In the modern workplace, most female professionals are not braced for sexist discrimination. We all learn from a young age that this sort of thing is “over” and went out of style by the 70s or 80s at the latest. A modern boss wouldn’t dream of patting his secretary on the bottom or asking a female report to show a little more skin. And to a certain extent, this is true. However, gender discrimination does still exist and, unfortunately, thousands of women every year have put up with undercutting comments and disrespect from their coworkers and bosses.
But you don’t have to. Today, we’re here to shine a light on eight of the subtle but unpleasantly common signs of workplace discrimination against female employees. Before you start to think “Maybe I’m being too sensitive…”, check your workplace to determine if there really is an ongoing pattern of discrimination. And if there is, you can do something about it to make the workplace better for both yourself and every other woman who works for our employer.
All Personal Assistants are Female
Some employers are still working with 50s-era ideas of labor division. This goes above and beyond the usual gender leanings for one job or another. Personal assistants may traditionally be perky female secretaries, but modern ratios have many talented men in these roles as well. However, if your employer only hires ‘pretty’ women in assistant and admin roles, this is an early red flag not to be ignored. It may mean they have other gender expectations that will come out of the woodwork over time.
Female Professionals are Treated like Assistants
Another evolution of the ‘all female’ assistant pool is the idea that any female in any department is ‘better suited’ to assistant tasks than their male coworkers. If the woman on a team is always being asked to get the coffee, plan the parties, or clean up after meetings, this is a clear sign of systemic discrimination. Women’s work is a concept that should long since have disappeared from modern workplaces, but the specter still haunts some employers.
Shoulder Massages for Ladies Only
Unwanted touching is one of the biggest red flags in the business world when it comes to gendered discriminations. Some people, especially managers who think they can get away with it, will try to mask their desire to touch female employees with friendly ‘shoulder massages‘ and other unasked for physical contact. While some workplaces trade massages regularly between coworkers, it’s time to call HR and perhaps a lawyer if only the women seem to be the focus of this physical attention.
Higher Dress Code Expectations for Women
If you were asked to “wear something pretty” by your boss, you would immediately know that discrimination was in the cards. However, some employers mask their appearance discrimination between male and female employees in the dress code itself. Or in the unspoken dress code expectations. If men are allowed to dress ‘business casual’ or wear the same suit every day but women are expected to dress up more or act as pieces of office decoration, beware! This is a clear sign of institutional gender discrimination.
Regular Comments on Appearance
Along the same lines, a manager or entire company may show their true discriminatory colors when comments on a woman’s appearance are a regular and accepted part of office culture. It’s one thing if your boss says “Oh, that’s a great blouse, I’ve never seen it before” once. It’s another if your boss and coworkers are allowed to constantly comment on how attractive you look, or if your appearance comes up when your performance should be the topic of discussion.
Comments on Women’s Choice of Lunches
Here’s one you may not have heard of, or realized that it’s a form of gender discrimination: Commenting on lunch and nutrition. Some workplaces are simply focused on healthy eating as part of their employee wellness program. But if only the ladies are subject to examination of their nutritional lunch choices (Ex: “Are you sure you should be eating that burger? It can’t be good for your weight/skin”) then this is a form of gender discrimination enforcing the idea that women should try to be ‘slim and pretty’ at all times.
Questions about Marriage and Children
Another known form of gender discrimination is the assumption that women are more likely to neglect their work in favor of raising a family or that every unmarried woman is angling for a husband. If you choose to share and discuss family life with coworkers, fine. But if the topic comes unbidden from a male boss or colleagues as to when you’re getting married, if you plan to have kids, if you’re taking time off for family then this may be a subtle sign of unequal expectations from male and female employees.
Being Asked to Smile More
Finally, one of the most subtle yet surprisingly prominent signs of workplace gender discrimination is the expectation to smile. Either A) You are in customer service and every employee must smile at customers or B) you should be allowed to frown and scowl at your own computer all day long. The fact of the matter is that men never ask other men to ‘smile more’. So if your boss or coworkers comment about smiling, what they are really saying is that you should look prettier in the workplace, even when focusing on your work without any customers present.
Aiman-Smith & Marcy is proud to defend the rights of employees in the face of discrimination and unfair treatment no matter what form it comes in. For more information about how to defend your rights, contact us today!