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Lack of female supervisors a red flag for discrimination

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in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Have you taken a good look at who fills supervisory roles at your workplace? If not, you should. Having very few female supervisors may spell trouble. Having none is like carrying a sign that reads, “Sue me now!” Employees suing for sex discrimination could point to the lack of female supervisors as evidence supporting their claims.

Recent case: Christie Davis was the only woman who worked for Team Electric as a journeyman electrician. She complained that management regularly excluded her from meetings. She said her equipment wasn’t the same quality that male electricians received and that she had to work more frequently with hazardous substances and in more difficult conditions. Davis said she was told that “this is a man’s working world.”

Davis sued for discrimination, presenting evidence that there were no female supervisors. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that “the absence of female supervisors is circumstantial evidence of pretext” for sex discrimination. Along with other evidence—including Davis’ testimony that her assignments were disproportionately more dangerous—the lack of female supervisors was another factor weighing in favor of sending the case to trial. A jury will decide whether Davis was treated differently because of her sex. (Davis v. Team Electric, No. 05-35877, 9th Cir., 2008)

Final note: If your organization has job classifications in which there are few females, consider making a real effort to attract, hire and retain qualified women. Open up promotional opportunities, too. Plus, if you recently hired the first woman to work in a male-dominated field, make extra efforts to educate the rest of the staff on sex discrimination and the need to treat everyone equally. 

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