Gender Expression: How DEI Can Reduce Gender-Based Discrimination

March is Women's History Month each year in the United States and it’s always important to acknowledge the amount of progress that has been made thus far for gender equality in the American workplace, especially in recent decades. However, we can’t ignore some issues of gender discrimination that are still prevalent, even today in 2022. We commonly see gender discrimination within organizational hiring, compensation, and promotional processes (Eagly & Carli,2007; Dobele et al., 2014); but, before we address some solutions to combat this form of discrimination, let’s go over some background of why and how it occurs.

Gender discrimination is highly related to implicit and explicit biases that exist amongst hiring managers, supervisors, and people who hold positions of power within a workplace. Specifically, ambivalent sexism has been shown to influence individuals’ decision-making (Glick et al., 1997; Glick & Fiske, 1996). Ambivalent sexism covers two different forms of sexism that exist:

  1. Hostile sexism: an overtly negative view of women (e.g., men are smarter than women)

  2. Benevolent sexism: a seemingly positive, but paternalistic prejudice against women (e.g., women need to be protected)

Both forms of ambivalent sexism can play a role in how individuals who identify as woman are treated within their workplace. For example, those who are more ambivalently sexist are more likely to have significantly different perceptions of female and male applicants for the same positions (Good and Rudman, 2010). They may be more likely to perceive female identifying applicants as less competent, less respectable, and overall less hireable (Ready, 2020). Those who are benevolently sexist do endorse some gender equality policies. However, researchers found that they were only supportive of the policies for women in communal job positions (i.e., caretakers), not agentic job types (like leadership roles) (Hideg & Ferris, 2016).

Let’s dig a little deeper...

Although little research has been done on how gender discrimination can vary based on applicant or employee gender expression, this is a very relevant and important topic we should address. Psychologists have been investigating and discussing gender discrimination in the workplace for quite some time, and we need to now expand that discussion beyond the binary sexes and binary gender expressions, and further acknowledge gender fluidity within the workplace. When creating an inclusive environment, we need to consider how gender expression may be another way people can discriminate against individuals.The research done so far has mainly focused on the impact of gender expression during personnel selection. For example, masculine men and women, and non-binary applicants are significantly more likely to be hired over feminine men and women (Francesco and Hakel, 1981; von Stockhausen et al., 2013). Additionally, masculine applicants of both binary sexes have been shown to be rated higher for competence during selection decisions (Ready, 2020). Given this background of research, it is likely that this form of discrimination may be seen throughout other areas of the workplace (e.g., wages, promotions, termination).How can we reduce this?

1. Be aware & be a part of the change

Everyone has biases. We need to educate ourselves about these issues and biases in order to be mindful of them, and so we do not act on them. Read our blog on how you can try to reduce your own implicit biases.

2. Eliminate bias within protocols and personnel decisions

HR teams can work with I/O psychologists (like us!) to ensure current protocols and processes for decision-making (e.g., promotions) are created with equity and objectivity.

3. Appoint a DEI Leader

It is important to always be actively finding ways to support the progress of your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts within your organization. This is a key factor in reducing potential discrimination and holding others accountable for upholding policies related to these issues. Read more in our blog that digs deeper into the direct need for DEI leaders.

If you would like to know more about how you can better your workplace by creating amore inclusive environment, always feel free to contact Mattingly Solutions here. We are always here to support and propel your DEI efforts forward!


Emily Ready is a guest contributor to our blog. Learn more about and connect with her here.