Knowledge Center

Sex Discrimination

Sex discrimination exists when a person or group of people are treated unfairly solely on the basis of their biological sex.

  • Forty-six percent of women believe they've experienced sex discrimination in the workplace according to a survey from 2013.1
    • Over the past 15 years, the percentage of sex discrimination charges as a share of all charges brought to the EEOC has remained virtually fairly stable. Race discrimination is the only other complaint brought to the EEOC more often.2
TRENDS IN DISCRIMINATION CHARGES
Type of Charge Number of Charges in 19973 Percentage of Total Charges in 19974 Number of Charges in 20115 Percentage fo Total Charges in 20116
Sex Discrimination 24,728 30.7% 28,534 28.5%
Race Discrimination 29,199 36.2% 35,395 35.4%

 

Sex discrimination can result in:

  • Disparities in women’s and men’s earnings for equal work. Because many women are equally, if not more, qualified than men, differences in qualifications no longer provide an adequate explanation for why women earn less than men for equal work. With dramatic changes in women’s educational qualifications, it is increasingly clear that sex discrimination is a significant contributor to the pay gap—now more than ever before. Research suggests that, were it not for sex discrimination, women would be earning just as much as or more than men.7
  • Significant overrepresentation of men in leadership positions. Also referred to as vertical occupation segregation, the overrepresentation of men and under representation of women in senior management positions within a specific sector or industry can also be a result of sex discrimination. Even if there is a very small bias favoring the selection of men over women for promotions, the impact on the gender mix within an organization can be quite dramatic over time.8
  • Stereotypes act in a cumulative fashion—at each level, as fewer and fewer women are promoted, the talent pool has fewer women to choose from.9
  • Limited occupational choices for women and men. Otherwise known as horizontal segregation, the over employment of women and men in different occupations or fields is also linked to sex discrimination. For example, fields such as nursing tend to be dominated by women, while fields such as construction tend to be dominated by men.10
  • Pay inequity. Pay inequity results in years of lower earnings. Over the course of a woman’s life (based on 47 years of working full-time year-round), the average women loses earnings worth:
  •  $700,000 if she is a high school graduate.11
  • $1.2 million if she is a college graduate.12
  • $2 million if she is a professional school graduate.13

Pregnancy Discrimination

  •  Pregnancy discrimination is actually a form of sex discrimination. An amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that, "discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination."14
  •  In 2011, 5,797 charges were brought to the EEOC for pregnancy discrimination.15
  • An employer cannot refuse to hire someone on the basis of pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition, or based on prejudices of coworkers.16

Sexual Harassment

  • Sexual harassment is defined as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature such that submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment."17Sexual harassment does not necessarily have to cause economic suffering or threats/acts of firing. The behavior of the harasser must be unwelcome. Sexual harassers can be women or men and do not have to be of the opposite sex. The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, subordinate, a co-worker, a client, a supervisor in another area, or a non-employee. The victim does not need to be the person to whom offensive behavior was directed, but could be someone else affected by the offensive behavior.18
  • By 1998, 95% of large employers in the U.S. had harassment grievance policies, and 70% of U.S. companies provided training related to sexual harassment.19
    NUMBER OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT CHARGES FILED TO THE EEOC
    Year Number of Sexual Harassment Charges20 Total Number of Charges Received by EEOC21 Sexual Harassment as a Percentage of All Charges22
    1997 15,889 80,680 19.7%
    2011 11,364 99,947 11.4%

The Cost of Sexual Harassment

  • It can be difficult to measure the cost of sexual harassment. A survey of U.S. federal government employees estimated sexual harassment cost the U.S. government $327 million between 1992 and 1994.23
  • Most people who experience sexual harassment do not report the harasser. The behavior may continue, creating high costs to the employee and employer.24

The cost of sexual harassment to the employee includes:

  • Increase in sick leave and time away from work.25
  • Decrease in individual productivity by victims of sexual harassment.26
  • Lost productivity by workgroups in which harassment occurs.27
  • Job turnover, including job transfers, being fired, and quitting.28
  • In another study, stress, depression, and other emotional and physical consequences, including alcohol-related, sleep-related, and weight-related problems may occur.29

The cost of sexual harassment to the employer includes:

  • Decrease in employee productivity.30
  • Higher staff turnover.31
  • Increase in sick leave and other kinds of leave, as well as higher medical payout.32
  • Damaged company reputation (leading to difficulties associated with retention and attraction of employees).33
  • Less teamwork.34
  • Poorer staff morale.35
  • Possible legal and consultant costs.36

Men and Sexual Harassment

Although most sexual harassment cases consist of a man as the harasser and a woman as the harassed, sexual harassment can come from men or women, and can be directed towards members of the same sex. In recent years, the percentage of sexual harassment charges filed by men has risen.37

PERCENT OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT CHARGES FILED BY MEN38
1997 11.6%
2011 16.3%


Sexual Harassment in Canada

  • In 2004, 512,000 sexual harassment incidents were recorded by the police, and in 2007, 24,200 sexual offenses were recorded by the police.39
  • About 1 in 10 sexual assaults are reported to the police.40
  • Women and young people experience higher rates of sexual harassment; 15-24 is the age group with the most victims of sex discrimination 15-24.41


Note:

*This Quick Take focuses primarily on sex discrimination and sexual harassment. Sex discrimination focuses solely on discrimination that is attributable to sex; that is, discrimination on the basis of being a female or a male. Gender discrimination is rooted in perceptions of gender, gender stereotyping, and gender biases.

 

How to cite this product: Catalyst. Quick Take: Sex Discrimination and Sexual Harassment. New York: Catalyst, November 19, 2013.