Few can deny that society has made significant strides towards workplace equality in the last few decades. However, there's still a long road ahead until women achieve equal recognition as men in the workplace. Gender bias is a problem as old as society itself. Women in the workplace have had to deal with lower wages, fewer chances for promotion, and an unfair perception that men are more competent.
Due to these reasons, women are significantly underrepresented in senior leadership roles and are more likely to experience microaggressions at work, especially at senior levels. Meaningful progress toward gender equality must start with well-implemented organization-wide change programs. But sometimes, equal opportunity policies are not enough to combat people's inherent biases. Not all gender discrimination is intentional or explicit. But even in such cases, it’s still illegal, and you have the right to pursue legal action.
What are the Laws?
To protect your rights, you must first know your rights. Sexism in the workplace comes in many different forms. Essentially, you face sexist discrimination when you're treated less favorably due to your sex or gender. Even though sex and gender have different social meanings, the terms are often used interchangeably in anti-discrimination laws.
According to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is illegal to discriminate based on sex, race, color, religion, or national origin in the workplace. Another thing to note: retaliation is also illegal. Your employer cannot punish you for reporting, opposing gender discrimination, or participating in legal action related to discrimination.
Generally, federal laws apply to employers with 15 or more employees. But fortunately, your state might have laws that cover employers with fewer employees.
What are Your Rights?
Armed with the above information, you have the right to:
- Work in a safe and discrimination-free environment
- Speak out against sexism, whether it's happening to you or someone else at work
- Report any discriminatory behavior or policies to your Human Resource department or your boss
- File a grievance with your union. Typically, if you're a union member, your contract covers the "terms and conditions" of work that can help you out if you're being maltreated.
- Request a copy of your personnel file, which could contain information pertaining to performance evaluations, pay history, and other information that can be quite useful if you decide to pursue legal action.
- File a complaint or charge of discrimination with a government agency. For instance, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or your state’s Fair Employment Practices Agency (FEPA)
Note: When filing charges with a government agency, you'll have to consider the statutes of limitations. Depending on your state, the deadline to file with the EEOC can be either 180 or 300 days from the "last act" of discrimination.
- File a lawsuit against your employer for discrimination.
Note: To sue your employer, you’ll need a “right-to-sue” notice from the EEOC or rather with your state’s FEPA. So you will have to file a charge of discrimination with any one of these agencies first. It’s advisable to seek out an employment lawyer to guide you through the process.
Examples of Gender Discrimination in the Workplace
There are two types of gender discrimination in the workplace
- Disparate treatment based on sex or gender
- Sexual harassment – Unsolicited behavior, whether physical or verbal, of a sexual nature that affects a person's employment status, creates a hostile work environment and affects work performance.
Some examples of treatment that could count as gender discrimination include:
- Being held to different or higher standards because of your sex or because of how you present yourself at work.
- Being given a lower-paying position because of your sex or being passed up for jobs, pay raises, training opportunities, or promotions for which you are well qualified.
- Being unfairly laid off because of your sex. It is not uncommon for pregnant or nursing women to lose their jobs.
- Being paid less than a person of a different sex for similar work when you're just as qualified as they are.
- Being subjected to hostility such as being called derogatory names or slurs because of your sex, gender, or gender identity
- Being subject to unwelcome sexual advances.
It's also important to understand the intersectional effects of gender discrimination. Sexism can be further compounded by intersecting social, political, or economic identities. For instance, a study by McKinsey found that women – especially women of colour – were more likely to have been laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When you take factors such as racial and ethnic background or sexual orientation into consideration, discrimination rates against women become even greater.
Legal Remedies for Sexism in the Workplace
An organizational climate of silence helps to foster gender discrimination in the workplace. It creates and maintains the current system that promotes power imbalances between the sexes. If you've experienced unfair treatment in the workplace because of your gender or have observed gender-based discrimination, you have the right to pursue legal recourse.
An employment lawyer can help you determine your legal options and help you file a discrimination claim. Remember, the statutes of limitation place restrictions on when you can file. It’s best to contact a lawyer as soon as possible.