October 26, 2020 7 min read

A Guide to Handling Gender Discrimination in the Workplace

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Despite the progress that has been made over the years regarding gender equality in the workplace, most studies on the subject show that businesses still have a long way to go.

According to a recent survey performed by the Pew Research Center, 42% of women in the United States claim that they have faced some type of gender discrimination in the workplace.

If a person is treated worse than their colleagues or job applicants due to their sex or gender, they face gender discrimination. Gender discrimination can be an issue throughout the entire employment process, from the job interview to the exit interview or retirement.

Some common examples of gender discrimination include failure to promote, unfair treatment, earning lower wages, being given less demanding assignments, and receiving less support from supervisors based on one’s gender—all of which are illegal practices.

Even though the terms sex and gender do not signify the same things, they are often used interchangeably in discrimination laws. Either way, gender discrimination is illegal and undesirable, much like any other type of discrimination, based on race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, or age.

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Common Examples of Gender Discrimination at Work

While a significant number of men do report gender discrimination at work, it’s still far and away an issue that women face most predominantly. Let’s take a look at some of the most common types of gender discrimination women face in the workforce today in order to be able to understand what both employees and employers can do to prevent it.

Pregnancy Discrimination

Companies might hesitate to hire female workers because of their potential desires to start families and effectively leave the workforce for a period of time. For the same reason, women might be passed over for promotions and senior positions.

Working mothers still make less money than their male colleagues, regardless of credentials and experience, and female workers are often penalized for taking time off to give birth, bond with their child, or receive prenatal care.

Harassment

In male-dominated industries, women are disproportionately more likely to be victims of some form of sexual harassment at work. In 2017, only 16.5% of sexual harassment charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) came from men.

The fact that more than 80% of sexual harassment cases were reported by women is a huge cause for alarm and one of the reasons why work in male-dominated industries could be more challenging for women.

Even when not necessarily sexual in nature, sex/gender-based discrimination is also very present at the workplace. Gender-based harassment most often targets women, transgender people, and gender non-conforming or non-binary people. This type of harassment usually involves frequent and severe usage of derogatory terms aimed at women and other gender minorities in the workplace.

The Pay Gap

Many workplaces are not transparent about the amount of money they pay their workers or what these decisions are based on. Still, under federal law, “it is illegal for an employer of 15 or more employees to discriminate against an employee based on their sex, race, color, religion, or national origin.”

This means that employers aren’t legally allowed to refuse to hire, pass on for promotions, harass, or fire their employees due to any of the abovementioned categories. Yet, according to the above-mentioned Pew Research Center study, one-in-four working women say they have earned less than a man who was performing the same job.

Representation in Senior Management

Strides have recently been made regarding this issue, with a reported increase of 29% in the proportion of women in senior management roles globally in 2019 according to a study performed by Catalyst.

In 2020, a reported 87% of mid-market companies have at least one woman in a senior management role. However, positive progress has been very slow, with the number of women in senior roles increasing just 10% since Catalyst began reporting on the issue in 2004.

While both men and women report that their biggest barrier to progress is finding the time to improve their employment skills, there’s a huge imbalance in women citing a lack of access to development work opportunities as another issue holding them back from getting senior roles. Women also cite responsibilities outside of work and a lack of opportunities to network as two other serious barriers keeping them from ascending to senior management roles.

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How Should Employees Handle Gender Discrimination?

If you believe that you are the victim of gender discrimination in the workplace or you notice that another employee in your company is being discriminated against because of their gender, it’s important to be proactive in identifying and reporting cases of discrimination in order to help in preventing them from occurring in the future.

  • Notify Your Employer or HR

Provided that these are not the very people who discriminated against you because of your sex or gender, you should consider filing an internal complaint.

  • File Charges with a Government Agency

Depending on your state, there are a number of agencies that help enforce federal anti-discrimination laws. The already-mentioned EEOC is the agency that most employees turn to when they would prefer not to file a complaint internally, sometimes because the discrimination is coming directly from the people who they would need to report it to.

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Steps Employers Can Take to Prevent Gender Discrimination

The most effective way to keep your employees motivated to learn new things and grow with the company is by making them feel safe and appreciated. A discrimination-free work environment is vital to achieving this goal. Matters such as a worker’s sex or gender shouldn’t be a factor in any business decision.

Here are some steps businesses can take in the process of building a company culture in which gender discrimination cannot and will not thrive.

  • Increase Transparency 

A great way to ensure your workers get promotions or higher pay solely based on their hard work and dedication is by making the hiring and evaluation processes as transparent as possible. Clearly identify the milestones workers need to reach in order to qualify for senior-level positions.

  • Provide Family-Friendly Insurance Plans

Pregnancy shouldn’t affect the position of female workers. Build a safe, honest, and friendly environment for all parents, fathers included. Paid maternal leave as a part of your family-friendly benefits package is great, but proper parental leave for both mothers and fathers is even better. Covering your workers’ pregnancy-related health insurance is also an employee benefit that can make your workplace very attractive to top talent.

  • Provide Training 

Sensitivity training will help companies avoid future complications and gender-based violence or harassment, as well as the lawsuits that stem from these types of issues. Additionally, it’s crucial to making your workers feel comfortable voicing their concerns and coming to you when looking for a solution. Building trust in your workplace will empower employees to be better at communicating, cooperating, and performing their everyday tasks.

  • Introduce Zero-Tolerance Policies 

The best way to prevent potentially hostile work environments (and lawsuits) is to draw clear lines and identify behaviors that won’t be tolerated in any capacity.

Still, even if your business takes genuine steps towards preventing gender discrimination, it only takes one such situation to tarnish the company’s reputation and possibly lead to a very expensive lawsuit.

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Insurance as Financial Protection

Gender discrimination in the workplace is a serious problem that can be very damaging to your company. Should your employees feel discriminated against and decide to bring forward a lawsuit, the legal expenses and reputational damage could be severe.

Having the right risk management program in place is crucial in protecting against these possible expenses and damages. Business insurance allows your company to transfer the financial stress and damage to a third party, the insurer.

Having insurance that covers the financial aspect of such unpleasant situations enables your company to deal with these types of allegations in an ethical manner, with full regard for the employee’s dignity and safety.

The insurance policies that typically respond to claims of gender discrimination are EPLI (employment practices liability insurance) and D&O (directors & officers insurance).

EPLI will respond to any employment-related claim, such as the failure to promote, wrongful termination, or harassment based on an employee’s gender. The policy will cover both the legal costs to defend your company from such allegations as well as settlements reached and fines administered.

However, it’s not just the company that’s at risk from claims of gender discrimination.

If employees who allege gender discrimination are not satisfied with the way your management responded to them, they may look to sue the company’s officers personally. In such cases where your management is held personally liable, EPLI will not protect your company’s executives and board members.

Having a D&O policy in place will help cover the personal assets of your directors and officers and pay for both defense costs and damages that result from such claims.

Insurers often bundle these two policies into one, cost-efficient package called management liability insurance, enabling the company to avoid any potential gaps in coverage.

To get a better understanding of how to protect your company from gender discrimination claims and other employment-related claims, you can reach out to one of our expert brokers to learn more about how you can secure the right coverage at the best price.

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