Guest blog: Gender Discrimination in the Workplace

As I am currently on vacation, my lovely colleague Helena Radke from the University of Queensland has agreed to step in and provide this week’s post. Thanks a lot, Helena, and to the rest of you: enjoy.

There are many reasons why women might not feel comfortable speaking up about gender discrimination in the workplace. One reason why women might not want to attribute an outcome to discrimination is because they experience disapproval from others when doing so. Regrettably this apprehension is not unsubstantiated. Social psychological research conducted by Kaiser and Miller (2001) has found that a person who attributes their treatment to discrimination (in this case an African American student failing a test) is evaluated more negatively than someone who does not attribute their treatment to discrimination even when it is clear that the person is being discriminated against. This is why, while many women say that they would confront sexism when presented with a hypothetical scenarios of discrimination, they are actually much less likely to do so in real life (Swim & Hyers, 1999).

So how can we ensure that women feel comfortable speaking up about instances of discrimination? One way in which we can answer this questions is by considering gender discrimination in the workplace to be a microaggression. According to Professor Derald Wing Sue from Columbia University, microaggressions are a brief and commonplace instances of indignity which, either intentionally or unintentionally, communicate hostile slights towards another person because of the social groups they belong to (Sue, 2007). He argues that they can be overcome by being aware of our own biases, knowing that our reality is different to others reality, not being defensive when someone reveals an incident of discrimination, discussing our own biases and being an ally against discrimination (see this video). Creating an organisational climate which is aware of the microaggressions women experience could be one way in which we can overcome the barriers women face to confronting gender discrimination in the workplace.

Class-Based Affirmative Action in Medicine

Although women remain under-represented in surgery, there has been a huge change in the number of women in medicine in general and they now make up about half of new medical students. Unfortunately, things look quite different with regards to socioeconomic status (SES).

Speaking from an American perspective Stephen Magnus and Stephen Mick discuss the literature on whether medical school should adopt an affirmative action approach with regards to social class and come to the conclusion that this may indeed be beneficial for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it would contribute to presenting equal opportunities to all members of societies. Lower SES students have to face a variety of additional obstacles compared to their higher SES counterparts and affirmative action would counteract some of these obstacles.

In addition to that, the authors also make compelling arguments that affirmative action policies would benefit lower SES patients as well. First, evidence suggests that doctors from lower SES backgrounds are better at communicating with lower SES patients and second, doctors from lower SES backgrounds are more likely to offer medical services to lower SES patients in the first place.

On the other hand, critics of affirmative action often argue that these policies stigmatise minority groups, who are already battling with negative stereotypes. What do you think?