Occupational sexism

Occupational sexism (also called sexism in the work place and employment sexism) refers to any discriminatory practices, statements, actions, etc. based on a person’s sex that are present or occur in a place of employment.

Social role theory

Social role theory may explain one reason for why occupational sexism exists. Historically women’s place was in the home, while the males were in the workforce. This division consequently formed expectances for both men and women in society and occupations. These expectances in turn gave rise to gender stereotypes that play a role in the formation of sexism in the work place, i.e., occupational sexism.[1]

According to a reference there are three common patterns associated with social role theory that might help explain the relationship between the theory and occupational sexism. The three patterns are as follows:

  1. Women tend to take on more domestic tasks;
  2. Women and men often have different occupational roles; and
  3. In occupations, women often have lower status

These patterns can work as the fore ground for the commonality of occupational stereotypes.[2]

An example

One example of this in action is the expectancy value model. This model describes how expectances may be linked to gender discrimination in occupations. For example, females are expected by society to be more successful in health related fields while men are expected to be more successful in science related fields. Therefore, men are discriminated against when attempting to enter health related fields, and females are discriminated against when attempting to enter science related fields.[3]

The forefront for this model is based on an individual’s aspirations towards a career. These aspirations in turn led to expectances of successful careers. However, socialization trumps the effects of personal aspirations and expectations, because socialization has the tendency to shape individuals self-perceptions. Therefore, when a man enters a stereotypic female career, his socialized self-perceptions might influence him to be more aware of possible occupational sexism (and the same applies to women).

Emotion politics

Sexism also arises in the workplace through the beliefs concerning which emotions are appropriate for employees to show. Stereotypically, women are expected to be kind and nurturing, communal, and modest, while they are not expected to display anger. Expressing an emotion that doesn’t line up with people’s beliefs about gender-appropriate behavior could lead to being given a lower status at work, and consequently, a lower wage.[4]

A 2008 study found that men who expressed anger in the workplace were given a higher status, while women who expressed anger in the workplace were given a lower status, regardless of their actual position in the company. A trainee and a CEO who were female were both given a low status when displaying anger. Additionally, women who displayed anger in the workplace were assumed to have something internal influencing their anger, as opposed to having an external reason to be angry. Men more often had their anger attributed to an external cause.[4]

The expression of anger is believed to be related to status, as anger is considered a status emotion. Positive impressions of those who display anger are reserved for people who are stereotypically conferred a higher status. A 2007 study found that male employees who were in a subordinate position in the workplace displayed anger toward higher status employees, while female employees in a subordinate position displayed anger toward higher status employees much less frequently. This suggests that the stereotypical norm of men displaying anger carries over into the workplace, while the norm of women restraining displays of anger also carries over. It also suggests that, although men in low level positions in the workplace possess a low status in this context, they may carry over the higher status that comes with their gender into the workplace. Women do not possess this high status; therefore the low status that low level women possess in the workplace is the sole status that matters.[5]

Some markers

Fight sexism, graffiti in Turin
  • Wage discrimination
  • Systematic sex-based hiring and promotional practices (when employers do not hire or promote a person who is “otherwise apparently qualified for a job” solely on the grounds that they are a woman or man[6])
  • Sexual harassment
  • The belief that certain occupational fields or types of jobs, particularly those that are degrading and/or low-paying, are “women’s work” or those that are dangerous and/or hazardous are “men’s work”
  • Occupational fatalities
  • Disparity in retirement age (men work longer than women)

Wage discrimination

Howard J. Wall, an economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, states that women make a median hourly income that was equal to 83.8 percent of what men make.[7] In the late 1980s, studies saw that about a fair amount of the gender pay gap was due to differences in the skills and experience that women bring to the labor market and about 28 percent was due to differences in industry, occupation, and union status among men and women. Accounting for these differences raised the female/male pay ratio in the late 1980s from about 72% to about 88%, leaving around 12 percent as an “unexplained” difference.[8][9][10]

Death at work

The majority of occupational deaths occur among men. In one US study, 93% of deaths on the job involved men,[11] with a death rate approximately 11 times higher than women. The industries with the highest death rates are mining, agriculture, forestry, fishing, and construction, all of which employ more men than women.[12] Deaths of members in the military is currently above 90% men.[13]

Causes of wage discrimination

Sociologists, economists, and politicians have proposed several theories about the causes of gender wage gap. Some believe that woman’s salaries are based on the career path that women choose. They stipulate that the women chose low-paying jobs, clerical work, and to work in services[14] (see also Pink-collar worker). This is said to be relatively true at time because many women who select these careers find it easier to continue working these simple jobs rather that quit them if they choose to raise a family.[14]

Sexism in academia

Main article: Sexism in academia

Universities have been blamed for being sexist in their hiring decisions. In particular, men have been reported to be biased towards male applicants. However, recent data suggests that women have caught up, at least when it comes to the number of faculty positions offered to women (see Table).[15]

Field % of applicants % of applicants interviewed % of applicants offered position
Physics 12 19 20
Biology 26 28 34
Chemistry 18 25 29
Mathematics 20 28 32

Data in table from 89 US universities where women were interviewed for tenure-track jobs.[15]

Challenging occupational sexism

Occupational sexism become institutionalized in the U.S. today when women were originally able to join the workforce by men primarily in the 20th Century and were paid up to two-thirds of what male’s income were. Since then it is now thought of as “good business” to hire women because they could perform many jobs similar to men, yet give them lesser wages.[10] Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Organization for Women are established to fight against this discrimination, leading to the creation of groundbreaking laws such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963. However, identifying and challenging sex discrimination in the workplace (on legal grounds) has been argued as being extremely difficult for the average person to attempt and even harder to prove in court.[citation needed]

One successful sexism case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court was Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins. Ann Hopkins, a senior manager at Price Waterhouse, sued her employer, arguing that failure to promote her to partner stemmed not from her abilities—which had been undeniably stellar—but from certain partners thinking she didn’t carry herself in a feminine-enough manner. The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Hopkins’ favor, and a lower court ordered her employer to award her partnership and pay her back wages lost during the case.[16]

Another Supreme Court case, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., saw a judgment in favor of plaintiff Lily Ledbetter—which had awarded her back pay and damages for several years of receiving disproportionately low pay in comparison to her male counterparts—overturned because she waited too long to file suit. After a 5-4 decision, the majority cited reasoning that “Federal law states that ’employees must file their discrimination complaints within 180 days of the incident,'” a task that dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg claimed was unreasonable considering that quite often women have no reason to suspect discrimination until certain unfair patterns develop and they are made aware of them.[17]

See also

  • Motherhood penalty
  • Occupational segregation


  1. Jump up^ Gilbert, L.A., Langlois, J.H., Swann, W.B.JR. (1999). Sexism and stereotypes in modern society: the gender science of janet taylor spence. (Ed.). American Psychological Association. Washington, D.C.
  2. Jump up^ Eagly. (1987). Social-role theory. Retrieved from http://changingminds.org/explanations/theories/social_role.htm External link in |title= (help)
  3. Jump up^ Moss, S. (10/18/2008). Social role theory. Psychlopedia. Retrieved from http://www.psych-it.com.au/Psychlopedia/article.asp?id=77 External link in |title= (help)
  4. ^ Jump up to:a b Brescoll, V. L., & Uhlmann, E. (2008). Can an Angry Woman Get Ahead? Status Conferral, Gender, and Expression of Emotion in the Workplace. Psychological Science (Wiley-Blackwell), 19(3), 268-275. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02079.x
  5. Jump up^ Domagalski, T. A., & Steelman, L. A. (2007). The impact of gender and organizational status on workplace anger expression. Management Communication Quarterly, 20(3), 297-315.
  6. Jump up^ Frye, Marilyn (1983). The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory. The Crossing Press.
  7. Jump up^ Wall, Howard J. (October 2000). “The Gender Wage Gap and Wage Discrimination: Illusion or Reality?”. The Regional Economist. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
  8. Jump up^ http://clinton4.nara.gov/WH/EOP/CEA/html/gendergap.html
  9. Jump up^ Blau, Francine D.; Lawrence M. Kahn (May 1994). “Rising Wage Inequality and the U.S. Gender Gap”. The American Economic Review(PDF). Nashville, TN: American Economic Association. 84 (2): 23–28. ISSN 0002-8282. JSTOR 2117795.
  10. ^ Jump up to:a b Bravo, Ellen (2003-11-14). “Wage Gap Persists Between Men, Women”. The Miami Herald.
  11. Jump up^ “Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Summary, 2013”. Bureau of Labor Statistics. United States Department of Labor. 11 September 2014. Retrieved 19 March 2015.
  12. Jump up^ Fatal Occupational Injuries – United States, 1980-1997 MMWR Weekly, April 27, 2001
  13. Jump up^ DeBruyne, Nese (April 26, 2017). “American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics” (PDF). Federation Of American Scientists Logo. Retrieved August 8, 2017.
  14. ^ Jump up to:a b Hurst, Charles E. (2006). Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences (6th ed.).
  15. ^ Jump up to:a b Bernstein, R. (2014) No sexism in science? Not so fast, critics say. Science 346: 798
  16. Jump up^ Lewin, Tamar (19 May 1990). “Winner of Sex Bias Suit Set to Enter Next Arena”. The New York Times. Retrieved 27 December 2014.
  17. Jump up^ Greenburg, Jan Crawford; de Vogue, Ariane (2007-05-29). “High Court Limits Sex Discrimination Claims”. ABC News.

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