In my last post I talked about unfairness and how that is one of the causes for stress in the office. Unfairness can take on many forms and in this post I will be talking about gender discrimination in the workplace.


Gender discrimination is a product of our cultures, experiences and pasts. Even so, we have the ability to see beyond that, especially when not doing so can affect business performance. Here we will explore some of the causes of gender discrimination in the workplace, its effects on company performance and how we can evolve and move forward.


My Experience with Gender Discrimination


Most women will experience some form of gender discrimination while at work at some point in their careers. At a previous company I worked for, sexual discrimination was very blatant. There would be several “unofficial” happy hours that women would not get invited to. If you happened to find out about these happy hours before they happened and you decided to show up, I’m sure it would be nothing short of uncomfortable. I make this educated guess based on the fact that I did find out about and attend some “unofficial” lunches and I was essentially ignored.


The Good Ol’ Boys network was also very obvious and yes, you had to be both Caucasian and male. I had male friends of different ethnicities who tried to join in and fit in. They were also made to feel unwelcome (more on racial discrimination in the workplace in a future post).


Gender discrimination also affected the amount of exposure and number of opportunities women got at the company. And both of these things, naturally, affect women’s abilities to get raises, promotions, bonuses and awards. Despite my strong performance, and the performance of other women, I would often find out that it was the males on our team who were given extra-special projects to work on. When I would take the proactive approach and ask to be included on those projects or to work on other projects, I was told that they do not need any more people on the project. I was told that they would consider me in the future. This happened several times before I made any breakthrough.


Another form of gender discrimination in the workplace is when male teammates and colleagues are asked for status updates on projects their women colleagues are working on. It baffles me that managers will not go to the woman who is working on the project and ask her directly. Instead they go to her teammate.


Causes of Gender Discrimination


I know I am not alone in my experiences. Not only have I seen similar things happen to others, but I have heard from others that they have been affected by gender discrimination. Here are some of the causes for gender discrimination against women in the workplace:


1) Being too pretty to be smart.


This is a cause that I think is dying out, but it is still around and alive. It is still rare to see female executives who have hair past their shoulders. I do see women starting to wear better-fitting clothing, however.


2) Not being pretty or sexy enough.


The world is still highly materialistic and appearance based. Not that this is the only cause, but such views are unlikely to change in the near future with all of the celebrity and fashion worship that our youth are addicted to.


3) Getting pregnant or even just the possibility of getting pregnant.


You would be surprised at how much of an impact this has on gender discrimination at work. I have even heard of someone at a previous company I worked for who went on maternity leave only to find out when she was ready to return to work that there was no position left for her at the company.


Effects of Gender Discrimination on Employee Performance


Obviously, when someone is being discriminated against in any form, or when they see others like themselves being discriminated against, this can start to surface in different ways. Like in my previous post on the causes of stress in the workplace, this is another cause and it is related to unfairness. The effects are similar:


  • Lower productivity and output
  • Lower quality of work product
  • Lowered employee morale
  • Employee will be less proactive
  • Increased team friction


Why Companies Should Care About Gender Discrimination


Business Performance. From the previous section it is clear that business performance declines when individuals are discriminated against and treated unfairly. If companies want their performance to improve, they need to start taking a stronger stance on this issue.


Diversity. Everyone brings a different perspective to the table based on their unique life experience. We have seen the benefits of this time and time again. Teams and companies who embrace a broader, more diverse perspective often perform better. Why would you want to cut out ½ of the experience and insight you could have by discriminating against the women in your workforce?


Lawsuits & legal costs. Walmart may have gotten away with their discrimination lawsuit but that does not mean that other companies have or will. The legal costs from such lawsuits can add up and affect a company’s numbers and performance on a very grand scale.


Reputation and branding. Once you are pegged as even possibly discriminating against women or others, it sticks for a long time and it will affect our reputation and your brand. It will make people think twice about purchasing your products. Even if you offer products with prices that can’t be beat, a significant number of people will shift over to your competitors. Those who continue to shop with you will have your negative reputation playing in the back of their minds because the association will be very strong.


What We Can Do About Gender Discrimination at Work


We are all to blame when it comes to any kind of discrimination, particularly gender discrimination. That includes both men and women. But here is how we can rectify it:


1) Most forms of discrimination primarily occurs because we do not take the time to understand one another and accept our differences. The same applies to gender discrimination. We as a society of workers need to learn to understand one another and at least be more comfortable with our differences. Stereotypes are not all bad. As humans have a need to label and group things and people so we can better understand others. At the same time, it is important to realize that we need to look beyond the labels we give others and see the individual. To understand others is why our brains label and group things in the first place. We want to better understand and wrap our heads around things. Why don’t we take our understanding the whole way and see it through?


2) Women, we need to pull each other up. I see women doing just this, but I also see women doing the complete opposite. I see women putting others down because they feel threatened. There is no need to feel threatened. If you build a strong network we can only all rise and grow together.


3) Men, you need to pull women up with you. From what I have observed in the workplace, when a well-respected man vouches for a woman and pulls her up or takes her on as a mentee, that woman gets so much more respect and so many more doors of opportunity fly open for her.


Gender Discrimination Against Men


Gender discrimination is not something only women face in the workplace. Men do, too. The same effects of gender discrimination and solutions apply towards men who are being discriminated against, just in reverse.


Gender discrimination in the workplace is definitely getting better, but it is still alive and breathing. While salaries are starting to be better matched (though there is still a ways to go here), it is important to also be aware of what happens after the individual is hired. Maybe she does start at the same salary, but is she being set up for promotions and raises the way her male counterparts are being set up? Is she given the chance to chase after the same opportunities as her male counterparts? Or is she being setup for slower career progression, or even failure?


If you liked this post and want to learn about how to succeed in the workplace despite the many interpersonal and office politics issues, buy my book: 25 Things They Don’t Teach in Business School: A User’s Manual for Surviving Office Politics available within seconds on Kindle.


Additionally, if you are interested in learning more about how diversity and discrimination in the workplace affects corporations and how executives can make a difference, check out Making Diversity Work: Seven Steps for Defeating Bias in the Workplace by Sondra Thiederman.


If you want to learn more gender discrimination at a more insider / personal level, check out Gender in the Workplace: A Case Study Approach by Jacqueline DeLaat. This book can give you a broader idea of the different sexual discrimination situations that can occur in the workplace. It also provides suggestions on how we can handle such situations. This would be a good read for employees, mentors and HR managers.