Has sexism been eliminated?

The big news last week was that Yahoo hired Marissa Mayer, 37 years old and pregnant, to be its CEO. One more crack is placed in the glass ceiling. With her appointment as the president and chief executive of Yahoo on Monday, she joins a shortlist of women in the technology industry to hold the top spot. The elite club includes Meg Whitman, the chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, and Virginia M. Rometty, the head of I.B.M. Another senior woman in Silicon Valley, Sheryl Sandberg, is Facebook’s chief operating officer.

It's been almost half a century since the Civil Rights Act passed and Title VII afforded equal rights to women along with other protected groups. With women making it into top jobs, is it a sign that sex discrimination is dead? Consider the following real situations:

• A 37-year old woman sitting on the town council of her local community is constantly challenged by a 65-year old male colleague. He refers to her as young lady and pats her on the head. When they run against each other for mayor, he touts his years of experience in public service and asks her why she thinks she's qualified. (Maybe the brain inside that "pretty little head" he likes to pat?)

• The 70 year old CEO who doesn’t understand technology, makes a fuss, crying help and summons the HR/recruiter into his office, asking “Can you type?”

• The same CEO wants to hire a “sweet, young” receptionist so “she” can sweet talk the supervisors in the mail room.

• The newly married female who chooses not to take her husband’s name is met with resistance at work by male colleagues who insist on introducing her as “Mrs. (husband’s name)”, changing he e-mail address and contact information to her “husband’s last name” and constantly ignoring her requests not to do so, because, in their opinion, it’s insulting to her husband. (Note, her husband is supportive of her decision.)

While the examples above seem pretty obvious, or even deliberate, sexism, and all types of discrimination for that matter, are not always blatant. Behavior can sometime be inadvertent. Nevertheless, that behavior is distracting at best or can result in an unprofessional work environment, with the risk of legal challenges, at worst. The Big Book of HR contains an Appendix with Guidelines for Preventing Unlawful Discrimination. Our report on Creating a Professional Work Environment provides more information on assuring a culture of respect in the workplace.

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