BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

From Gen Y Women to Employers: What You Need to Know about Gender Discrimination in the Workplace

Posted by knbarrett on December 7, 2011

By Kara Nichols Barrett, lead project researcher

Business and Professional Women’s Foundation’s new report – From Gen Y Women to Employers: What They Want in the Workplace and Why it Matters for Business – explores Gen Y women’s career choices and the opportunities and challenges they face in the workplace. Results from our national survey of Gen Y (born 1978-1994) women challenged popular perceptions of Gen Y women in the workplace. Over the last two weeks, we’ve examined key misconceptions about  work values and work-life balance.

Today’s topic is gender in the workplace. Over 660 Gen Y told us about:

  • the severity of gender discrimination in the workplace;
  • the most common forms of gender discrimination in the workplace;
  • their personal experiences with gender discrimination in the workplace;
  • their responses to gender discrimination in the workplace; and
  • their recommendations to help employers promote gender equitable workplaces.

Here are the top three messages from Gen Y women to employers about gender discrimination in the workplace.

It’s a problem. Recent studies depict our generation of women as optimistic about gender equality in the workplace.  Employers are told that we don’t perceive gender discrimination as a major problem in the workplace. A study commissioned by Levi Strauss & Co. found that less than one in five Gen Y women in the United States believe that their gender is an obstacle in attaining their work-related goals. Another study found that of all the generational cohorts, Gen Y women are most likely to believe that deliberate discrimination is declining. It’s easy to take these reports and decide that Gen Y women believe gender discrimination is a thing of the past. Not so fast. Just because we expect gender equality doesn’t mean that’s what we experience in the workplace. According to the BPW Foundation survey, almost 50% of us have observed or experienced gender discrimination in the workplace. And, we believe it’s a problem. Over 75% of us believe gender discrimination is a moderate or severe problem in today’s workplace.

It’s a problem that goes beyond deliberate or hostile actions. Yes, deliberate and hostile forms of discrimination still exist. We have experienced sexual harassment, exclusion from professional opportunities and unequal compensation. But one of the most prevalent forms of gender discrimination that we face is stereotyping. It’s a form of discrimination that is much harder for employers to recognize and root out. We recognize that most people don’t think women should be judged by higher standards. Most people would agree that’s unfair, right? Yet, we experience it in the workplace all the time. Why? We inevitably categorize a worker as either a “man” or a “woman.” Cordelia Fine, an academic psychologist and author of Delusions of Gender, argues that when we make the categorization of “man or “woman”:

“We perceive them through the filter of cultural beliefs and norms. This is sexism gone underground- unconscious and unintentional.”

Research also suggests that this “unconscious” prejudice and discrimination is also potentially more harmful for women’s work performance than more blatant forms of discrimination. If you’re concerned about the business costs of gender discrimination – lower productivity and employee morale to name two – and want to tackle discrimination in your organization, you’ll need to identify and address both the explicit and hidden forms of gender discrimination.

 It’s a problem that requires thorough examination. Addressing gender discrimination in the workplace requires more than a policy fix.  How organizations and individuals treat men and women relate to our socially constructed categories of “man” and “woman.” Far too often cultural beliefs and assumptions about men and women workers go unquestioned and examined. As a first step, we suggest that you examine stereotyped assumptions about men and women employees within your organization.

  • How do your organizational policies reflect cultural beliefs and assumptions about men and women?
  • How do your organization’s hiring and promotion practices reflect cultural beliefs and assumptions about men and women?
  • How do interactions between colleagues and supervisors reflect cultural beliefs and assumptions about men and women?

This research, funded from the Virginia Allan Young Careerist Grant, is part of BPW Foundation’s ongoing “Young Careerist” research project that since 2005 has been exploring the career opportunities and challenges facing today’s young working women.  The research gives voice to a distinct group of working women who are vital to developing a diverse and skilled workforce.  Research has been conducted using social media, focus groups and this national survey. To find all of the research and this report, visit our Young Careerist website.

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One Response to “From Gen Y Women to Employers: What You Need to Know about Gender Discrimination in the Workplace”

  1. […] Business and Professional Women’s Foundation new report – From Gen Y Women to Employers: What They Want in the Workplace and Why it Matters for Business – explores Gen Y women’s career choices and the opportunities and challenges they face in the workplace. Results from our national survey of Gen Y (born 1978-1994) women challenged popular perceptions of Gen Y women in the workplace. Over the last few weeks, we’ve examined key misconceptions related to work values, work-life balance and gender in the workplace. […]

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