Understanding Women’s Experiences of Sexism in the Modern Workplace Open Access
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While much progress has been made over the past several decades in terms of gender equality in the workplace, overwhelming evidence suggests that sexism, including both overt sexism (i.e., flagrantly sexist attitudes and behaviors) and subtle sexism (i.e., more ambiguously biased behaviors and gender-stereotypical attitudes), is still alive and well in the modern U.S. workplace. Though there is a wealth of research pertaining to women’s experiences of sexism in the workplace, there is a striking lack of work that examines both overt and subtle sexism simultaneously as well as insufficient exploration of certain critical outcomes and important mediators and moderators of the relationships. The present study sought to fill this gap by exploring a series of conceptual models of the mechanisms through which experiences of overt and subtle sexism result in negative career-related and psychological outcomes for women in the workplace. Survey data were collected via Amazon Mechanical Turk from a diverse sample (N = 949) of female, currently-employed U.S citizens with at least five years of full-time work experience. Conceptual models were tested with the SPSS Hayes (2013; PROCESS) macro. Results showed that subtle sexism was even more harmful than overt sexism in its direct impact on subjective career-related and psychological outcomes. These results add to a growing body of literature that suggests that subtle sexism, though mild in appearance, can accumulate to manifest in extraordinarily harmful outcomes for women in the workplace. Findings also revealed key differences in the mechanics of overt and subtle sexism in how they function to impact important outcomes and suggest that, when present in high levels, resilience and social support act as buffers against the negative effects of sexism on workplace outcomes. Specifically, the buffers minimized the negative effects of overt sexism on salary through self-appraisal of distress of the overt sexism incident, and minimized the negative effects of subtle sexism on perceived career success, career satisfaction, and life satisfaction through the self-appraisal of the distress of the subtle sexism incident. Practical implications for organizations are discussed including suggestions to minimize the frequency of exposure to sexist events and create inclusive work climates through education, training, and clear communication of policies, as well as suggestions to increase social support by providing access to professional onsite counselors, support groups, and networking opportunities.