The history of gender discrimination in the workplace is characterized by failed political maneuvers and unfair wage practices. The laws enacted by the federal government to prevent wage discrimination have allowed women workers to raise income over time but a gulf still exists between the pay of women versus men performing similar work. Employers must develop proactive strategies to combat discrimination and create a permissive and equal working environment.
The Equal Pay Act
Prior to 1963 it was legal for a business to pay a woman performing similar work as a man a lower wage. It was also rare to find a woman in a position of authority in a workplace. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 required gender equality for payment of wages. From that point forward it was illegal for an employer to pay a woman a lower wage than a man simply because of her gender. A woman who suffers discrimination under the terms of this law may sue her employer in civil court to recover lost wages and punitive damages.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964
A year later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 granted equal rights to women in all areas of employment. Discrimination of any kind in the workplace based on gender was now illegal. According to Julia Lamber, professor of law and Dean for Women's Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington, the addition of women into the Civil Rights Act was a political maneuver intended to kill the Civil Rights bill. The ploy, created by Virginia Representative and civil rights opponent Howard Smith, backfired allowing gender equality in the workplace.
1991 Civil Rights Act
The Civil Rights Act wasn't amended until 1991 when the federal government moved to include sexual harassment in the law's statutes. This revision allowed women to sue employers who permitted a climate of sexual harassment in the workplace for compensatory and punitive damages in court. This amendment to the Act did not stop sexual harassment in the work but it did serve to empower women to fight back against the behavior.
Employers in the modern world must work diligently to create a workplace environment free from discriminatory practices and harassment. According to the American Historical Association's website, a workplace based on equality begins with management creating inclusive sociable networks between coworkers. Coworkers of both genders should not feel left out company meetings, information and formal/informal decision making processes. The workplace should be free of harsh language and unprofessional dialogue. Policies on workplace harassment and gender discrimination should be given to each employee so expectations of conduct and interaction are understood as well as the penalties for violating these expectations.
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