Gender Discrimination in the Workplace: Definition, Examples, and Laws

Katie McBeth

There are several forms of workplace discrimination, but among the more talked about is gender discrimination. The #MeToo movement shed light on sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Victims are no longer willing to stay silent about their experiences, and it’s emboldened other victims to feel more comfortable about seeking justice.

While the #MeToo movement is helping raise awareness, it won’t make the behavior disappear for good. Sexual harassment and gender discrimination is a deeply embedded problem in our society, and bringing awareness to the issue is only the first step in recovery.

So how can you identify and combat gender discrimination in your workplace? How many different forms of gender discrimination are there, and how can they affect victims? If you’re a victim, how can you report the issue and seek justice? Do any of these protections extend to transgender individuals or lesbian, gay, or bisexual individuals?

The legal waters surrounding gender discrimination can be murky, so it’s best to build up your knowledge so you can combat the problem head-on. Let’s look at the many different types and examples of gender discrimination, and what you can do about it.

Table of Contents

What Is Gender Discrimination?

Gender discrimination is legally defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as the unfavorable treatment of someone (an applicant or employee) due to their sex. Although the words “sex” and “gender” have different meanings, they are used interchangeably when it comes to laws against workplace discrimination. 

There are many different forms of gender discrimination, all of which may vary in severity. Anybody — whether they are male or female, coworkers, managers or supervisors, or even people who contract with your company but aren’t actual employees — can be guilty of gender discrimination in the workplace.

Gender Discrimination Laws

The laws that protect you from gender discrimination are laid out in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — the same congressional act that provides protections against discrimination based on race, color, religion, and national origin.

A second gender-discrimination law is the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in wages between men and women who work within the same industry, the same job position, and have equal skills and responsibilities.

While gender discrimination is unethical, not all forms of it are technically illegal. For instance, offhand comments or isolated incidents may not be deemed illegal by the EEOC. 

To be defined as illegal by the commission, harassment must be so frequent or severe that it results in a hostile or offensive work environment or a detrimental employment decision (i.e., being fired or demoted). 

Examples of Gender Discrimination in the Workplace

There are many different forms of gender discrimination, each presenting its own examples. Each form will be discussed below alongside its respective examples.

It’s important to note that no matter what your situation is (even if it is not included below), it may be worthwhile to seek legal guidance. Qualified lawyers, as well as counselors with the EEOC, can provide you with the legal knowledge you need to find justice for the discrimination you’ve faced.

Unequal Pay

The gender pay gap is defined as the difference in pay that women make compared to men, despite working within the same field, with the same responsibilities, and with the same amount of skill and experience. 

Despite the existence of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, gender-based pay discrimination is ongoing. As of 2020, women are paid 82 cents to every dollar earned by men.  

It should also be noted that other factors can widen the gap even further — such as race, age, disability status, and a history of pregnancy or family leave.

If you believe you’re being paid less than your male coworkers, then it could be worth your time to negotiate a raise or pay increase with your employer. However, that’s a lot easier said than done, and oftentimes women can be seen in a negative light just for speaking up. 

Speak with an EEOC counselor from your local office if you believe you are the victim of unequal pay or any other form of gender discrimination.

Pregnancy Discrimination

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act bans discrimination based on an individual’s pregnancy status or medical conditions related to pregnancy. However, pregnancy discrimination can easily cross over with gender discrimination since women and those with a uterus are disproportionately affected.

Some examples of pregnancy discrimination include:

  • Pregnancy bias: A female applicant is asked during an interview if she intends to have children. The question is not at all related to her skills or abilities, and she worries that saying “yes” might result in the company passing her over for the job because they will assume that she will need maternity leave if she decides to have children.
  • Unwelcome touching: A pregnant employee is constantly touched on the stomach by their coworkers, and feels uncomfortable due to the unwelcome touching. This may also constitute a case of sexual harassment.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination

In June of 2020, the Supreme Court of the U.S. ruled that sexual orientation and gender identity are to be included in the Title VII protections against discrimination in the workplace. Many states also feature their own laws protecting LGBTQ+ individuals. 

Restrooms and Accommodations

Another form of gender discrimination could come in the form of accommodations on-site for employees — especially restrooms. Individuals who identify as transgender may be especially vulnerable to a lack of accommodations. Some examples include:

  • The restrooms on site are single-occupancy, any-gender, but are rarely cleaned.
    • The women feel extremely uncomfortable using the restrooms, and are forced to walk to a neighboring building to find a clean and comfortable place to use the restroom. 
    • When a woman brings up the issue to her boss, he offers that she clean the restrooms herself.
  • The restrooms on site are gendered (i.e., men’s, women’s), but the men’s restroom is near the office, while the women’s is on the other side of the building. Although the building is compliant with local laws, the location of the restroom disproportionately affects employees who identify as women.
  • A transgender person who identifies as a woman is constantly harassed for using the women’s restroom, despite that being her preferred gender.

Positions, Promotions, and Roles

Discrimination in hiring, promotions, or given job tasks is often based on negative stereotypes about each gender. For example, men might be seen as stronger and less emotionally intelligent, whereas women are seen as weaker but more emotionally intelligent. 

This could lead to companies missing out on the best applicant for a job, or could result in qualified employees missing out on a promotion. Stereotypes don’t just hurt the individual, they hurt the business as well.

Some common examples might include:

  • A certified male teacher is looking for a job with an elementary school, but is struggling to get hired. When he’s interviewed by one principal, she mentions that male teachers are often “more aggressive” towards their students, and less emotionally supportive.
  • A qualified female applicant is eager to apply to a tech company as its new data analyst, but during the interview, the hiring manager states they’re also hiring for a secretary position, and they think she would be a great fit. 
  • An older, experienced female employee applies for a supervisor or management role, but is passed up for a younger male who has less experience. 

Interview Questions

Gender discrimination can also happen to those who are applying for a position within a company. Examples of gender discrimination throughout the interview process include:

  • Maternity bias: Questions about your children, or if you plan on having any children. 
  • Confirmation bias: Confirmation bias is defined as the tendency to take new information and interpret it through predetermined opinions. 
    • For example, an interviewer might have a predetermined opinion about female workers, and during the interview, they may ask leading questions that help cement that untrue belief based on the answers given. 
  • Affinity bias: Affinity bias is defined as a preference for like-minded and similar people — “people like me.” So for example, if a tech company is made up of mostly men, and the interviewer is a man as well, then there could be a preference for men. 

Unlawful Termination

Termination (or any other adverse employment decision) due to a harassment or discrimination complaint is illegal retaliation under the EEOC. This means if an employee brings a discrimination complaint to HR, but is fired for doing so, the employer is immediately held liable for the discrimination by the EEOC.

Examples of unlawful termination include:

  • A female employee finds out she makes less than her male counterparts, despite working with the company for a longer period of time. When she brings up this concern to her boss she is called “ungrateful” and let go from the company for asking for more money.
  • A female employee experiences serious sexual harassment from her boss and considers going to HR to report the issue. However, before she has the opportunity to file a complaint, her boss fires her for not following through on an illegal sexual favor that he requested.

Sexual Harassment

Lastly, one of the most talked about and severe forms of gender discrimination is that of sexual harassment. This can come in the form of unwelcome comments about someone’s gender, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. 

One common example of sexual harassment is a quid pro quo, meaning “this for that.” It is when a sexual favor is requested in exchange for a raise or otherwise beneficial employment opportunity. 

What You Can Do if You’re Experiencing Gender Discrimination in the Workplace

If you believe you are the victim of gender or sex discrimination, there are a few things you should know. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you prove the discrimination you’ve experienced, as well as to raise awareness. 

Remember that direct evidence can be a useful tool for proving bias, but circumstantial evidence can also be used to build your case.

  1. Take notes: The most important step is to take regular notes of what you’ve experienced. 
    1. Include in the notes who was present, who harassed you, what was said, the date, time, and location of the incident, and how it affected your workflow for the day (e.g., did you go home, were you distracted or uncomfortable). 
    2. Take a note of each incident — and if you have any previous incidents to report, consider making notes about what you remember happening. 
  2. Keep a paper trail: You’ll also want to keep a paper trail. This acts as a form of insurance and will be needed if you are to file a claim. 
    1. You’ll want to include any relevant emails or messages. Save them in a safe place outside of your work email. For instance, you may take photos of them on your personal device or in another safe place unrelated to work.
  3. Make a copy of your personnel file: In addition to taking notes, you should also make a copy of your personnel file. This serves as another kind of paper trail and will also be needed if you decide to file a claim. Your personnel file may include performance evaluations, your employment and pay history, or other information that may be necessary for a claim.
  4. File a complaint with the company: Each business will have its own policy for filing a complaint, so be sure to check your employee manual for the proper protocol. 
    1. If nothing is mentioned, then go directly to your HR department or direct manager to explain your concerns. If your manager is responsible for the harassment you’ve received, then go to their direct manager or explain your situation to HR. 
    2. Once you’ve shown them your notes and explained your situation, they may have you fill out an official complaint, or they may simply ask you to put your report into writing. 
    3. Once they’ve been made aware of the harassment, is it the business’s responsibility to address the issue, take reasonable care to prevent it from continuing, and correct the discrimination.
  5. File a complaint with the EEOC: You may also file a formal complaint with the EEOC within 180 days of the last incident. 
    1. Filing with EEOC is typically necessary when your company does not put an end to the harassment or you have entered a private arbitration clause with the company. A private arbitration essentially means that there is zero government oversight, which makes it harder for victims to win their cases. 
    2. The latter is common with large corporations that wish to keep harassment out of the public eye. However, this may silence you as a victim, leading to you filing a complaint with the EEOC. 
  6. File a complaint with your state’s employment protection agency: You can also file a complaint with your state’s employment protection agency. Each state has its own agency and may understand the laws of the state better than outside organizations. 
  7. Sue your employer: Your last option is to sue your employer. However, this is only possible after you receive a “Right-to-Sue” notice from the EEOC or your state’s employment protection agency. 

In the end, no matter what your outcome may be, it’s important to remember not to let discrimination control your life. If you feel you are being treated unfairly — even after filing a complaint — and have the ability to quit your job, it could be within your interest to look for a company that is more willing to accommodate your identity and treat you fairly.

Experiencing discrimination of any sort can be traumatizing and discouraging. However, know that you are not alone in your experiences. Bringing awareness to the issue can be the first step into building a better and brighter future for everyone.

Image Source

Keep Learning


Want a FREE Credit Evaluation from Credit Saint?

A $19.95 Value, FREE!

This site is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site.  This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. Learn more in our Earnings Disclaimer.
Get a FREE Credit Evaluation from Credit Saint Today!