Gender is an important consideration in the development of every life aspect of an individual. Gender is also considered an important topic as it offers a way of looking at how social norms and power structures impact the lives and opportunities available to different groups of men and women. Universally, more women than men live in poverty due to a lack of education and direct representation in community decision-making bodies. Understanding that men and women experience poverty differently and face different barriers in accessing services, economic resources, and political opportunities can help target interventions.
Gender dynamics and relations change throughout the course of one’s life cycle. Status in the household is often determined by age, marriage, the number of children, disability, economic resources, and the educational level attained. In the UNICEF reports series, it is constantly mentioned that women often have the lowest status in the household, especially in societies where families need to pay dowry and where daughters are sent to live with husband’s family upon marriage. One research identified adolescent girls as particularly vulnerable and susceptible to gender-based discrimination including sexual violence, forced and early marriage, dropping out of school and risk of death during childbirth.
On the other hand, families often choose to invest in boys as the future earners and caretakers of the family. This enables boys to grow up having a higher status in the household than girls and better income-generating opportunities. While status generally increases according to age for both men and women, it increases disproportionately for men.
Unequal power relations do not fall only along gender lines. Individuals can be discriminated against for a number of reasons including ethnicity and race, religion, caste, age, disability, and more. However, despite numerous studies mentioning the majority of women are often harassed and discriminated against, men are no exception.
In a study by a committee on The Impacts of Sexual Harassment in Academia published at NCBI, researchers mentioned that both women and men do experience all forms of harassment and discrimination; although some subgroups might face higher rates than others. For example, when gender intersects with other axes of marginalisation, women are more likely to experience multiple layers of discrimination. Women who are lesbian or bisexual and who endorse gender-egalitarian beliefs are more likely to experience higher harassment. Likewise, men who are gay, transgender, petite, or in some way perceived as ‘not men enough’ encounter more harassment than other men.
Moreover, despite redefined definitions and terms to describe sexual harassment and gender discrimination, documenting the degree of these behaviours in work and education environments remains challenging. This is in part because individuals experiencing these behaviours rarely label them as harassments or discriminations. NCBI found that more than half of working women report experiencing sexually harassing behaviour at work, but less than 20 percent of those women actually describe the experience as ‘sexual harassment’.
While some individuals might not report harassments or discriminations they encounter, managers should notice that a toxic environment where harassments and discriminations exist will only do harm to the overall business and the workforce. Therefore, the first thing a manager can do is to understand whether the working environment in your company is toxic or not.
Researchers at NCBI have identified common characteristics of harassment. Data on varying experiences of sexual harassments showed that women of colour, sexual minorities, and gender minorities are sparse. The greatest predictors of the occurrence of these sexual harassments are mainly organisational. Individual-level factors (such as sexist attitudes, beliefs that rationalise or justify harassment, etc.) that might make someone decide to harass work colleagues, students, or peers are surely important.
Likewise, for women working in environments where men outnumber women, leadership is male-dominated. In particular, the more male-dominated the work environment, the more women experience gender harassment in form of sexual harassment. For instance, NCBI researchers compared data of women who work in gender-balanced working groups with those who work with almost all men. Researchers reported women in the latter category were 1.68 times more likely to encounter gender harassment.
In an environment that is perceived as more tolerant or permissive of sexual harassment, women are more likely to be directly harassed and to witness harassment of others. In fact, data compiled by researchers Willness, Steel, and Lee found that the perception of organisational tolerance of nearly 70,000 respondents to be the most potent predictor of sexual harassment in work organsiations. Sexually harassing behaviour is more common to be reported among men who say ‘their company does not have guidelines against harassment, hotlines to report it or punishment for harassers, or who say their managers do not care.’
Other factors that might increase the chances of harassments are significant power differentials within hierarchical organisations and organisational tolerance of alcohol use. Work environments that allow drinking during break and have permissive norms related to drinking are positively associated with higher levels of gender harassment of women.
Managers could create programmes and/or new policy that focuses on harassment and discrimination, such as follows: