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Women at Work- Harassment and Promotional Opportunities


Today women are doing jobs long thought to be a man’s job. Unfortunately, some of the same old problems still exist. Sexual innuendos, physical contact, different requirements for jobs, loss of promotional opportunities, and blatant discrimination to unqualified male counterparts still exist every day. Report civil rights act violations, report inappropriate comments, file complaints with Human Resources, engage governmental agencies for support, and seek legal advice before searching for a new job.

Reporting Inappropriate Comments and Physical Contact

The first avenue for inappropriate comments or contact in the workplace is the department’s immediate supervisors or their superiors if the supervisor creates the problem. Human Resources should be contacted as well, but keep in mind they are hired by the company, and have their best interest in mind not the employee. Any female employee should feel safe and free of tension in their place of employment.

A hand on the shoulder expresses friendship as long as the contact is expressed with both male and female workers. A hand on the thigh, a touch of the cheek is a different story. The female employee’s immediate response should indicate her acceptance or rejection of such contact. Polite refusal of any unwanted attention should be noted immediately then documented to immediate superiors. If unwanted contact continues, proceed to higher superiors, Human Resources, and seek legal council from an employment or civil rights law specialist.

Discriminatory Requirements for Promotions

Employers have become quite familiar with discrimination in the workplace. The latest hedge against discriminatory practices is to assign each female employee with a different job title. This allows the employer to promote as they choose without fear of qualification complaints by their female employees. If education, productivity, and years of service are equivalent, the employer can still state performance of different job titles as their reason of choice over the female employee.

Most companies have job title descriptions, employee handbooks, and online requirements for each job title within their organization. As a female in a male dominated occupation, seek out not only current job title requirements, but also all others within the working specified department. Keep a record, and note differences and similarities to current job title. If job requirements are the same, the title means nothing.

Blatant Discrimination of Unqualified Male Counterparts

Job descriptions, performance reviews, education, and productivity usually determine promotional candidates. When positions become available, make certain all criteria are met with equal or better performance than male counterparts. Ask for an explanations as too why under qualified male counterparts are chosen over oneself. Not all personnel information may be available to every employee; therefore, information about male counterparts may be insufficient.

After explanations of performance and choice, compare criteria for the new position to see if qualifications are equal. Take results to immediate supervisor to lodge a complaint and further explanation. File a complaint with Human Resources with copies of all materials. Expect consequences if discrimination has occurred, and be prepared. Document all conversations with superiors, management, and HR. Keep a running log of events, comments, and witnesses. The situation could get nasty quickly.

Harassment and discrimination are alive and well in the workplace. Female employees should keep excellent records of job description within departments, report unwanted physical and verbal innuendos, and seek help when passed over for promotion without good cause. Notification of complaint to Human Resources is required in most organizations, but HR does not have the female employee’s best interest in mind. Seek legal council through government groups and website followed by personal advice from a lawyer well versed in employment and civil rights law.

Human Rights Policies

Everyone believes that workplace discrimination and harassment should not be tolerated in today’s business world. Still, there are many who don’t have a clear understanding of what discrimination and harassment actually mean.

What Is Workplace Discrimination?

Discrimination occurs when an employee is treated unfairly and denied employment opportunities due to reasons related to factors such as race, colour, religion, age, national or ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, or disability.

To avoid discrimination, companies must ensure that all employees are treated equally. That means that the same policies are applicable, and that the same employment opportunities (including promotion) are extended to all employees, regardless of the above factors.

In Canada, workplace discrimination and harassment issues are addressed in the Human Rights Act, which is administered by the Human Rights Tribunal. The Tribunal is ultimately responsible for reviewing, mediating and adjudicating human rights complaints.

Employers found guilty of workplace discrimination can suffer significant penalties, not to mention a loss of reputation in the market, which can negatively affect their ability to attract and retain future talent.

Remedies for employees who have suffered workplace discrimination can include:

Reinstatement in their job (where applicable),

Compensation for any wages or salary lost, and

Compensation for injury to dignity and feelings, to name just a few.

What Is Workplace Harassment?

Harassment can also be defined as a form of discrimination. It is usually described as any abusive or unacceptable verbal or physical conduct related to a discriminatory factor, such as race, age, or gender.

Harassment can occur in a number of ways, such as making racial or ethnic insulting comments, unwanted sexual advances, hostile remarks, or offensive and humiliating jokes.

Types of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment, in particular, is a very serious matter, regardless of whether the offender’s comments or behaviours were conscious or deliberate. There are two categories of sexual harassment, one described as sexual coercion and the other one as sexual annoyance.

Sexual coercion is the equivalent of “quid pro quo” harassment and typically takes place between a manager or supervisor (a decision maker) and their subordinate. This type of harassment was in fact very well portrayed by Michael Douglas and Demi Moore in the movie Disclosure. Simply put, if the victim doesn’t do what their boss demands, they lose their job or don’t get a promotion they deserve. Sexual coercion is not only seen as employment discrimination, but also as a violation of labour laws and human rights.

Sexual annoyance, on the other hand, creates a hostile work environment by being demeaning, offensive, or intimidating to the victim, without having a direct connection to any employment conditions or job benefits. It includes sexual harassment by an employee against a peer, or by a company’s client against an employee.

To truly create a harassment and discrimination-free workplace, every employee needs to be responsible for upholding the highest standards of personal and professional conduct, and treat others with respect and dignity.

While companies can put in place policies and disciplinary measures to deal with offenders, or hire human rights consultants to assist with specific situations, the ultimate accountability rests with employees, and particularly with leaders who must act as role models, and “walk the talk.”