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Preventing Sexual Discrimination in the Workplace
As I have mentioned before in this blog, I am, among many other things, a legal assistant at a law firm. It’s a small firm, consisting of five attorneys, all men, and six legal assistants, all women. Though it wouldn’t be that strange for a female attorney to join the firm, it would be quite odd to have a male paralegal join the gang.
There are many professions that tend to appeal predominately to one sex or the other. Most nurses are women. Most construction workers are men. Daycare teachers – women. Trash collectors – men. Most of these jobs have always been this way, typically because that particular job fits the strengths of one particular sex better than the other. That doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t a tough broad out there who couldn’t guide a steel beam into place.
Imagine with me, if you will, the opposite gender “infiltrating” one of these or many other professions that tend to be single-sex oriented. For example, if a female attorney joined our firm, it would probably be of little consequence, since female attorneys aren’t scarce, they’re just not part of our particular firm. However, I can imagine that a woman who gets a job pouring concrete at a construction site would receive her unnecessary share of cat calls and sexist remarks.
On the other hand, a man who teaches a daycare class, though rare, would be respected by most as a caring and generous man who loves children (at least by his female co-workers he would be). But if a man, say, joined our paralegal team, it might be a little uncomfortable, at least for awhile.
So how do you prevent sexual discrimination in your business, especially if you’ve found a well qualified and reliable gentleman for your daycare facility or a strong woman to frame houses for your construction company?
First, check yourself. Be sure you’re not discriminating during the interview process. And, once someone is hired that may be of a different gender than the rest of your staff, make sure you are an example to your other employees by the way you act. That doesn’t mean treating her like one of the guys and including her in all of your lewd jokes around the water cooler. In fact, it means making sure to cut out the lewd jokes all together.
Address any feelings of discrimination your employees may have, whether expressed or not, before the new hire starts by reviewing your discrimination policy (or creating one). Provide some training in sensitivity to the ladies before his first day. It is better to educate your staff before a problem occurs than to try and change what has grown comfortable after a problem has risen.
And stick to your guns. If someone gets out of line, don’t let it slide without reprimand. Always follow through with the discipline measures stated within your discrimination policy. If you don’t, you will not only be showing favoritism to an employee, but will set yourself up for being accused of discrimination as well.
Surprisingly, what may seem like obvious steps in avoiding sexual discrimination in your business, are often ignored. Ignorance is bliss, so they say, but I would find this situation to be an exception. As our culture grows and changes we continue to break the molds and status quos that surround certain professions. Survival of the fittest – those that adapt will see the greatest success.
• Entrepreneur.com: When the Opposite Sex Joins the Office
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