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Subtle forms of workplace discrimination

On Behalf of | Jun 4, 2019 | Workplace Discrimination

Many women face multiple forms of discrimination at work. You might think that this discrimination is glaring and bold, such as denying a woman a promotion or keeping them from executive-level positions.

While this is true in some cases, there are often more subtle forms of discrimination and undermining women face at work. The bigger, more clear forms of discrimination are wrong, but the smaller examples should not be ignored either.

Here are five forms of undermining and subtle discrimination women may face at work.

Inappropriate greetings, jokes and gestures

Greeting a woman with a kiss on the cheek may seem harmless, but when other male colleagues are greeted with a handshake, meetings can get awkward. In a work environment, all people should be treated with a degree of professionalism. All people should be greeted and treated the same.

Similarly, making inappropriate jokes and using gendered or derogatory language are also signs of subtle undermining. Stereotypical jokes about women and derogatory language are not appropriate in any setting, much less the workplace. While these might not be glaringly discriminatory, they are cause for pause and elimination.

Other smaller forms of discrimination and undermining include:

  • Using language like “bossy” or “emotional” to exclusively describe women at work.
  • Consistent interrupting
  • Underhanded comments about work ethic or other gendered stereotypes
  • Jokes about “being careful” what you say “these days”


Making assumptions about women’s interests and habits as they relate to work are another type of subtle undermining. One example of this is automatically tasking women in the office with party planning.

The assumption that all women enjoy event planning and hosting celebrations is problematic. While some women may want to volunteer to do this job, it is inappropriate to assume that someone would want to just because of their gender.

While these instances may not be cause for immediate action, they are worth noting. Oftentimes these examples of subtle discrimination or undermining can be signs of a larger problem or negative culture in a workplace.

If you noticed or experienced any of these instances of discrimination and undermining, you may want to make note of them. If they persist or escalate, you may want to take action. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and professionalism at work.


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