When we think of gender discrimination in the workplace, we often think of a 1950’s Mad Men-style ad agency where the men make the decisions and the women get coffee.
While this form of overt sexism in the workplace may seem like a thing of the past, being a modern woman in the workplace can have its fair share of covert sexism and gender discrimination.
Women are often subjected to assumed gender roles in the workplace, even if the task at hand is not in their job description. They may be the staff member everyone looks to when the topic of a company holiday party comes up or the retirement gift for an outgoing coworker.
The phrase, “But you are good at this type of thing,” is likely all too familiar for most modern working women.
Women are also more likely to be told by their male counterparts the correct way to communicate.
Working women, especially in careers like broadcasting or politics, often hear things like, “Try to be less shrill with your presentation,” or, “What you just said in six sentences, you could say in three.”
This type of seemingly constructive criticism of women and how they speak may seem on the surface like coaching, but they instead act as covert ways to silence women’s opinions and voices in the workplace.
Women are also treated differently at work when it comes to childcare. Women are still disproportionately the assumed caregiver in the U.S., so even when both parents work, the mother is more likely to stay home with a sick child.
This leads to women on average missing more work than men. This may reflect poorly to their supervisors when the assumed gender roles of our modern society are misunderstood.
This gap in hours worked vs. hours missed between men and women widens significantly for women of color. On its face, this may seem that a female employee is less committed to her position than a male co-worker.
However, it is far more likely the result of assumed gender roles spilling over into the workplace.
Without a supervisor who understands the additional responsibilities a working woman may have outside of the office, women could be treated differently or promoted less quickly than their male counterparts.
Long-Lasting Career Effects
The types of covert sexism described above can also have a real impact on a woman’s career.
Women doing the same things as men at work could be perceived as not dedicated, uncoachable, bossy, or unlikable, while their male counterparts may be viewed as caring fathers, willing to learn, decisive, and tough.
This could lead to working women being passed over for a promotion in favor of a possibly less qualified male colleague, which in turn contributes significantly to the pay gap between the genders.
These gender stereotypes become even more significant for women of color who are often left behind in policies attempting to advance women in the workplace.
Pregnant employees may also be treated differently than their male counterparts. Expectant mothers may be denied job opportunities because they will be gone for six weeks of maternity leave.
In some extreme cases of workplace discrimination, employers may choose not to hire women they think are likely to become pregnant at all.
While not all forms of covert sexism in the workplace constitute gender discrimination, it is important to understand the subtle ways women and men are treated differently at the office.
When you understand the subtle forms of sexism, gender discrimination is easier to recognize, and if you are good manager, avoid.
Being a woman in the workplace comes with a multitude of difficulties, but sexism does not have to be one of them. Hire an employment lawyer if you experience workplace discrimination based on your gender.