Angry boss scolding or firing upset intern in office

Sexism in the Workplace: What You Need to Know

By Douglas Lipsky

Sexism, by definition, is prejudice or discrimination based on one’s gender. In the workplace, this bias manifests in various ways, undermining professional growth, damaging mental well-being, and perpetuating harmful stereotypes. As employees and allies, understanding the roots, types, effects, and legal protections against sexism is vital. Equally important is knowing the steps to combat this pervasive issue and consulting an employment lawyer if sexism in the workplace has impacted you. 

The Roots of Workplace Sexism

Historically, many workplaces were male-dominated, sidelining women to lesser roles or excluding them altogether. Over time, societal norms cast women into specific job roles, reinforcing stereotypes. Fortunately, the past few decades have seen a progression in laws and policies, pushing for equal rights and opportunities for all, irrespective of gender.

Types of Sexism

Sexism can take several forms:

  • Direct sexism – tangible acts of discrimination, such as refusing someone a job or promotion based solely on their gender.
  • Indirect sexism – practices or policies that appear neutral but inadvertently affect one gender more than the other. For example, a policy requiring all employees to work late might disproportionately affect women who traditionally have more family responsibilities.
  • Sexual harassment – unwanted behaviors of a sexual nature, ranging from inappropriate comments to unwanted physical contact.
  • Gender stereotyping – assumptions based on gender, like presuming that a woman might not be interested in a technical role or a man in a nurturing profession.

While sexism is often a matter of implicit bias, it is illegal when it rises to the level of discrimination and harassment. 

Effects of Sexism on Employees

The repercussions of sexism in the workplace are profound, deeply impacting both individuals and the broader work environment. On a personal level, employees facing discrimination often grapple with reduced self-esteem. They feel that their value in the workplace is diminished solely because of their gender, leading to chronic feelings of belittlement. This continuous undermining can result in chronic stress and anxiety, affecting overall mental well-being. 

Professionally, sexism can cast a long and detrimental shadow. Discriminatory practices can restrict access to essential opportunities, such as training, promotions, or specialized job assignments. This limitation impedes career growth and can exacerbate a persistent wage gap, where one gender is consistently paid less for the same work. Furthermore, sexism can foster a hostile work environment, forcing talented individuals out of fields or industries, and depriving these sectors of diverse perspectives and talents.

Sexism also has broader implications for workplace dynamics. Offices tainted with gender biases often witness reduced teamwork and collaboration. Such biases can drive wedges between employees, fostering mistrust and reducing camaraderie. This division doesn’t only hamper office morale but can also diminish overall productivity and innovation. In essence, a workplace that fails to combat sexism stifles the full potential of its workforce.

Legal Protections Against Sexism

Awareness of your rights is paramount. At the forefront of federal protections against workplace discrimination is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII expressly prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This pivotal legislation covers various forms of discrimination, including those rooted in sexism, and applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including federal, state, and local governments.

For New Yorkers, the protections go even further. The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, along with several other protected categories. It covers all employers in the state, regardless of size, which is a broader protection than Title VII offers. Furthermore, New York City has its own anti-discrimination law – the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). This local law is often considered one of the most comprehensive anti-discrimination laws in the country. It covers employers with four or more employees and provides robust protections against all forms of discrimination, including sexism.

How To Fight Sexism in the Workplace

If you believe you’re a victim of sexism protect yourself by taking these steps:

  • Document everything – Keep detailed records of every incident, no matter how minor it seems. This can be invaluable evidence if you decide to pursue a legal course.
  • Report – Notify your HR department or management of the problem.
  • Seek legal counsel – If the issue persists or if the company doesn’t address your concerns, consult an employment lawyer.

The Takeaway

Everyone deserves a workplace free from discrimination, where opportunities are based on merit and not gender. If you believe you’re facing sexism at work, remember you’re not alone. Reach out, stay informed, and consult a knowledgeable employment lawyer. 

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.