By Dewi Amira Dania, Balqis Afifah Irwandi and Nur Saidatul Nasuha
In the same working environment, female employees encounter discrimination based on gender and are treated differently than the opposite gender. This is no surprise to people as multiple studies have explicitly been conducted on this matter.
Workplace gender discrimination comes in many different shapes and forms, but generally, it is defined as the unequal or disadvantageous treatment of an employee or job applicant based on their gender (Equal Rights Advocates, 2019). Although the prejudicial treatment has gotten a lot better as time progresses, the issue itself remains and has yet to be solved.
Statistics are able to show how prevalent this incessant issue is. About four-in ten working females (42%) revealed that they have faced prejudice and discrimination simply because of their gender (Pew Research Center, 2017). A broad range of occurrences have been experienced by women under the name of injustice. For instance, being called intimate nicknames such as ‘sayang’ or ‘babe’ by their bosses or colleagues in a formal work setting – which is one of the most common forms of sexual harassment in the world especially in Malaysia. Furthermore, not being paid as much or being denied higher positions even though having to do the same workload as male employees is another issue.
Anyone who says that religion is an excuse for the unpleasant behavior of judging and denying rights solely based on gender is mistaken and does not understand the context in Islam properly. In Islam, in Surah Al Baqarah, verse 229 mentions “And they (the women) have rights similar and equal to those (of men) over them in equity” we are taught that in no way that men are above women or women are above men and the only way for anyone to be judged by Allah is only by his or her level of faith, not gender. There are several ways in which female employees have been treated unfairly.
Firstly, the gender pay gap is an ongoing phenomenon that has been observed over the last several decades and still remains to date. Female workers are paid less than their male counterparts. For every 79 cents paid to a woman, a dollar is paid to a man (Hegewisch and DuMonthier, 2016).
Critics of this widely-cited statistic insist that there is of no significant proof that gender is solely the component of economic discrimination because characteristics such as education level, years of work experiences and job location can affect earnings. To add, the gender wage gap is also driven by the choice of occupation made by their own free will (Blau and Kah, 2016).
Income inequality creates a lot of negative impacts. For example, it causes deterioration to a woman’s mental health due to the unfairness they experience on a daily basis. It is also important to note that female employees are more likely to have work interruptions in their life in comparison to male employees by reasons that are justifiable. During family formation, paid maternity is usually given to women who want to give birth. Although in some cases, female workers are to be paid the same usual salary as to when they are not on leave. In other cases, maternity leave pay is only a certain percentage of their normal income.
In addition, nowadays men are not the only breadwinners in the family. There are also single mothers that are carrying the pressure of being the only one searching for income to feed their family and provide basic necessities to them as they are the only one the family can rely on. Situations like these are the bitter truth of reality and the amount of consequences a mere gender gap pay is massive and may lead to great unwanted damage.
Secondly, female workers are more prone to face discrimination against their male counterparts in terms of job promotions or job hiring. They are less likely to receive promotions to a managerial position and even less likely to be promoted to be a CEO than their male counterparts (Gold, 1995). For every 100 men promoted to managerial positions, only 86 women are promoted (Wooll, 2021).
A specific group of women to be victimized in job promotions or job hiring would be female employees who are the mothers of children. They are less likely to receive calls from hiring managers than male employees themselves (Wooll, 2021). This happens despite both parties; the male and female workers, having the same qualifications. A reason for this gender discrimination is because there is the stereotype that male workers are more capable of handling leadership positions than female workers.
Furthermore, women’s behavior also plays a big role in the advancement to a leading position. Women are deemed to act modest, submissive, and conform to regulations whilst men act dominant, intimidating, and more egotistical. As a consequence, female employees are less prone to negotiate for a higher position. This all comes down to personality commonly planted in women where they just accommodate any scenarios given to them (Glick, Zion and Nelson 1988).
Lastly, the likelihood of sexual harassment towards women, more so than men in the workplace comes as no surprise. In a survey conducted by the Women’s Aid Organisation called “Voices of Malaysian Women on Discrimination and Harassment in the Workplace”, 62% out of the 1,010 Malaysian women surveyed, it has been reported that they experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace (Dandavati, 2020). Sexual harassment is not only a problem nationally but is also a problem on an international scale. According to a poll conducted in the U.S. in 2017, approximately 35% of women in the U.S. have experienced some form of sexual harassment or abuse compared to 9% of men (Santhanam, 2017) suggesting that more women than men encounter sexual harassment. The evidence shows, women are more likely than men to get sexually harassed in the workplace.
Sexual harassment has many definitions according to various sources. However, a general idea on the definition of sexual harassment is that sexual harassment in the workplace is defined as unsolicited sexual behaviour of an online or physical nature performed in the workplace by a boss, manager, employee, or customer that causes the person on the receiving end to feel humiliated, violated and/or offended (Women Watch China, 2010). Sexual harassment can be committed verbally, visually, or physically (Firm, 2020). Some examples of sexual harassment include flirting, making sexually offensive jokes and inappropriately touching or grabbing someone without their consent (Acas, 2021).
Sexual harassment in the workplace has many detrimental effects on the women affected. It can affect women’s mental and physical health, finances, and opportunities to advance in their careers (Shaw, 2021). This is clearly seen when sexual harassment is linked to increasing the risk of those affected in developing mental health illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder as well as lowering self-esteem and self-confidence. Physical health problems such as headaches, loss of weight and appetite may also arise in the women affected. Sexual harassment also reduces the opportunity for women to advance in their careers and experience on-the-job training since in avoiding getting sexually harassed many women would rather forgo these opportunities. Loss of opportunities in the workplace means that women would not be able to rise to leadership positions thus resulting in them receiving lower salaries compared to their male counterparts.
Sexual harassment is not only detrimental to women, but also affects companies and organizations. Cases of sexual harassment occurring in companies negatively affects female employees’ loyalty, motivation, productivity and increases absenteeism and employee turnover. It is evident that sexual harassment causes major losses to companies and organizations. In Australia, sexual harassment cases had cost the economy over AUD2.6 billion in 2018 (Deloitte Access Economics, 2018). Thus, sexual harassment upon women should be prevented and eliminated so that they do not have to suffer negative consequences.
On a final note, numerous female employees all over the world have experienced some form of gender discrimination in the workplace. There are issues of female employees getting paid differently compared to male employees despite both genders having the same position, women are less likely to be hired or promoted despite having the same qualifications, and female employees are more prone to get sexually harassed than male workers.
There are many ways to prevent gender discrimination from occurring in the workplace. For example, by raising awareness on the importance of preventing gender discrimination in the workplace and by enforcing laws that prevent and eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace whether it is committed verbally, physically, sexually, or mentally. All the given suggestions and preventions if put into effect, will surely help lessen the gender discrimination in the workforce in a big way and women will finally be able to come to work without needing to ponder about not being in possession of their own rights. ***
(Writers are students from the Kulliyyah of Medicine, IIUM. The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of IIUMToday.)