Discrimination at work erodes trust in women
International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women. But despite the gains they have seen in recent decades, women continue to face discrimination in the workplace.
While both men and women experience discrimination at work, the psychological consequences of perceived gender discrimination at work manifest differently depending on gender, according to a study by the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California (USC ).
The report, published in the
Journal of the Academy of Management, reported that perceived gender discrimination reduces men’s and women’s sense of belonging in the workplace. However, the study showed that sex discrimination decreases self-efficacy in women but not in men.
Leigh Tost, lead author of the study, defines self-efficacy as a person’s confidence in their ability to perform job tasks.
“We found that the stories women tell about gender discrimination focus, at least in part, on patriarchal assumptions about women’s lack of competence and ability in work and leadership. [roles]“, said Tost.
For example, a woman who participated in the survey said that a manager once said that only men could handle certain work tasks. Another participant said she received comments from male colleagues about how women should be at home cooking, cleaning or raising children instead of being employed.
Many men said their organizations are likely to discriminate against them to reduce inequalities against women, according to the report. For example, some men believe they were not considered for promotion because management wanted to uplift a woman due to historical injustices against women.
“At first, the biggest surprise was how often men said they felt they had experienced discrimination or were at risk of discrimination at work,” Tost said.
Common discrimination among women
About 4 in 10 American women have experienced workplace discrimination because of their gender, according to a 2017 report from the Pew Research Center.
The study found that women were more likely than men to believe they had been treated as if they were incompetent, received less support from senior management, were ignored for important assignments and that they suffered repeated slights at work.
Other examples of gender discrimination in the workplace include women:
- Less paid than men despite similar work responsibilities.
- Assessed or held to a different standard because of gender.
- Excluded from important meetings.
- Terminated or demoted due to pregnancy.
- Subjected to unwanted sexual advances.
Anna Baird, director of revenue for Seattle-based retail platform Outreach, knows gender discrimination in the workplace well.
In previous work experiences, Baird was instructed by employers to wear no pants, only skirts. She even found herself in a situation where she begged to be let out of a moving vehicle because of unwanted advances from a co-worker.
“Every businesswoman, myself included, has at least a few personal stories of discrimination,” Baird said. “I don’t think men have had to deal with these issues with the frequency that women do to survive in their careers. I understand the frustration [of women]and we all deserve to be treated the same.”
Listen without judgment
The USC Marshall researchers noted that the effects of discrimination contribute to reduced well-being for both genders, with the negative effects being more pronounced in women than in men.
Tost said low self-efficacy, as reported by many women in the survey, is associated with low motivation, disengagement from work tasks and several other negative outcomes that can impair job performance. These results can affect women’s careers and organizational outcomes.
“Anyone who lacks confidence in their own abilities will likely never reach their ultimate potential, be proud of their contributions, or develop their skills as much as they could,” said award-winning author Deb Boelkes.
Women at the Top: What’s Holding You Back From Executive Leadership? (Business on the Rise, 2021).
Boelkes explained that gender discrimination erodes brotherhood, collegiality, collaboration and teamwork. If left unaddressed, it can create a toxic work environment that could harm the success of the organization.
HR professionals should listen to employees who feel discriminated against, Boelkes said. They should allow these workers to express their feelings in confidence and without judgement. This could increase trust within the organization.
“Don’t tell them they shouldn’t feel what they’re feeling, because that’s likely to make it worse. Just acknowledge their feelings,” Boelkes said. “So help them come up with a plan to maximize their potential.”
Baird’s company, Outreach, focuses on developing and promoting a diverse set of talents and fostering an environment where people from all walks of life can thrive. The company has created nine employee resource groups that are actively involved in raising awareness, reducing bias and creating an inclusive environment.
As a result, women make up 39% of the global workforce and 45% of Outreach’s leadership team, Baird said.
Strengthening diversity, equity and inclusion programs can improve a company’s culture and create a welcoming environment for people from all walks of life, thereby improving recruitment and retention efforts.
Education, promotion and equal pay can help reduce perceived discrimination in the workplace and avoid the risks associated with pay equity.