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Gender Discrimination at Work

Tags:  Job stress, Getting along, Productivity, Discrimination

Discrimination and harassment in employment based on a person's sex or gender is illegal. However, most people don't realize there is actually a difference in the focus of all these terms.


Many times the words 'sex' and 'gender' are used interchangeably to indicate whether someone is male or female. However, the term sex is the correct one to use, while gender actually refers to masculine and feminine traits.


There is also a difference in the terms 'discrimination' and 'harassment.'


Discrimination happens when an employee is treated differently, generally less favorably, than other employees, while harassment is unwanted conduct (behavior and comments) directed toward another person based on sex, gender, race, disability or some other protected classification.

So here's how it breaks down:
  • Gender discrimination focuses on a person's gender, and while it is a form of sex discrimination, it is not necessarily sexual in nature. So expecting a woman to fetch coffee or NOT allowing a female to fill a traditionally male-dominated role such as in skilled trades is gender discrimination.
  • Gender harassment on the other hand involves inappropriate gender-focused behavior or comments such as, ""Oh, she must be PMSing.""
  • Sex discrimination focuses on the fact that someone is male or female. Not allowing a woman to participate on a project just because she is a female is sex discrimination. 
  • Sexual harassment on the other hand is focused around more sexually explicit actions, such as derogatory or lewd comments about the human anatomy, sexual acts or other comments that are sexual in nature or the request for sex in return for employment favors.
So what should you do?
If You are an Employee Being Harassed
  • Keep notes of what happened: when, where, and who was present. Keep complete details on any and all incidents.
  • Confront the accuser and tell them to stop. Just say 'No."" Be clear and direct to ensure there is no misunderstanding. No smiling, laughing or apologizing.
  • Tell a friend or colleague immediately when it happens. Contact your supervisor and advise him or her of what has occurred.
  • File a formal complaint with your company.
If You are an Employee Being Discriminated Against
  • Keep notes of what happened: when, where, and who was present. Keep complete details on any and all incidents.
  • Follow your employer's grievance procedure.
  • If you do not feel your complaint has been properly resolved within the time frame established by the company's internal processes, you have a right to file your complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
If You are a Manager
  • Encourage all employees to come forward with questions, concerns, and complaints about harassment and discrimination.
  • Take any complaint seriously. Do not dismiss any complaint as trivial.
  • Do not blame or punish a complainant. Do not point fingers or threaten them with any action.
  • Follow company policy and investigate appropriately making sure the people involved are interviewed and all information is documented.
  • Ensure there is no retaliation against the complainant. Fear of retaliation is one of the biggest concerns among those who have been harassed or discriminated against and can very often be the reason someone does not come forward.
  • Keep allegations confidential. Any information provided to you should not be discussed except on a ""need to know"" basis to address a complaint.
  • Remain neutral. Don't pass judgment or assume.

Understanding harassment and discrimination and how to deal with each can be difficult; however, not taking action is even harder to live with.

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