Discrimination rampant in U.S. workplaces

Jun 21 2007 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Fully one quarter of women in the U.S claim to have experienced discrimination or unfair treatment at work, a damning new poll has concluded.

The poll of nearly 1,000 workers by recruitment firms CareerBuilder.com and Kelly Services found that, beyond the quarter who had experienced discrimination or unfair treatment, nearly a fifth (17 per cent) said they had been sexually harassed by a fellow employee or manager.

Just as worryingly, of those who reported the incident to their employers, the majority said the offender was not held accountable.

"As the female labour force has steadily climbed over the past quarter-century, employers have come a considerable way in implementing fair and equal workplace practices," conceded Rosemary Haefner, vice president of Human Resources at CareerBuilder.com.

"Nevertheless, this study indicates that there is still much room for improvement. Nearly one-third of women said they feel discriminated against or treated unfairly based on their gender at least once a week," she added.

"Despite the strides women and other diverse groups have made in the workplace, there is still a void at the top," agreed Nina Ramsey, senior vice president of Human Resources at Kelly Services.

"Forty per cent of all workers Ė both diverse and non-diverse Ė say there is an absence of diverse workers in management in their workplace.

"In order for an organisation to evolve, their hiring, leadership development and succession practices need to evolve and include workers of all backgrounds," she added.

A total of 14 per cent of female workers said the discrimination or unfair treatment they experienced at work was "severe", while more than six out of 10 described it as "moderate".

Nearly a third said they experienced such behaviour at least once a week, more than a quarter once a month.

The most common types of incident included not receiving credit for work, not having concerns addressed or taken seriously, co-workers saying derogatory comments or speaking behind their backs, feeling ideas or input were being ignored, not being given projects that made them more visible and being overlooked for a promotion.

More than a quarter also felt they were being paid less than male co-workers with the same skills and experience and just under a quarter felt they had fewer opportunities compared with such men.

There was still a culture of silence within many organisations, as much of the discrimination or unfair treatment went unreported or unaddressed, said the research.

Nearly half of female workers who had experienced discrimination or unfair treatment said they did not report the incident.

Nearly three quarters felt reporting the incident would not make any difference while half feared being labelled as a trouble-maker and a third even worried they would lose their jobs as a result.

Most who did report discrimination or unfair treatment did so by bringing it to the attention of their direct supervisor or to the human resources department, while under a fifth reported it to someone in senior management.

Depressingly, the majority of workers who reported an incident said they did not think their claim was taken seriously and, in seven out of 10 cases, the offender was not held accountable. Just three per cent of female workers took legal action against their employer.

Nearly a fifth said they have felt sexually harassed at the office, with seven per cent saying the source of the harassment was a peer, eight per cent that it was their supervisor and two per cent pointed the finger at senior management. A third also felt their gender worked against them when applying for a job.