Sexism in the Workplace: No Escape


There is no escape from sexism in the workplace even if that sexism gets expressed in subtle ways without the conscious knowledge of the perpetrators. According to scientific research on gender in the workplace, women in positions of power are often marginalized, interrupted, dismissed and ignored by their male counterparts and even other women. Further, women are greatly penalized for exhibiting behavior that is viewed as angry, aggressive or assertive while their male counterparts get rewarded for the same behavior.

According to a study out of Princeton, men speak 75 percent more than women in group meetings, but women are perceived as “hogging” the floor and speaking more than men. Tali Mendelberg, who co-authored the study, says that women often feel as though their male counterparts ignore them. Whether that comes in an overt form such as completely ignoring a woman’s direct emails or a more subtle form such as dismissing their opinions in group meetings, a primary way that sexism is exhibited in the workplace is through making women effectively invisible. “These settings will produce a dramatic inequality in women’s floor time and in many other ways. Women are less likely to be viewed and to view themselves as influential in the group and to feel that their voice is heard,” says Mendelberg .

Other studies have shown similar results. For women in the workplace, there is no escape from sexism because “having a seat at the table is very different from having a voice” according to a study summary out of Bringham Young University.

While some may think that workplace environments have been improving for women over time, that is not so. According to a study from an employment firm in the UK, Millennial women suffer to a great degree from gender inequalities in the workplace, and one of the primary causes is a lack of workplace visibility. Women’s opinions and voices are routinely oppressed, and this problem is increasing rather than diminishing.

Sexual harassment on the job remains a significant issue, with polls showing that 25 percent of women have been sexually harassed, however; the percent of people who view it as a serious problem has decreased over time from a high of 88 percent of people saying sexual harassment is a grave concern in the workplace in 1988, down to a low of 64 percent in a study done in 2011—a dramatic 24 point drop.

Some experts feel that since the marginalization of women in the workplace is easier to get away with than sexual harassment, men wield their dominance in the work environment by silencing and ignoring women, reducing women’s power and effectively shutting them out of decision making.

In addition to studies, it is easy to find thousands or even perhaps millions of anecdotal stories about sexism in the workplace. Buzzfeed published an article that detailed eight accounts of female journalists and their experience with sexism at their jobs. A popular tactic for men to put down women is to call them “b*tches” behind their back and to otherwise talk about them and denigrate them. Another tactic is to insinuate that women must have “slept their way to the top” instead of her having achieved success on her own merit. Anecdotes can be powerful reminders about sexism, but there is also plenty of hard scientific evidence to back up the claims.

Another major strategy that men use to oppress women in the workplace is through wage inequality. Despite women’s best efforts to the contrary, women still make just 77 cents to every dollar men make. Often, men with fewer credentials and worse work performance make more base salary than their female counterparts.

If women complain about any of these methods, they are viewed as “aggressive,” “impossible to work with,” and “abrasive,” among other descriptive terms that are rarely used to describe men. The firing of Jill Abramson from the New York Times (she was the very first woman to have ever held the position) sparked much discussion about subtle sexism in the field of journalism specifically. Abramson was viewed as “brusque,” “combative,” “pushy,” “unlikeable,” “mean” and “belligerent.” Many feel that this perception of her contributed to her being fired; however, other New York Times staff members admitted that those same qualities observed in men had never before been a reason for any of those men to be fired; in fact, studies show that men are greatly rewarded for the same behavior Abramson reportedly displayed.

If women behave assertively in the workplace, studies show, they will “suffer social and financial backlash” for speaking up, and not just when they complain about sexism. If a woman dares to express anger at work, she is seen as “out of control” and is penalized for her behavior, losing clout and stature within the organization, according to a study on over 1,200 people in the United States and the UK. Conversely, when men express anger in the work place, they are rewarded. A Yale study found that men who express anger in the workplace “gain clout and stature” and get paid more.

Another study found that women who “act assertively, focus on work tasks, and display ambition” are viewed as “too tough.” In fact, the Yale study found that the gender based wage gap was the highest between angry women and angry men in the workplace, with angry men making a whopping 40 percent more than their angry female counterparts. The average wage gap without taking expressions of anger into account is 23 percent. Clearly, women are greatly penalized for expressing anger, and they are routinely told that raising their voice or otherwise displaying anger is “unacceptable” while men experience the exact opposite reinforcement for their expressions of anger.

Unconscious gender stereotypes affect men’s behavior toward women in the workplace, and the resulting treatment, experts say, is often insidiously subtle. There is the idea that women do not need more pay because they are not the primary household breadwinners; therefore, they are often passed by for raises and promotions, with those rewards instead going to the angriest, most belligerent and oftentimes, least productive men in an organization.

Women are strongly discouraged from discussing their titles, positions, or pay in the workplace; with these behaviors being viewed as “too aggressive.” If a woman asks for a raise, she is viewed in a negative light by her superiors. Women also get admonished for asserting their positions at a higher rate than men who do the same. Women who succeed in traditionally male-dominated fields tend to be universally disliked by their colleagues. This is especially true in the field of journalism. In newspapers specifically, women hold just 19 percent of all leadership roles, and research soundly proves that those women are marginalized due to the unconscious gender stereotypes and routine punishing of women for being “aggressive.” The firing of Jill Abramson, many say, is a fitting example of how women who are “disliked,” “angry,” and “abrasive,” yet highly successful, get dismissed or lose stature, while less successful men who display the same behaviors get promoted. What makes this marginalization even more difficult is that when women speak up about it, they are further penalized.

The Women’s Media Center offers suggestions to company leaders to combat sexism against women in the workplace, but unfortunately, it seems there is no escape. That is, unless the largely male leaders, especially in male dominated industries, are willing to have a frank discussion about these issues with employees and raise awareness about how to change the environment of sexism that exists within their companies. Until that begins to happen, say experts, the wage gap will never close, and successful women will continue to be disliked. There is a heavy dose of denial present among many men in leadership positions who wish to remove gender from the equation so that their power positions can remain intact. Because of this, it seems unlikely that there will be any rapid change in the overall scope of sexism in the workplace.

By: Rebecca Savastio




Psychology Today

Daily Mail

Bringham Young University

Robert Half


New York Times

National Women’s Law Center

Fast Company

USA Today

Women’s Media Center

New Republic

Ms. Magazine

Huffington Post

Scientific American

You must be logged in to post a comment Login