Gender discrimination has long plagued the workforce, particularly for women, who have struggled to establish themselves as equals to their male counterparts. Despite significant progress, gender bias occurs across all industries — an occurrence made more prevalent and unfair amid the rising LGBTQ community, women of color and those with disabilities.
Naturally, confronting co-workers and combatting sex discrimination requires strategic planning and the ability to say no. Additionally, young professionals must get comfortable with the uncomfortable as they advocate for themselves and others enduring a similar uphill battle.
A History of Gender Discrimination in the U.S.
Gender discrimination isn’t anything new in the United States. Well before Congress passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — making it unconstitutional to restrict laborers based on sex, religion, race and origin — women worked tirelessly to be viewed as valuable entities in the workplace.
Although women now work in the most male-dominated industries and have climbed the corporate ladder, they continue fighting for equal pay, breaking down social norms and seeking to improve work-life balance to account for caregiving roles.
Remote work proved especially vital to women as they could fulfill their professional and personal responsibilities, avoid microaggressions and sexual harassment at the office and prevent burnout. In fact, the choice to work at home has been crucial primarily for LGBTQ, women of color and women with disabilities.
According to a McKinsey study, only 10% of women are willing to work on-site — and companies are listening. While some larger corporations have mandated employees to return to the office, 32% of companies plan to expand their work-from-home policies to better accommodate and retain the female workforce.
Yet, while offering remote work is an obvious and practical strategy for a diverse team, young professionals of all backgrounds still face ample gender discrimination.
5 Ways to Address Workplace Gender Discrimination
Confronting your workplace about gender discrimination may seem daunting. Why wouldn’t it when you’ve already been made to feel less-than based on sex? However, young professionals dealing with gender discrimination have the upper hand in many ways. Here are five ways to combat gender bias at work, gain respect from your co-workers and pave a path toward professional achievement.
1. Know Your Rights
Educating yourself on your rights and workplace policies and procedures will ensure you take the soundest approach to addressing gender discrimination. Read through the employee handbook, determine whether human resources can assist you and look up legislation meant to protect you.
For instance, a new sexual harassment law ensures that companies can no longer force arbitration on employees who’ve filed assault claims — unlike before, the law gives employees the right to sue the company.
Everyone is entitled to work in a safe and discrimination-free workplace void of retaliation. As gender bias occurs and you become acquainted with your rights, be sure to write everything about what’s happening to you down. You may need to present these notes to HR at some point.
2. Advocate Fair Compensation
Sadly, women still earn only a percentage of their male co-workers' salaries. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, women get 82 cents for every dollar of men’s wages, even in similar roles or with the same experience or higher.
If you feel you should earn more for your work, advocate for fair compensation. Know what the national average pays for your job and what your position typically makes in the local market — then make your case and present your findings respectfully to managers.
3. Empower Yourself
Few jobs are meant solely for one sex — yet, 50% of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields feel discriminated against. Of course, workplace demographics for these industries support this claim of a wide gender gap.
The same can be said for senior roles — studies show that women are 13% less likely to get promoted than men, despite usually having higher performance scores. Combatting gender discrimination at work means setting oneself up for better opportunities and taking a seat front and center where you can’t be ignored. Believing in yourself and empowering yourself is the first step toward change.
4. File a Report
Sometimes, resolving gender issues at work requires drastic measures, such as filing a report. For example, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 27,291 sexual harassment claims between 2018 and 2021 — a serious accusation in the workplace that warrants immediate attention and investigation.
File a formal written or verbal complaint with the company’s HR department or speak with your boss if you face discrimination or harassment. Although you may not feel entirely comfortable reporting to someone about gender bias, it is the best way to stop the behavior.
You might also consider filing a report with your union if you have one or submitting a complaint to a government agency. Regardless of your approach, always take thorough notes to refer to during proceedings.
5. Find Allies and Become One
For women, LGBTQ, women of color and women with disabilities, confronting and combatting gender discrimination in the workplace takes a collective effort. Women who support women have a much better chance of achieving their professional goals.
Finding your allies in the office is crucial — they might even include members of the opposite sex who want to see you succeed. Your allies could be mentors, co-workers, supervisors and friends that share the podium during discussions, advocate on your behalf and present new opportunities and challenges that allow you to grow.
Combat Gender Discrimination at Work Head On
Young professionals might believe they’ll hurt their chances of success if they make waves at the office. For some, shaking the workplace up after co-workers discriminate against you based on sex is the only way to move forward in your career. If you feel you are a victim of gender discrimination, proceed carefully, wisely and resiliently.