Nearly half of American women work in places where they outnumber the men. But for millions of other women, employment in a male-dominated workplace can be stressful, dangerous and harmful to their careers.
A Pew Research Center survey confirmed that women in majority-male workplaces are more likely to experience gender discrimination and sexual harassment. The mistreatment is often worst in traditionally male jobs and workplaces without women in positions of authority.
Gender ratios are linked to gender discrimination
The Pew Research survey was conducted in 2017 before the #MeToo movement put a national spotlight on sexual harassment. The research gave credence to a known phenomenon:
- Sex discrimination – In majority-male workplaces, women were more likely to say they (a) are paid less than men, (b) are treated as not competent, (c) received less support from leadership than their male counterparts, and (d) suffered small but repeated slights based on their gender.
- Sexual harassment – Women in majority-male workplaces were more likely to say that they had personally been sexually harassed (28 percent). Harassment occurs even in female-dominated occupations, but both men and women said it was less of a problem in those work settings.
Fire station lawsuit is “Exhibit A” of boys’ club mentality
The Justice Department has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the City of Houston. The suit alleges years of egregious harassment against three female firefighters – the only female firefighters – who worked at Houston’s Station 54 firehouse. The lawsuit describes male firefighters behaving badly in a concerted campaign: Racial epithets. Death threats. Ostracizing. Juvenile pranks. Mocking a woman’s dead daughter. And literally marking their territory in the women’s dorm – urinating on toilet seats, urinating on the carpet and defecating in the women’s toilet after covering up the flushing sensor.
It’s definitely a guy thing
While the misconduct alleged at Station 54 is over the top, it fits a pattern. Gender discrimination, a hostile work environment and sexual harassment are often worst in traditionally male occupations: firefighting, dock work, auto repair, law enforcement, computer programming, engineering, construction and landscaping, to name a few. The higher the ratio of men, the more pervasive or brazen the misconduct is likely to be.
The Pew survey noted that women in male-dominated workplaces do not differ much from women in gender-balanced or majority-female workplaces. They have similar demographics as far as age, education, race and ethnicity. The variable is male attitudes toward their female co-workers and subordinates. Many men in majority-male fields view women not as equals but intruders. Management sets a poor example or downplays complaints.
In the #MeToo era, fewer women are willing to put up with the status quo.