Sex Based Discrimination in the Modern American Workplace

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Throughout my life I have experienced gender based discrimination first hand and have seen it happen to countless other women. From catcalling to biased employers, women face an abundance of resistance in their fight for equality. In this essay I will examine the inequality of women in the workplace and analyze the roots of gender discrimination in this setting so that others can better understand the pressing need for further action taken to eliminate this inequality.

Is it Real?

Many believe that women have achieved equality, at least in the United States, and that the supposed inequality that plagues women is exaggerated or a choice that women are making.

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They believe that male dominated fields are a result of humans complex biological sex differences and the inherent differences between men and women (Browne, 771). Additionally, a multitude of individuals will argue that women are simply more inclined by nature to choose lower paying, less competitive careers (Browne, 771). These naive ideas are dangerous as they have the power to make our society complacent and to mask the movement for a more equal American workplace by covering up the discrimination women continue to face. Furthermore, they prevent women from advancing in areas other than the workplace, facilitaing the unwanted sexaulization of women and encouraging women to remain quiet about sexual assault in the same manner as with workplace discrimination. In this essay, I will argue against these viewpoints and identify several examples of inequality among the sexes in the workplace, starting with a modern example of the fight for equality.


A modern example of the fight for women’s equality is the #MeToo movement. Women who come forward about sexual harassment are often degraded, criticized, and not taken seriously. This causes women to stay silent, and in turn muffles the violent reality of sexual harassment and its frequency. This movement embodies the fight for an equal opportunity America and has allowed millions of women the strength, support and platform required to come forward about such a serious and sensitive issue. The movement seems to be having a durable impact on employer disciplinary routines, as they are being held accountable now, more than ever before (Deggans, 47). A total of 12% of reported sexual harassment cases occur while the victim is working, leaving much of the fight for equality lies in the hands of employers; without action taken to ensure more care for the safety of employees, this problem will continue to persist (Rainn, 2013). Sexual Assault is at the front of inequality in the American workplace and the #MeToo movement has started a shift in the balance of power between men and women, as well as between employee and employer (Deggans, 44). In order for this powerful movement to create a significant impact on our society, action must continue to be taken by employers to create work environments that foster equality among the sexes by refusing to discriminate on the basis of sex. 

Motherhood Myths

Individuals use outdated ideas of women belonging in the home as well as myths about motherhood to justify discrimination against women in the workplace. Motherhood myths include the assumption that, by nature, women are graced with parenting abilities that men lack and that stay-at-home mothers are possess a special bond with their children (Verniers and Jorge 3). These ideas perpetuate a damaging reputation for mothers who do not fit inside of this category by providing faulty justification for why women should be confined to their domestic duties. Contrary to popular belief, these myths are also damaging to men, impairing male involvement in child-care and oftentimes weakening the bond between father and son (Verniers and Jorge 3). Armed with a false sense of justification, employers discriminate with relative ease, refusing to hire women based on the idea that they do not belong in the workplace, or that because of their ability to conceive, they are a risk due to the potential for maternity or family leave. For some, the idea of a working woman may trigger a threat to family life in the brain creating a psychological barrier for the fight against inequality to break through. Though much of workplace discrimination is against women, men are affected as well.

The idea of the archetypal family places men as the top, as breadwinner and the head of the household, leaving women to take care of children and care for the house. The implications of this extend beyond discrimination against women, affecting men as well. Because of these preconceived notions, men struggle when taking leave from work to care for family or newborns. Many employers are willing to do so for women but are hesitant when a man requests to take time off of work to care for his family. The suffocation of women, has left men unequal in multiple respects. In fact, among 41 developed nations, America is the only one that offers no paid parental leave (Forbes, 2018). Leaving families heavily reliant of FMLA, or Family and Medical Leave Act, which fails to cover all employees (Forbes, 2018). Forbes contributor and former CEO of OTX, Shelley Zalis, suggests that mandatory parental leave for men would help to bridge the gap between men and women in both the workplace and in parental roles. She identifies the two main issues that women face: hiring bias and work-life balance; both could be solved by leaving men and women with similar “disadvantages” in the hiring process and alleviating typically female childcare responsibilities by creating a more even distribution between mother and father (Forbes, 2018). ***

Discrimination Based on Appearance

The sexualization of women has had a substantial impact on the retardation of the fight for equality. In both everyday life and in the workplace, women are heavily judged on their appearance, however, this is not often the case for men. This unwarranted and unwanted sexualization sits at the root of the rampant rape and sexual harassment, 12 percent of which occur while the victim is actively working (RAINN, 2013). Furthermore, something seemingly harmless, such as a joke about a woman sleeping with her boss in order to receive a promotion, is an overlooked and wrongly normalized indication that something needs to change. These jokes have serious implications about society’s view of women. When women are merely treated as objects and this ideology seeps into everyday life, it is nearly impossible to be taken seriously as a woman in a professional setting. Instead of making a change, our society has chosen to blame women for “asking for it” by wearing revealing or tight clothing. On the contrary, men face little of the same struggles. Have you ever heard a joke about a man needing to perform a sexual act to move up in his career? Neither have I. Not much thought is put into whether or not a man “looks the part” or whether his clothes are too tight or too revealing. It is time to ask ourselves, why is this still happening? These differences between the way we regard men and women transfer beyond sexualization into professional settings and can be seen in the manner in which we describe powerful men and women.

Powerful Women VS Powerful Men

Powerful men and powerful women are regarded in very different manners. Think of a powerful man, how would you describe him? He commands attention wherever he goes, strong and articulate. And how about a powerful woman? She’s bossy, cold, maybe single? Alone? And potentially the worst of them all: Masculine. The shocking difference in the attitudes toward strong men and women represent another strong indicator that discrimination of the sexes is alive in our society. Often overlooked, the connotation behind each of these ideas keeps women out of leadership positions because of individuals who fear this image of the powerful woman. Out of Fortune’s 2018 500 companies, only 24 have female CEOs (CNBC, 2018). Additionally, 12 of the 2017 Fortune 500 companies have yet to introduce a single female board member (CNBC, 2018). This lack of female leadership is not due to women wanting low paying or low commitment careers, it is due to our society’s persistent discriminatory attitude toward women.

Occupational Interests

It is widely believed that the occupational preferences of men and women have a significant impact on the apparent difference in wages and benefits; however, it is the root of these “preferences” that are indicative of the sexism rather than the differences in careers (Browne, 769). Throughout school, I started to notice a difference in the way female students and male students were treated in regard to their ability in each subject. Women were more encouraged in english and art classes and men more encouraged in math or STEM. When individuals experience this all throughout their childhood and adolescence, they will believe that they belong in a certain category or that they are better suited to pursue a certain career. I watched as my male peers were encouraged to be engineers and my female peers were encouraged to be teachers. I don’t believe that this oppression is conscious, however, I do believe it is important that we push people who play influential roles in young girls lives to encourage that they explore STEM subjects.


In conclusion, despite arguments claiming that sexism in the American workplace has come to an end or that the residual examples of sexism are choices made by the supposed victims, both women and men in modern America face preventable discrimination in the work environment. In order to put an end to this discrimination, we as a society need to work together to become conscious of the way we regard men and women in the workplace. Once society respects women in a professional setting this will trickle down to day to day interactions.

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Sex Based Discrimination in the Modern American Workplace. (2021, May 29). Retrieved from