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Breaking Barriers : Gender Stereotypes for Internal Committee and HR

By August 31, 2023Blogs, PoSHViews: 530

In a progressive stride towards fostering gender equality and upholding justice, the Supreme Court of India’s launch of the handbook to combat gender stereotypes in judgments and pleadings marks a significant step. While primarily aimed at judges, the relevance of this initiative extends to individuals with quasi-judicial powers, including Internal Committee (IC) members at workplaces. As flag bearers of impartiality and fairness, IC members must also be vigilant about the language they use and the preconceived notions they may unknowingly harbor. In this blog, we delve into the importance of avoiding gender stereotypes, the impact of these stereotypes on decision-making, and how to foster an inclusive workplace.

The Common Gender Stereotypes

Stereotypes Based on Inherent Characteristics

Stereotypes that portray women as overly emotional, illogical, and incapable of making decisions are unfounded. For example, a female colleague passionately presents her idea, but some team members dismiss it as an emotional response. They suggest that a more “rational” approach is needed.  While men and women have physiological differences, it is inaccurate to claim that all women are universally weaker than all men.

Gender Roles and Restrictions

Stereotypes around gender roles can limit the opportunities available. IC members must ensure that their judgments do not perpetuate these restrictions and instead promote gender equality. For example, a female executive’s strategic choices might be questioned more than those of her male counterparts.

Stereotypes about Sexuality and Sexual Violence

IC members must approach cases involving sexual violence with the utmost sensitivity and without any presumptions about the victim’s behavior or attire. Stereotypes about an individual’s sexuality have no place in a fair inquiry process. This stereotype is dangerous and victim-blaming. For example, the LGBTQ+ community is sometimes considered predatory and promiscuous. No one “asks for” or provokes sexual violence. Just like heterosexual individuals, LGBTQ+ individuals’ actions should be judged on their character rather than stereotypes.

Impact of Stereotypes on Decision-Making

Gender stereotypes can significantly influence decision-making processes, leading to unjust outcomes. IC members, tasked with conducting impartial inquiries, must remain vigilant against these biases. When gender stereotypes creep into the decision-making process, the following consequences may arise:

Undermining Credibility

Assigning stereotypical attributes to complainants or respondents can undermine the credibility of their claims. This can lead to a skewed assessment of the situation and an unjust outcome.


Gender stereotypes can perpetuate victim-blaming attitudes. If IC members inadvertently succumb to these biases, they might place undue responsibility on the victim rather than addressing the underlying issue.

Unequal Treatment

Stereotyping can lead to differential treatment based on gender. IC members must ensure that they treat all parties involved equitably and refrain from letting unconscious biases impact their decisions.

Preconceived Notions and Their Impact

Preconceived notions can significantly affect judgments, preventing IC members from conducting thorough and unbiased inquiries. When IC members are influenced by preconceived notions, they risk reaching conclusions that are not grounded in facts or evidence. Such notions can include beliefs about the “typical” behavior of women or men, which might cloud judgment and lead to unfair resolutions. For example, in a large multinational corporation, an internal committee (IC) is responsible for investigating a sexual harassment complaint filed by a female employee against a male senior executive. Few of the IC members hold a preconceived notion that women often misinterpret harmless workplace interactions as harassment due to being overly sensitive.

This preconceived notion can lead the IC members to approach the investigation with skepticism about the validity of the complaint. As a result, the IC member might downplay the seriousness of the alleged incident and unintentionally discredit the complainant’s experience. This bias could result in an inadequate investigation that fails to uncover relevant evidence and leaves the victim without proper resolution.

Avoiding Gender Stereotypes: The Imperative for IC Members

Gender stereotypes are deeply ingrained societal beliefs that shape our perception of individuals based on their gender. For IC members, who are entrusted with investigating workplace grievances, ensuring that their language and approach remain free from such biases is paramount. Some common stereotyped words and phrases to avoid include:

Common Stereotyped Words/Phrases to Avoid Inclusive and Individual-centric Language
Layabout / Shirker Unemployed
Provider / Breadwinner Employed or earning
Violated (e.g., he violated her) Sexually harassed/assaulted or raped
Woman of loose morals / easy virtue / promiscuous woman / wanton woman Woman
Fallen woman Woman
Hormonal (to describe a woman’s emotional state) Use a gender-neutral term to describe the emotion (e.g., compassionate or enthusiastic)
Effeminate (when used pejoratively) Accurately describe the characteristic using a gender-neutral term (e.g., confident or responsible)
Eve teasing Street sexual harassment
Faggot Accurately describe the individual’s sexual orientation (e.g., homosexual or bisexual)
Transsexual Transgender


1. Emotions as gendered traits


Using terms like ’emotional’ to describe one party involved in a complaint can undermine the credibility of their claims and perpetuate the notion that emotions make a claim less valid.


This word is often used to describe assertive behavior in women. Labeling a woman as ‘aggressive’ may marginalize her concerns, making it crucial for IC members to use neutral language that accurately represents the situation.

2. Targeting Personality

Assertive vs. ‘Bossy

While assertiveness is admired, the term ‘bossy’ is frequently employed to criticize women who exhibit leadership qualities. IC members must ensure that they do not inadvertently discourage women from expressing their opinions and taking charge.


Evaluating the ‘likability’ of individuals can be influenced by unconscious biases. IC members should focus on objective aspects of the case rather than subjective judgments based on personal biases.

3.Traditional Roles

Avoid implying that certain roles are inherently suited for one gender. Using phrases like ‘traditional roles’ perpetuates stereotypes and restricts opportunities for individuals to excel beyond prescribed boundaries.

Survivor or Victim? During the Inquiry Process

An individual who has experienced sexual harassment at the workplace may refer to themselves as either a “survivor” or a “victim”. Both terms are appropriate unless the person has explicitly expressed a preference, in which case their preference should be honored and respected. When no preference is expressed, it is advisable to use the term “complainant” for greater clarity and accuracy.

The individual who is the subject of the complaint should be referred to as the respondent, rather than being labelled as the harasser, until their involvement is proven.


The Supreme Court’s initiative to eradicate gender stereotypes from judgments and pleadings is a critical stride towards a more just and inclusive society. For IC members, this handbook serves as a reminder of their responsibility to conduct inquiries with impartiality and fairness.

By avoiding gender stereotypes in language and judgments, IC members can ensure that their decisions are rooted in objectivity rather than preconceived notions. In an age where diversity and equality are championed, it is incumbent upon all individuals, particularly those with quasi-judicial powers, to uphold these values in every facet of their work. By breaking down gender stereotypes, we pave the way for a more equitable future for all.

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