The Little Ways Women Are Still Discriminated Against in the Workplace

Like why is it always so cold in the office?

It’s 2017, and women are supposed to be equals in the workplace. However, it doesn’t always feel that way. Women still face major issues like pay discrimination, sexual harassment, and insufficient family leave policies.

But for many, workdays are also filled with small and subtle reminders that the work environment wasn’t designed with them in mind. From lack of purse hooks in bathrooms to lockers that are the perfect size to fit men’s suit jackets, office environments are still often a man’s world.

We spoke with six women about the many ways workplaces show that their default setting is male. Here are their stories:

A Subtle Sign of Sexism

Janet* was working at a large university that prided itself on being liberal and progressive. Despite that, a sign in the kitchen read, “Your mother isn’t here. Be sure to clean up after yourself.”

“That sexism didn’t sit well with me,” Janet recalls, “So I took a label maker, printed out a label that read, ‘Neither is your father,’ and stuck it on the sign.”

Not in the Plan

When Myla* was working at an environmental research non-profit in California, the organization rebuilt its facility from the ground up.

“They put all the bells and whistles on the building — except, of course, hooks on the back of bathroom stall doors for women’s purses, [which] most office buildings [also] lack,” she says. “I guess it doesn’t occur to the male-dominated architect, contractors, and facilities teams that women might have purses they don’t want to set down on pee-splattered floors.”

“It’s such a pet peeve of mine. I always know when I am in a stall and have nowhere to hang my bag that a man designed the bathrooms.”

Perfect Posture — for Some

Many employers make a big deal out of workplace posture without realizing that great chairs and desks aren’t one-size-fits-all.

“I’ve worked in multiple offices with the Herman Miller Aeron chair, which is supposed to be the most comfortable office chair out there. But it comes in [only] three sizes, and the default size is designed for men and is too large for my 5’4″ frame,” says Shana Wastlake, a media and communications consultant from Rockville, Md.

“Even the most adjustable chair won’t work if it’s too big. Combined with built-in cubicle desks that are too high, it’s impossible to sit comfortably with correct posture in most office settings.”

Hi. My Name Is…

Elizabeth Ricci, a 42-year-old attorney in Tallahassee, Fla., feels the bias toward men every time she puts on a name tag at a professional event.

“Name tags with clips are designed for men’s pocket suits,” she laments. “Women wearing professional dresses cannot clip the name tags on except to the collar — if there is one.”

Knocking Knees

Renata Castro, an immigration attorney in Florida, always notices that desks are not designed with professional women in mind.

“Let’s talk about the tables that are not designed for women who wear heels,” she says. “This is such a nuisance because I am constantly hitting my knees on the desk.”


Turn the Temperature up

If you’ve noticed that you’re cold in the office, particularly when the air conditioning is running, you’re not alone.

“I live in Los Angeles, and I’m always in a sweatshirt and scarf,” says Samantha Ladwig, a moving image cataloger from California. “We’re going through a heatwave, and I’m drinking hot tea and wearing a sweatshirt and a scarf. I feel very passionate about how ridiculous it is.”

A study in Nature Climate Change found that the formula that controls most office thermostats was developed using men’s metabolic rates, leaving women, who have a slower metabolic rate, feeling too cold.

“In a lot of buildings, you see energy consumption is a lot higher because the standard is calibrated for men’s body heat production,” Boris Kingma, co-author of the study, reports.

Have you noticed subtle examples of sexism in the workplace, whether it’s how an office is designed to what temperature the thermostat is set on? Tell us in the comments.

*Names have been changed.

Join the Discussion

12 Responses to “The Little Ways Women Are Still Discriminated Against in the Workplace”

  1. Jean

    Wow! I spent 29 years in the US Army. I think this article is one of the stupidest things I have read on this site. Get over it.

  2. Jeanne

    Really, sexist? Please tell me this is a joke right? i really do think a bunch of men were sitting around designing offices and saying” The conference table should be a bit lower- I love to see a woman in heels banging her legs under it”, or Ha! Let’s leave off hooks from the woman’s potty’s” That will show them! Be happy you have Herman Miller chairs, as well as an office that can afford them. Be glad you have a job in an office! Oh and bring a fricken sweater to work. I am a corporate woman worker and I work in an all woman office. They like the temp. At 80 degrees Every. Single. Day. Even in the summer. I carry ice packs to. I am over 50 and am hot all the time . I feel like I am engulfed in flames from the moment I walk in the office. Stop being such a whiny bunch of babies and focus on Real workplace issues.

    • Theresa

      Jeanne, you are missing the point. No one is suggesting that men are going out of their way to make women uncomfortable. The point is that men aren’t considering that the workspace should accommodate both men and women. And, Aeron chairs are very uncomfortable and cut off the circulation in shorter legs. Google Aeron Chair and pain. You seem like a right old grump.

  3. Jill

    this is the most ridiculous thing i have ever read. every rest room I have ever been in had purse hooks, all the conferences i have been to no longer use the clip name tags but the ones that hang around your neck. Women in the united states are the most papered whiny cry babies I have ever met in my life. I cannot believe with all the strife in this world that this article actually exists. next time you read an article about the woman in Pakistan that was stoned to death as an honor killing, or the girls that are not permitted to go to school because they are female or they have their genitalia mutilated because a man does not want her to have pleasure in sex. i want you to reflect on this article and just realize how good you actually have it.

    I am unsubscribing from this newsletter and I hope that all of you reflect on your life and the next time you complain that you don’t have a place to hang your purse, or that it is just too cold in the office or that the chair you have to sit in is just too big, you thank your lucky stars that, those minute issue are all you have to worry about

  4. Alex

    I’m going to disagree with the heating issue. It’s so much easier to put a sweater on than to start undressing. I’ve been in offices that at 74 degrees & ladies are using heaters, which then drives up the heat, which then turns on the AC.
    As someone who is never comfortable in cold or warm, you just need to deal with it. I wear sweaters and fall clothes in my current office…. it’s easy to adapt.

  5. Justyna

    HAHAHA! One woman complains that the desks are too high; another – that they’re too low. But in both cases it’s sexism! How ridiculous!

  6. Heather

    So true! In my last job, the males made a request for furniture revisions and their wish was granted. I made a request for a desk adjustment, after my last desk was replaced without even consulting me about preferences/needs, and it was brushed off. Subsequently, I ended up with a workers compensation claim due to a neck problem from sitting at the ill-fitted desk. Would’ve cost the City a lot less had they just listened to me in the first place.

  7. She-Ra

    Other than the hook oversight (because, gasp! we don’t have pockets!), the desk and chair sizes and office temperatures will never fit each person, male or female just right. I am almost always burning up. I like my office to be chilly, and I bring sweaters for days when it gets too nippy. Am I sexist? Nope.
    I am 5ft. I’ve never been able to touch the ground, even in heels, when sitting in office chairs (desk chairs in school). If I wanted the world to adjust to me, many average-sized women and men would be awfully uncomfortable. Not once did I think this is sexism. Oh, and I’ve never knocked my knees on the underside of desks because I am wearing heels. If I did, I wouldn’t blame men for it.

    Seriously, ladies, toughen up. Show men and other women that you are above this blame game, that you accept the beautiful differences that make you women and men men. Be gracious. Ask for help. Give assistance. Be tough as nails and soft as silk.

    • Theresa

      Last year I read a book about how much more productive people become when their equipment and tools are not one-size-fits-all. For example, airplanes became safer after they made the seats and gears adjustable to fit the different heights and arm lengths of the pilots (short and tall). Ditto with cars. We can pull the seats forward, lower or raise them, and adjust the steering wheels and mirrors. Cars are designed with humans (and all their various shapes and sizes) in mind. So, what is wrong with bringing that thinking to the office? Why not have adjustable desks and chairs? I can see by the reactions in the comments that several people thought that this article was crap, BUT not really. I mean, I wouldn’t call bad office design hidden sexism, either. I just think that society gets used to doing things they way they have always been done (which for years was geared toward men) and don’t always think about changing (tweaking for improvements). We don’t have hooks on many of our bathroom doors where I work, either. It’s crazy. And, I hated my Aeron chair and asked them to give me back my old one after only 4 days of trying it out. Those chairs are very uncomfortable for 5′ 4″ people. My legs went numb. To close, I think that this article does make a good point that designers do not consider (all) human factors in design as much as they should. Is that sexism? Probably not. It is just being blind to the needs of a lot of women. Is that the same thing? I don’t know.

  8. Samantha

    I work in and plan events for commercial real estate, which is a male-dominated industry. For events, I make sure to put lanyards on the female attendees’ name tags. I also always bring some extra clips and lanyards as you never know for sure who wants what. It has become a topic of conversation at events as the few women in attendance usually notice and are often appreciative.

  9. Tricia

    I’m more concerned about how often I (or another woman in a meeting) will say something that is extremely important to the topic at hand. We’ll get nods and the meeting moves on. 10 minutes later, a man will essentially repeat what I or my colleague has said and the entire meeting will stop, everyone will pay attention, and the entire direction of the meeting will change to follow the point.
    I thought I was just losing my mind, but then I realized it was happening to almost all the women I know in nearly every meeting I was in. And then I read about a woman who transitioned (M to F) and was shocked (and angry) to have this experience now that she is a woman – it never happened to her when she was a man.

  10. Faye

    We have got to stop being offended by every little thing. Not everything is a personal affront to you, or women in general. It’s exhausting, and detracts from real problems that people are facing.