According to data from the Pew Research Center, more than four-in-ten working women (42%) in the United States say they have faced discrimination on the job because of their gender. They report a broad array of personal experiences, ranging from earning less than male counterparts for doing the same job to being passed over for important assignments.  While sexual harassment is the form of discrimination that gets the most media attention, discrimination based on sex takes many other forms as well.

Sex discrimination could include:

  • not hiring a woman because the boss thinks she won't fit into a traditionally male workplace; 
  • offering women and men different rates of pay or benefits for the same job; 
  • not promoting a woman to a more senior position because it's assumed the other staff won't respect her authority;
  • dividing up work tasks based on whether staff are male or female;
  • insisting women wear different clothing at work to men, for example, short skirts or makeup; 
  • not considering women for a particular role or job promotion. 

Sexual discrimination can lead to feelings of powerlessness, isolation, and loneliness.  Victims of discrimination and harassment often blame themselves and feel ashamed. They blame themselves for being in the position in which they find themselves.  Know this: discrimination is not your fault. 

So if you feel like you have been discriminated against, what can you do about it?  Well, that depends. If you have already been fired then your first stop may be to contact a qualified employment lawyer. If you are still employed with the company, the situation is more complicated. Here are some steps you can take:

Step 1: Phone a Friend

I know, you thought I was going to say that the first thing you should do is call a lawyer.  Nope. I think the first thing you should do is visit with a trusted friend about what you are going through and how you feel. Someone you trust who has cared about you for years.  Generally, family is not the best choice here. 

  • Talk to your friend and use him or her as a sounding board. See what their reaction is to your story. This is the person who will let you know if you are overreacting.  If they agree that the situation you are describing is beyond the pale of decency they will tell you so.  Then it is time for the next step. 

Step 2: Decide if you Want to stay 

The threshold issue that many skip over is this: Do you want to stay in this job? If you have worked for this company for many years and you likely won't find a better job in your chosen career easily then the decision to stay and fight may be easy. However, if you just started this job and you can easily find another making the same pay in your field, perhaps consider just walking away. Sometimes living well is truly the best revenge. 

Step 3: gather relevant evidenct 

Whether you decide to talk to HR internally or to go straight to an employment lawyer, it is important to gather whatever evidence there is that supports your claim. Consider the following categories:

  • Emails - There is often gold in the emails. Forward them to your personal account or print them out. 
  • Pay records
  • Memos
  • Instant Messaging or Phone Text Messages
  • Names and Contact Info for Colleagues Who Might Support Your Claim

A couple of quick notes about evidence gathering:

  1. Don't steal the company's trade secrets. Those don't belong to you and it will do more harm than good. 
  2. Usually it is a bad idea to tape record people without their knowledge. If you decide to do it first make sure it is legal to do so in your jurisdiction (this varies from state to state). Second don't forget that you will be on the tape too.  If you say stupid stuff or try to bait someone else on tape, it will hurt you later.
  3. Take it home. The emails, memos, pay records, etc need to get out of the employer's building and computer and to your home. Telling your lawyer there is a lot of damning evidence but you didn't take it home and it is all in the employer's possession won't help you. If you get fired and the company knows you are contemplating a claim, more often than not that evidence will disappear into shredder, never to been again.

Step 4: Visit with an employment lawyer and then HR

If you are serious about doing something with our situation then it is time to visit with an employment lawyer. Depending on your situation, you may or may not be required to report your situation to HR. But before going to HR it is a good idea to visit with a qualified employment lawyer who has YOUR interests at heart.  Remember, HR reps work for the company and not for you. They may try to help you if you can but when push comes to shove, HR is always on the company's side. 

Because your situation is ongoing and you still work for the company you can't expect an employment lawyer to be able to talk to you for free.  Expect to pay a fee for a consult. This area of the law is complicated and often there are traps for the unwary. Getting the advice of a professional will be money well spent. 

Make sure you prepare for your visit with the lawyer. You should plan to discuss:

  • Do I have a claim?
  • Do I need to report this to HR to preserve my claim?
  • What evidence do I need to support my claim?
  • Do I need to file a Charge with the EEOC?
  • What if the company retaliates against my when I report discrimination?

Suffering discrimination is terrible. But you aren't alone. There are people and resources out there that can help you.  You CAN fight back!