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Human Resources

Gender Discrimination in the Workplace

Courtesy of Kevin McShane

Gender discrimination is not a thing of the past. It is still a problem, and employers and employees need to be informed about the current situation, laws, and steps that can be taken in order to improve.

Discrimination is still a problem

Admittedly, post-feminist movement America has produced a much friendlier working environment for women—but don’t be fooled into believing that everything is peachy. Discrimination in the workplace is still a very real issue in America and around the world. In an interview on NPR, Ilene Lang or Catalyst Inc. said that in recent years women have comprised 46-49% of the workforce but held only 15% of managerial and professional positions at executive levels. She also mentioned that in a survey conducted in 2010 across industries, on average there was an 18% pay gap between men and women. Passing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963 create a legal framework for business to abide under, but women, business owners, and the courts each hold responsibility in making sure they are upheld.

Know the laws

There are three laws that employers should be familiar with in order to avoid a gender discrimination lawsuit. These laws are Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), and Civil Rights Act of 1991. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on a host of factors: race, color, religion, national origin, and sex. Other than direct sexual harassment, it can also include having a hostile environment towards males or females or pregnancy-based discrimination. The EPA of 1963 relates to wages—it says that men and women performing the same work must receive the same pay (including benefits). Lastly, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 says that employers must provide monetary damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination. In addition to compensatory and punitive damages, victims are also eligible to receive money for attorney’s fees and jury trials.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is available to aid employers in understanding and complying with these laws. Your local EEOC office is available to help with education, enforcement, and technical assistance. They publish free pamphlets, manuals, fact sheets, and enforcement guidance information. More information can be found at their website or by calling 1-800-669-4000.

Making Changes

Regardless of whether or not you agree with the federal discrimination laws, you will want to observe certain practices in order to avoid a lawsuit and retain quality female employees. The 10-year class-action lawsuit against Walmart shows how long and complicated such legal battles can become. The first thing that is important for you to remember is recordkeeping. Whenever you hire, fire, or promote an employee, record a brief summary of the event and the reasons behind your decision. Secondly, make periodic assessments of your workforce. Compare male and female employees that hold the same position in terms of wages, skill level, years of experience, and job responsibilities. Conducting these periodic assessments will enable you to gauge whether or not you have unconsciously been making discriminatory decisions. Lastly, communicate with employees. In performance assessments, casual conversations, or formal surveys, inquire about the workplace environment. Are female employees offended by crude jokes? Do male employees feel outnumbered or excluded? Is policy related to pregnancy leave fair? In gaining feedback, you will be able to make the appropriate adjustments in striving to build a business where women nor men feel superior merely because of their gender.

Sources:

1) New York Times: Gender Discrimination in the Workplace

2) US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination Questions and Answers

3) eHow Money: How to Avoid Gender Discrimination

4) NPR: Is Sex Discrimination Still a Problem?

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