What is sex discrimination?

Treating people differently because of their sex in one off situations or as result of policy. It doesn’t have to be intentional to be unlawful.

Sex discrimination against men is just as unlawful as  against women. It is also unlawful for a woman to discriminate against another woman because of their sex, and for a man to discriminate against another man because of their sex. If someone thinks you are the opposite sex and discriminates against you, this is covered by the Equality Act 2010. When someone discriminates against you because you associate with someone of a particular sex, this is covered under the Equality Act.

Under the Equality Act 2010, sex can mean either male or female, or a group of people like men or boys, or women or girls. Exceptions under the Act include occupational requirements, ‘combat effectiveness’, employing women only for supporting female victims of domestic violence. Further information can be found from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Social collusion with stereotypes – perpetuating sex discrimination

A cursory search engine query will return a profusion of statistics about sex discrimination from across the globe and within the UK. Successive pieces of legislation have failed to deliver anything resembling equity in the workplace, or in the social and domestic spheres. Organisations such as the World Bank, the UN and other intergovernmental bodies have launched initiatives like clockwork which have hardly made a dent in the inequity that the majority of women face on a daily basis. Most people would find it difficult to name five female scientists or five female film-makers. In countries where programmes to encourage more girls into education have taken off, they still face discrimination in traditionally male fields when it comes to getting a job. In some countries, even with universal education, girls are prevented from attending school.

Here are questions to consider:

  • Who do you expect to look after older relatives or children?
  • Is there a mix of staff at your local day-care centre?
  • Are the number of women in senior roles in your organisation proportionate or a reflection of the rest of workforce profile?
  • Are the majority of people who work part-time in your organisation women?
  • Do women have to be more qualified to do the same job as a man?

Below are statistics from three areas which will be explored further to contextualise some of the reasons why the progress towards equity between the sexes is stalled.

Socio-cultural views of women

36% of people believe that a woman should be held wholly or partly responsible for being sexually assaulted or raped if they were drunk and 26% believe this if they were in public wearing ‘sexy’ or revealing clothes (Figures relate to England and Wales only. Home Office, 2009, Violence against women opinion polling).

Socio-cultural, economic and political institutions/structures/frameworks continue to perpetuate a culture of control over women’s bodies by expecting them to act, speak, behave, respond and dress in specific ways. It is not uncommon for office or social banter to target women who dress differently or do not fit into traditional stereotypes of what it means to be a woman in a workplace. There are hardly any reports of similar banter or issues about male attire. Women and men continue to put more emphasis on a woman’s personal appearance and family life than their educational, workplace or personal achievements.

Exploitation of women in the workplace

Approximately 70% of people in national minimum wage jobs are women (Low Pay Commission 2007, National Minimum Wage Report). One reason for this is that women remain the primary unpaid care-givers in countries around the world. When they do choose to or need to return to the workplace, they are at the bottom wrung because they have not had training, they are seen as primarily care-givers who do not need full-time jobs, they are unable to progress because they have been out of the workplace. Next time you go into a workplace, have a look at the gender profile of part-time employees.


Pay disparity also affects women in other income groups. Successive research has shown that women in the medical profession are earning substantially less (29% less in the UK) than their male counterparts even with similar training – this is a trend across the globe.

What is being done?

The UK government is addressing this issue via the Equality Act 2010. Pay disparity has been the buzzword for the better part of 2015 and 2016. The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to prevent employees from having discussions to establish if there are differences in pay. Employers must give men and women equal treatment in the terms and conditions of their employment contract if they are employed to do:
– ‘like work’ – work that is the same or broadly similar;
– work rated as equivalent under a job evaluation study;
– work found to be of equal value in terms of effort, skill or decision making.

Gender pay gap reporting

The gender pay gap is not the same as pay discrimination, rather it is the average difference between men and women’s aggregate hourly pay. Regulations on gender pay gap reporting are expected to be enforced in November 2016. This will mean that employers will have to calculate gender pay gaps using data from a specific pay period and they will be asked to publish the information. The government expects employers to use the following policy areas to address any gender pay gaps identified: equality and inclusion; bullying and harassment; flexible working; people development. The gap may be due to reasons such as difference in the types of job carried out or the length of the working week, however, employers will still be required to show how the hourly rate for the genders compares.

Are role models important?

“At the current rate of progress we would have to wait more than 150 years before seeing an equal number of women and men elected to English local councils” (The Centre for Women & Democracy, 2011,  Representative Democracy?)

The video ‘Always #Like A Girl’ helps to contexualise the stereotypes and barriers that young women face as they try to grow and develop and fulfill their potential.

Can you think of stereotypes you may hold about the sexes? Studies by psychologists have demonstrated that media and cultural beliefs about the differences between males and females are largely myths, and that differences in leadership styles, cognitive abilities, verbal communication and aggression, for example, are largely context dependent.