Sex Discrimination in the Workplace

Sex or gender discrimination in the workplace is when individuals are treated differently because of their gender and that negatively affects their employment terms and conditions. This includes position, pay, title, firing and hiring, promotions, trainings or exclusion because of categorising some jobs as "men only" or "women only." Discrimination against women in particular is usually on the basis of marital status, pregnancy or potential pregnancy, while against men it is usually based on sexual orientation.

Both terms gender and sex are used interchangeably but they have different meanings. Sex refers to the division of species on the basis of their anatomy and reproductive functions, while gender is a range of characteristics distinguishing between femininity and masculinity. Nevertheless, it is still an illegal practice if based on sex, gender or both.

According to equal opportunity laws people should be employed, paid, trained and promoted only because of their skills, abilities and performance. However, there are gender stereotypes according to which men and women are identified with particular occupations. Also there is the so-called "glass ceiling" which limits women to rise only to a certain level in the corporate world. Another unfair practice is for an employer to hire women on the basis of appearance and men on the basis of performance. As a result some women are discriminated against because of age or certain physical characteristics regardless of their qualifications and experience. Marital status and childbearing ability also may affect women's chances for employment because in those situations they are not deemed to be reliable and fully devoted to the job. Under the "sex plus" theory discrimination is based first on the gender of an employee and then on marital status and childbearing ability.

Examples of sex discrimination, mainly against women, include unfair treatment in terms of firing, hiring, promotions, pay, job classification, benefits or sexual harassment. Some companies prefer to hire men over women despite their excellent qualifications because they feel more comfortable dealing with male employees. It is sexual discrimination when a woman is laid off as a result of company reorganisation, while men in the same job with less seniority keep their job or when less qualified men are promoted at the expense of more qualified female candidate.

If men and women who work for the same company and do the same work in terms of responsibilities and it is of the same value, they both are entitled to equal terms and pay. Sex discrimination in the workplace occurs when in such cases men are paid more than women, an example of this is when with increased responsibilities male employees have their job classification and pay adjusted, while in the same time women's job classification and pay remain the same.

When it comes to benefits and health care women and men have different needs but women should be entitled to the same health care plans as men despite their unique sex-based characteristics. Demoting a woman during or after maternity leave or if she is required to use a sick or vacation day because of a pregnancy which is not included in the paid time off policy of the company, then it is defined as sex discrimination.

There are four different types of discrimination; direct discrimination; indirect discrimination; victimisation and harassment. Direct discrimination is when a person is treated differently because of their sex, marital status or sexual orientation. Indirect discrimination refers to putting someone at a disadvantage because of certain company rules, like setting minimum height requirements. Victimisation occurs when people are treated unfairly because they complained about discrimination against them. Harassment refers to offensive behavior, coercion, intimidation or encouraging such behavior in other people.

Sexual harassment is also a type of sex discrimination which includes making sexual advances or gestures which sometimes turns into sexual abuse or assault. Sexual harassment in the workplace is when the employer links employees' job status to their response to a sexual suggestion. In such cases individuals are threatened that if they complain or refuse sexual favors they might lose their job.

Harassment does not have to be always of a sexual nature but it can include offensive comments about a person's sex. Unwanted comments about a person's body, appearance or about a woman's pregnancy are also counted as illegal discriminatory practices. Offensive comments about women in general are also referred to as sexual harassment. It is an illegal practice when individuals are abused frequently and severely and this affects their work performance and creates a hostile working environment or results in their firing or demoting.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Discrimination at Work: The Psychological and Organizational Bases
Robert L. Dipboye; Adrienne Colella.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005
Librarian’s tip: Especially Chap. 7 "Gender Discrimination in Organizations"
Women and Workplace Discrimination: Overcoming Barriers to Gender Equality
Raymond F. Gregory.
Rutgers University Press, 2003
Gender Pay Equality: The Effectiveness of Federal Statutes and Recent U.S. Supreme Court Decisions
Melconian, Linda J.
Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2010
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Labor Market Effects of Sex and Race Discrimination Laws
Neumark, David; Stock, Wendy A.
Economic Inquiry, Vol. 44, No. 3, July 2006
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Subtle but Pervasive: Discrimination against Mothers and Pregnant Women in the Workplace
Reuter, Alison A.
Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 33, No. 5, November 2006
Struck by Stereotype: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Pregnancy Discrimination as Sex Discrimination
Siegel, Neil S.; Siegel, Reva B.
Duke Law Journal, Vol. 59, No. 4, January 2010
An Equilibrium Analysis of the Gender Wage Gap
Chichilnisky, Graciela; Frederiksen, Elisabeth Hermann.
International Labour Review, Vol. 147, No. 4, December 2008
Vive la Difference? A Critical Analysis of the Justification of Sex-Dependent Workplace Restrictions on Dress and Grooming
Shin, Patrick S.
Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, Vol. 14, No. 1, January 2007
Gender Violence and Work: Reckoning with the Boundaries of Sex Discrimination Law
Goldscheid, Julie.
Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Vol. 18, No. 1, Winter 2009
Gender Fatigue: The Ideological Dilemma of Gender Neutrality and Discrimination in Organizations
Kelan, Elisabeth K.
Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, Vol. 26, No. 3, September 2009
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Clinical Aspects of Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination: Psychological Consequences and Treatment Interventions
Sharyn Ann Lenhart.
Routledge, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Relevant Aspects of the Work and Educational Environments"
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