Much has been made of Fearless Girl, the recently installed bronze statue depicting of a girl bravely staring down the iconic Wall Street bull. Whether she’s intended to be a genuine symbol of gender equality or just a successful PR stunt, the point remains, if Fearless Girl were a woman working in today’s workforce, she’d have a whole lot of bull standing in her way.
Fearless Girl would not only make less money than her male colleagues for the same work (80 cents on the dollar to be exact), she would also face discrimination, harassment, and a culture of misogyny that’s both humiliating and detrimental to her career.
Women across the workforce, from multimillion dollar account managers to laundry workers, are often the victims of sexism and gender discrimination, from humiliating sexual taunts to being fired or demoted for appearing too attractive, not wearing high heels, or for becoming pregnant. Some women even hide their pregnancies to avoid discriminatory backlash.
To all the employers out there who have ever demeaned, devalued or discriminated against a woman in the workplace, or stood idly by while others have done so, I have to ask – aren’t you ashamed of yourselves? After all, treating women with respect and dignity isn’t going above and beyond, it’s basic human decency. It’s also the law in New York City.
New York City has some of the strongest anti-discrimination protections for women in the workplace in the country, including protections against sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, discrimination against caregivers and victims of domestic violence, and against sex stereotyping, such as forcing working women to “dress like a lady” with skirts, high heels, and lipstick. The law also protects women against retaliation when they report discrimination.
And there’s something women can do about it now.
Women can report discrimination to the NYC Commission on Human Rights, the city agency that fights discrimination citywide, which can help them get justice under the Law and hold violators accountable. In fact, the Commission has the power to fine violators up to $250,000 and award monetary damages to victims. We can also require violators to attend trainings on the Law, change policies, and inform employees of their rights.
Just recently, the Commission fined the maximum penalty allowable under the Law in a sexual harassment case involving a female employee, Monica Cardenas, who was sexually harassed by her boss over three-year period, including groping, lewd sexual comments, and humiliation in front of colleagues. “After 15 years, I think I have the right to have some fun with Ms. Cardenas,” her boss said. The Commission ordered a fine against him of $250,000 and awarded Ms. Cardenas an additional $422,670 in front/back pay and emotional distress damages.
The Commission also recently fined a design firm $100,000 for discriminating against a female employee who, after she revealed she was pregnant, was removed from most of her job duties, had her salary changed to hourly pay, and was eventually fired. “I wouldn’t have hired you in the first place if I knew you were pregnant,” her boss said.
Women should never have to put up with sexual harassment or discrimination at work or anywhere else, which is why the Commission urges everyone to report discrimination when it happens. (If you’re curious, here’s a fact sheet explaining legal protections against harassment for women in New York City.)
In a world where women are routinely objectified and devalued throughout every echelon of power, from the halls of Washington to the front office to the guy on the street who tells her to “just smile,” we must do everything we can to call out discrimination and expose harassers so that the next generation of Fearless Girls have a little less bull standing in the way of their success.
If you or someone you know experiences or witness discrimination, call 311 and ask for Human Rights or the Commission directly at 718-722-3131.