Gender Discrimination at the Office: How to Recognize the Signs

Gender discrimination persists in the workplace, despite decades of affirmative action, anti discrimination laws, and Equal Opportunity initiatives. It can be difficult to spot, even when it's a significant problem.

Gender discrimination basics

Gender discrimination applies to males and females. The effect is a shutout of one or the other. The social environment can be extremely unpleasant, actually hostile. Sometimes it's subtle, sometimes it's brutal, but the effects are pretty much the same. 

Gender discrimination is an actual breach of employment law. It's actionable, if it can be proven. Employers need to be extremely careful to make sure they're not falling into this situation.

There's a litany of indicators of malpractice in cases of gender discrimination:

  • Exclusion of one sex or the other from workplaces.
  • Total lack of recognition for employee performance.
  • Consistently negative assessments in performance reviews.
  • The "glass ceiling" effect, traditionally referring to women, but also applying to men in some cases.
  • People may miss out on promotions for years, despite good work records.
  • People are often left out of projects and social events.
  • Job opportunities are given to others in the "acceptable" workplace group.
  • Individuals have conspicuously high levels of stress or medical leave, a sure sign that something's wrong.

Assessing the problems

The gender shutouts tend to happen in departments, rather than in workplaces as a whole. They're never actual employer policy. The usual reason is that a supervisor or manager has taken it upon themselves to create the situation. The problem therefore cascades upwards to senior management, often well after it's become a serious issue.

Employers should note that any supervisor or manager responsible for what could be an extremely expensive legal situation is not an asset. Tolerating such blatant malpractice also sends the wrong message to other supervisors and managers. The need is to enforce standards of management practices.

Serious incidents often create extremely bad publicity for the employer, which may offend clients, and can include difficult community relations issues. In some cases the very low management standards may include actual breaches of labor laws.

Staff can have real problems in this sort of environment, which can be exceptionally oppressive, a minority of one or two against the rest. Some people are so stressed that their health actually suffers. A case history of stress leave is often a reliable indicator of problems of this kind.  

Fixing the problems

Management must ensure that gender discrimination is not tolerated in the workplace. Middle managers and supervisors should receive clear instructions and be given guidance where required.

"Tokenism" doesn't fix gender discrimination. Employing a few more people or promoting a person masks the problems at best, rather than solving them. A holistic policy is required, and if necessary Human Resources professionals should be tasked with creating the working approach to fixing local situations.

Management should make sure to monitor the resolution of gender discrimination issues closely. It is also advisable to conduct management audits, checking on the exact status of progress, and for any recurrence of previous problems.