It is not always evident when an act of discrimination is taking place. Workplace discrimination, even in its subtle forms, is distressing and may have a severe influence on the victim’s mental health, wellbeing, and even career. Either as a leader or an employee, it is critical to recognize that workplace discrimination is never justifiable, no matter how ‘small’ or subtle it looks like. To celebrate #IWD2022, HR in Asia is publishing a series of articles discussing women’s achievements and challenges in the workplace. This time, let’s learn how we can look out for subtle signs of gender discrimination at the office.
Gender discrimination is a type of discrimination in which someone is treated differently or unjustly because of their sex and gender. Disparate treatment based on sex often refers to an employee being treated unfairly due to their shown gender. These employees may be subjected to discriminatory hiring or dismissal, salary inequalities, as well as restrictions on benefits or promotions.
Believe it or not, some pregnant women may be forced to leave a job when they reach a specific stage in their pregnancy, or may be dismissed for reasons related to pregnancy and nursing. This is because some irresponsible employers perceive pregnant women as ‘not as functional as other employees’, thus giving pressure for their pregnant staff to resign – sometimes indirectly. One of the signs can be something like giving no leniency about remote working options. Pregnant women are prone to particular health conditions such as morning sickness, nausea, and braxton hicks. This can be inconvenient at times and having the benefit of remote working can help lessen the hassle when these conditions arise. However, if an employer refuses to give the opportunity for its pregnant employees to work from home, when the job can actually be finished remotely anyway, it can be seen as an act of discrimination.
Other forms of pregnancy discrimination include denying pregnant women proper accommodations, demoting them, and forcing time off or limiting work hours. A groundbreaking Baylor University study discovered that pregnancy discrimination has a harmful impact on the health of both the mother and the baby. Pregnancy discrimination has been associated to higher levels of postpartum depression in mothers, as well as lower birth weights, shorter gestational ages, and higher numbers of healthcare visits in newborns.
It is a common secret that women tend to get paid less, have less benefits, have fewer leadership chances, or be passed over for jobs or promotions for which they are highly qualified. For example, it is not a new thing to find a female programmer being paid less than a male programmer, although both have the same years of experience and tenure. The fact that employees can be hindered for career advancement due to their gender is a subtle sign that will be more obvious as time goes by.
Unfortunately, anti-discrimination legislation does not always protect women from discriminatory practices, including modest interactions or subtle body language in which they are treated differently. Therefore, the best thing you can do as a female worker is understand your legal rights. Employee handbooks or business policy guides might provide information on your company’s current position on gender discrimination. Inform your HR officer, supervisor, or management of any prejudice aimed towards you, and express your concern immediately to the individual directly responsible for the discrimination.
Last but not least, one of the most commonly found subtle gender discrimination in the office is doubting what women can do. There are day to day activities that men usually do, although these tasks are not limited to specific genders, including parallel parking, moving heavy objects, and fixing electricity problems. When there is a heavy object in the office that needs to be moved, it is not surprising to find men prohibiting a woman who is trying to do it. Some even add follow-up remarks that are discriminatory, such as “No, don’t do it, it’s too heavy for you” or “No need to do it, let the other guy do it”.
While some people perceive this as not wanting to burden a woman, this is actually a subtle form of discrimination which screams the energy of women are incapable of carrying out tasks men usually do. The fact that doubting women’s ability is found in day to day situations should not be taken lightly or be put aside due to its ‘commonness’. If this sort of doubting is normalized, it could be a matter of time to let women be seen as the ‘weakest link of chain’ in the office. If such a mindset were normalized, the company culture could shift into something that prefers recruiting and retaining male employees compared to female ones.
Sometimes, there are acts and workplace policies that look harmless at first, but actually are discriminating towards particular gender. These subtle discriminations can be the very first steps towards long-term injustice. Preventive acts should be taken as early as identifying some subtle signs of discrimination. Do not hesitate to speak up if you ever feel like you are being discriminated against because of your gender, marital status, race, or other causes.