A pink hard hat. Completely harmless on its own, but let's put the pink hat in context. A pink hard hat is provided to a female field service representative. The field rep frequently visits work sites and needs to wear PPE, including a hard hat. She works in a heavily male industry and is one of the few females working in the field. The pink hard hat is said to be a sign of "inclusion" making the field rep "part of the team" since it symbolizes her acceptance by the male employees in the field. She's told that only a few of the office staff (also female) have pink hard hats and she is lucky to have one.
So what's in a color? The color of this hard hat is not just coincidence. It is gender stereotyping in action. Stereotyping is nothing new; it is an age-old way for people to categorize information. Stereotypes are not inherently negative or illegal -- in fact, there are positive associations that can be made. With that said, employers should be extremely wary of any sort of mass generalizations. Stereotypes can cover the entire spectrum ranging from gender, age, race, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, national origin and these sort of biases can be especially costly in the workplace.
Stereotyping can lead to a variety of harms including poor morale, retention difficulty, lost productivity and even litigation. At its core, stereotyping leads to the creating of factions with the workplace thus undermining a cohesive work environment. As employers, we should ensure stereotyping does not occur in our workplace. These harms can result in significant cost to the business. In this example, instead of assuming the female employees wanted a pink hard hat, the employer should have asked a few questions instead. Things like: Does she want her hard hat to be pink? Why do we use pink hard hats in the first place? Do the men get a color choice? What message does a pink hard hat send? If an employer's goal is to create a diverse workplace, these sorts of questions should be considered. This particular employer should reconsider that pink hat.