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.

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Barriers Faced by Women in Surgery

Surgery is a challenging career path for everyone, but what makes it apparently more challenging for women? What obstacles are in their paths that men don’t have to overcome? A study by Amalia Cochran and colleagues investigated this question by asking men and women at the end of their surgical training or at the beginning of their surgical career about a number of potential obstacles such as sex discrimination, lack of confidence, conflict between children and career demands and job market constraints.

While both female and male participants reported similar levels of structural barriers and career preparation, women reported that they anticipated or perceived to be treated differently from men, including negative comments about their sex. Female participants also mentioned having children as a career barrier.

These results are perhaps not surprising. However, they illustrate once more the importance of addressing gender inequality in surgery on many levels – from helping women with children to achieve a good work-life-balance to fostering a more egalitarian work environment in general.

Gender Equality at the Harvard Business School

Male dominated organisations are often thought of as an “old boys’ club” with the members favouring one another and rolling their eyes at gender equality initiatives. However, that is certainly not always the case. The Harvard business school, known for being a rather sexist environment, has recently gone out of the way to bring about gender equality. Reactions were mixed, but a New York Times article nicely illustrates how things can indeed be tackled and changed, despite a reluctant majority.