Women, Career, And The Law: What You Need To Know
The following is a guest post by Kenn Goldblatt. His bio follows.
No matter who you are, or what professional position you may be working in, knowing how the law applies to you as a working woman can be crucial to protecting yourself and your career opportunities. Currently, a majority of women believe that gender discrimination is widespread in the workplace. While there is a growing movement among both sexes to address the problem, you need to know now what gender discrimination is and what you can do about it. Unless you understand your legal protections, you run the risk of being harmed or of making a mistake that can hurt your career opportunities short- or long-term.
Gender Issues Matter More Than Ever
As a working woman, the emerging political debate of equal pay for equal work is more than just a hot topic. It can well mean a significant difference in your bank account and your style of life and that of your family. Knowing what the law says – or is going to say as gender pay differences are addressed in the future – will be increasingly important as you progress in your career. It’s not enough to stamp your feet and complain. You’ll need to know what the laws specifically say, and how the courts are applying them as time goes on. Then you’ll need to gather credible, admissible evidence to support your claims if you are forced to go to administrative hearings or sue to preserve your rights.
But money issues are only one factor of gender discrimination. Promotion policies and actions are a key factor in determining how and when you may be being discriminated against because you are a woman. If there are significantly more men employed in a given company, if men typically are the employees promoted and/or given raises and bonuses while women are not, gender discrimination is easy enough to document and prove. Knowing how cases have been brought in other companies or industries and what their outcomes were can help you evaluate whether an action for gender discrimination is warranted.
Various factors have been identified as gender discrimination. They include:
- Unequal pay
- Different interview questions for men and women
- Diminished responsibilities for women
- Restroom issues relating to equal facilities, cleaning, and other issues
- Management conversations that differ for men and women
- Glass ceiling issues
- Positional bias directing women to certain jobs
- Terminations of female employees for complaints regarding bias
- Discriminatory dress codes or other outdated policies
- Sexual harassment.
Sexual Harassment: Is It or Isn’t It?
Deciding what is – or is not – sexual harassment isn’t necessarily a simple matter these days. A blatant proposition that leaves little to the imagination or judgment is easy enough. “I’ll give you a promotion (or a raise) if you’ll have sex with me” is easy enough to characterize – and is clearly actionable as you’ve probably seen in the Roger Ailes publicity this year.
What may not be so easy to establish is a pattern of behavior that includes compliments, jokes, and other conversation. If the compliments are off-color or accompanied by questionable gestures and facial expressions, the jokes are suggestive or dirty, and the conversation is designed to move toward sexual references or suggestions, you may have an easier time of establishing your case. But simple compliments that your hair or clothes are attractive may fall into a gray area making harassment difficult to prove.
A key factor to weigh in your determination is whether the attention makes you uncomfortable and what the reasons for that discomfort may be. Another is whether you have pointed out to the offending party that the behavior makes you feel uncomfortable. Sometimes a discussion with the person is enough to bring the behavior to a halt or for you to understand that no harm is intended. Evaluating who is being “nice” and who has an agenda to manipulate you is a skill that you need to cultivate and master.
More Subtle Issues
The more subtle gender harassment can come in various forms and to varying degrees. When girls and women do not have the same opportunities as boys and men for education, meaningful career entrance and/or advancement, political influence, and/or economic advancement, gender harassment may be operating. And when verbal and nonverbal behaviors convey insulting, hostile and degrading attitudes toward women complaints or legal action may be warranted. Here again, knowing the law and how and when to complain can make the difference in prevailing or hurting your career and getting a reputation as a troublemaker. Such gender discrimination can clearly create a hostile work environment for which legal action is not only warranted, but protected by law.
Knowing Your Rights is Part of Your Professionalism
You don’t have to be a lawyer to stand up for yourself or your coworkers when it comes to gender discrimination or sexual harassment or hostile work environment. But you do have to know what the law says and how it is applied in the situation in which you find yourself. As you grow and mature as a professional, understanding what your rights are, and how you go about asserting and protecting them should be a key part of your professional development. As women gain more acceptance and responsibility in the workplace, and assume an increasingly larger proportion of the management and leadership roles in the workplace, asserting their rights to protect themselves is just one more professional skill they will need to develop and improve.
Kenn Goldblatt is the author of The Pro Se Litigant’s Civil Litigation Handbook designed to give average readers an understanding of the civil litigation process from pre-litigation investigation through trial on the merits and beyond.