervisor, manager or member of your company's human resource department. Once a company is aware of that discrimination is occuring, it's their responsibility to make sure it's addressed appropriately. However, avoid gossiping. Spreading gossip – whether true or false – will only hurt your cause and likely create a worse situation for both you and the offender.

  • If you're a business owner, make sure your organization provides proper training on gender equality to all management personnel and supervisors. Teach managers what constitutes gender discrimination and inequality, and train them how to identify both the obvious and not so obvious signs that gender discrimination is occuring. But being able to spot gender discrimination is only the first step, managers must also be taught to how to deal with it and prevent it from happening again in the future.

  • As much as possible, make sure your company, division or department has clear policies for advancement and promotion – and then follow them. This will help ensure that gender discrimination does not occur, will set a standard of performance for employees to meet if they want to advance and will decrease the likeliness of unecessary (and uncomfortable) conflicts or lawsuits.

  • Make sure that all employees are aware of what gender discrimination is and that gender discrimination is an unacceptable practice in your organization. This in and of itself will go a long way to establishing an environment and atmosphere of mutual respect and gender equality.

  • While we recognize that gender discrimination can happen to both sexes, it is predominately a problem that occurs to women. There is also a stigma in corporate America, and within most corporations, that women have to work harder than men to acheive the same level of career success. For these reasons, we recommend showcasing those women in your organization that have become successful and demonstrate how they achieved their success.

  • Publicize the efforts your company, division or department is making to promote gender equality. Become a role model to other businesses in your industry, your vendors and your local workforce of what a gender neutral environment – where everyone is treated equality – looks like.

  • Develop a written set up policies to promote gender equality in your organization. (1) Your policies should ensure that men and women receive equal pay for equal work. (2) Policies should promote gender equality in recruitment, training, hiring and promotion practices. (3) Make sure policies allow men and women to balance their careers with their personal lives. (4) Your policies should strictly prohibit all forms of harassment – especially sexual harassment. (5) Make sure that it is known that nondiscrimination policies apply to all company employees, including management. (6) Policies should outline the procedure for reporting gender discrimination without fear of retribution.

Reporting Gender Discrimination
If you are discriminated against in the workplace due to your gender, the first step is to report – in writing – the act(s) of discrimination or harassment to your employer. If your employer doesn't handed your complaint fairly, you can then report it to the government. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces the federal discrimination laws. An employee who believes he or she has been the subject of discrimination can contact the EEOC’s Office of Equal Opportunity to file a complaint. Complaints can be filed at http://www.eeoc.gov/employees/howtofile.cfm.

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