November 14, 2019

In a recent Inc. survey of more than 600 women, nearly 56 percent had experienced some form of discrimination or harassment in their capacity as business owners.

The #MeToo movement over the last couple of years has emboldened women to speak up about the microaggressions and discrimination they experience at work. In the joint Fast Company and Inc. 2019 State of Women in Entrepreneurship survey of more than 600 female founders, nearly 56 percent had experienced some form of discrimination or harassment in their capacity as business owners.

At the same time, the survey revealed many women are conflicted about how best to deal with subtle, pervasive discrimination. Of the women who reported experiencing such harassment or other incidents at work, 45 percent said they took no formal action in response. Inappropriate comments, such as the ones directed at Young, may not necessarily break a law, even though they're frustrating and out of line.

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What the post-#MeToo numbers don't reveal

In the workforce at large, the number of people taking legal action against discrimination has gone up post-#MeToo. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency responsible for enforcing civil rights laws, lawsuits involving workplace discrimination on the basis of sex, race, and religion went up almost 146 percent between 2016 and 2018. Forty-six cases were filed in 2016 compared to 111 last year.

Even so, women typically do not report microaggressions, however frequently they experience them at work. They might fear the consequences of speaking up or worry they won't be taken seriously, says Kalpana Kotagal, partner at Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll, who represents workers in class action lawsuits. It's also a legal grey area: if you're subtly undermined in a meeting, did someone break the law?

Of the women Inc. surveyed, more than 90 percent of them said that they experienced discrimination for being a woman founder. Why don't they report it? The behavior is so common, say some founders, that focusing on it would take valuable time and attention away from what they'd rather be doing: building their companies

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