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Workplace Gender Discrimination: Causes and Prevention Strategies

April 09, 2024
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Workplace gender discrimination occurs when a job applicant or employee is mistreated based on their sex or gender. While there are many potential causes of this type of discrimination, companies can dramatically reduce the risk through a comprehensive prevention strategy.

Find out more about what causes workplace gender discrimination, how to prevent it and the legal protections for workers.

Introduction to Workplace Gender Discrimination

In addition to being illegal, gender discrimination in the workplace can lead to many negative outcomes for both individuals and organizations. This makes it an important issue that needs to be addressed.

Fortunately, governments have made substantial progress in protecting citizens from workplace discrimination and gender inequality. Both federal and state governments have enacted laws and regulations prohibiting various forms of gender discrimination in the workplace.

Causes of Gender Discrimination

Gender discrimination in the workplace can be a complicated issue, with numerous factors contributing to its development. Some of the most common causes of workplace gender discrimination include:

Stereotypes and Biases

Traditionally, men went to work while women were homemakers. Although this is no longer the case in contemporary society, this tradition has led to unfair gender stereotyping that men are better workers than women.

Pregnancy and motherhood can also lead to employers discriminating against female employees. Many women with children must make family their top priority over their careers. Because mothers are less likely to work longer hours or take on additional responsibilities, they may be treated differently than their male counterparts.

Some of these gender stereotypes may lead to gender bias, which can cause workers to act in unconscious ways that favor one gender over another. For example, it would be gender bias to ask only the women in the office to handle cleaning up after a luncheon that all members of the office enjoyed. It would also be considered gender bias for a man to be assigned a more challenging task if the assigner was assuming his competence based on his gender.

Gender Pay Gap and Unequal Opportunities

Despite performing the same work and having the same qualifications, women and men do not receive equal compensation. In 2023, for every $1 earned by men, women received just $0.83.1 You will often hear this referred to as the gender pay gap.

Lack of Diversity in Leadership

Fewer opportunities for leadership positions and slow promotion rates for women lead to a lack of representation in managerial roles. This creates a glass ceiling across many industries and makes it more difficult to change any gender inequality that may be present within organizations.

Harassment and Microaggressions

Workplace gender discrimination can often result from sexual harassment. Women are usually the victims of sexual harassment at work, especially in male-dominated industries. In 2022, only 16.3% of sexual harassment charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) were filed by men.2

Gender discrimination can also occur when harassment is nonsexual. This type of harassment often results from microaggressions like derogatory terms directed at women or other gender minorities.

Effects of Gender Inequality and Discrimination

Workplace gender discrimination has serious and far-reaching consequences. The adverse effects can impact individuals, organizations and the broader society.

Impact on Individuals

When employees (predominantly women) are victims of gender discrimination in the workplace, it can negatively affect their health and general well-being. The mistreatment often results in the victim experiencing elevated stress levels. This can ultimately become a chronic condition and contribute to depression or other psychological issues.

Consequences for Organizations

Gender discrimination can also negatively impact organizations, particularly regarding productivity and innovation. When a segment of an organization experiences discrimination, they will likely be less focused on their work and become less productive. Furthermore, when a certain gender (usually women) is less represented in leadership roles, organizations will miss out on their input and perspectives on innovation and problem-solving.

The Broader Social Context

When workplace gender inequality exists, there are also sociocultural consequences. The discrimination can further divisions within communities and stymie personal or professional growth. It can also halt economic growth by creating income inequality between gender groups.

Identifying Gender Discrimination

The first step in addressing workplace gender inequalities to reduce gender discrimination is through identification. Here are a few tips to improve your organization’s ability to detect gender inequality.

Recognizing Subtle Forms of Discrimination

Not every instance of gender discrimination in the workplace is overt. Sometimes, an employee’s unconscious bias can cause them to commit subtle discriminatory acts.

Your organization can improve awareness of gender prejudice and help employees understand their biases through workshops and training programs.

Reporting Mechanisms and Support Systems

Companies with clear and formal reporting mechanisms for gender-based discrimination are better equipped to detect and address it. Providing an easy and confidential way for employees to notify or receive support ensures that incidents do not go unreported.

Encouraging Open Dialogue

By fostering transparent communication, your organization allows employees to raise their concerns about gender inequality and potentially prevent it altogether. Some effective methods of collecting employee feedback include one-on-one meetings, interviews and anonymous surveys.

Prevention Strategies

The best way for an organization to prevent gender inequality is by creating an atmosphere where all employees feel safe and appreciated.

To that end, here are some strategies you can employ to help your business foster a workplace culture free from gender discrimination.

Creating a Culture of Inclusivity

Companies should strive to promote a workplace that welcomes and respects input from everyone regardless of gender. This can include creating policies that support discrimination victims and celebrate gender diversity.

Equal Pay and Promotion Policies

Regular salary reviews can ensure pay transparency and prevent or identify gender compensation inequality. Organizations should also encourage employees of all genders to apply for promotions and address any disparities in the promotion process.

Diversity and Inclusion Training

Sensitivity training addressing gender equality helps workers feel comfortable communicating their concerns and helps companies avoid future complications.

Leadership Commitment and Accountability

Preventing gender inequality needs to be supported by management. Human resource leaders should promote inclusion and hold each other accountable for improving organizational diversity.

Promoting Gender Equality

While preventing gender discrimination in the workplace is critical, companies should also focus on promoting gender equality. Some effective promotion strategies include:

  • Mentorship and sponsorship programs
  • Supporting work-life balance
  • Employee resource groups
  • Promoting women in leadership

Legal Rights and Remedies

Victims of workplace gender discrimination are protected under both federal and state anti-discrimination laws. For example, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 requires employers to provide equal compensation for similar work regardless of sex or gender.3

There are several government agencies where employees can file gender discrimination claims, including the EEOC. Filing a complaint with a government agency usually occurs when employees face discrimination from those in charge of internal reporting.

In all other situations of gender prejudice, employees should file an internal complaint with their HR department.

Case Studies and Success Stories

While there are many examples of organizations effectively addressing gender inequality, one of the most interesting in recent years comes from British broadcaster Channel 4. Frustrated with the complexity of extracting diversity analytics from their numerous legacy HR systems, they consolidated them into a single source of truth, which helped them hit their diversity targets via quicker and more accurate reporting.4

Future Trends and Challenges

In recent years, there have been significant advancements in protecting employees from sexual orientation discrimination. Many states, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, have long had anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQIA+ individuals.

The landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Bostock v. Clayton County (140 S.Ct. 1731, 2020) solidified the legal protection against sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII. The Court ruled that firing an individual for being gay or transgender violates Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination. The decision emphasized that discrimination based on sexual orientation is inherently tied to an individual’s sex and is thus covered by Title VII. It also acknowledged the role of sex stereotyping in the discriminatory treatment of LGBTIA+ individuals.

Become a Champion of Workplace Equality with Tulane’s MJ-LEL

HR professionals, people managers and other worklaw focused professionals play an essential role in taking a stand against workplace gender discrimination. Understanding related laws is helpful in order to do this effectively. If you are a busy professional who wants a flexible way to improve your qualifications and understanding of the law, look no further than Tulane’s online Master of Jurisprudence in Labor & Employment Law (MJ-LEL) program.

Join Tulane Law online to become a confident professional who drives real world change. Before the Supreme Court decided Bostock vs. Clayton County, Tulane students were leading the way with inclusive anti-discrimination policies that address gender identity. The robust MJ-LEL curriculum equips you with the legal framework to develop and implement policies that will impact the day-to-day lives of people at your company.

Schedule a call with our admissions team today to get started.