The Ethics Of "Women Only" Catered Businesses – Gender Discrimination

Can a Business Gender Discriminate? Is That Ethical?

New York is what I call “taxi town”. There’s more taxis than personal cars. Much like London and their Black Cabs flying past in the opposite direction. NY offers plenty to choose from, and you certainly don’t have to wait long for one to appear. They come in a variety of colors – yellow, green, black – and they sport interesting accessories like pink moustaches (see Lyft).

Now, there’s a new option to choose from – a female driver. And she’s accessorized with a pink pashmina scarf….ooh purdy! stock photo taxi-styled phone with pink scarf

This not-quite-so-new-concept of a business catering only to women is, in theory, a great idea. We’ve heard stories in the past of female only run auto mechanic shops where ladies can showcase their auto talents.

Only Girl, an autobody shop in Paris is run only by females, offering female car owners manicures while their engines get flushed!

Gyms? Yep, there’s women only gyms out there. I’m pretty sure they’d never turn away a male client if he walked in to bench press… however I’m also pretty sure no male would ever go into a female only gym for fear of feeling the need to contribute to the fashion gossip… just saying. And there’s PLENTY of other gyms to attend.

So, The Big Apple. A new livery service (I prefer ‘chauffeured transportation’) starts operating Sept. 16 in New York City, Westchester County, and Long Island. This new company will offer only female driven cars, to only female riders. And of course, like any of these services, requests for rides can be made through an app.

SheTaxis is what this new service is called – and in NYC it will be operated as SheRides due to regulations preventing the use of “taxi” in the name. The purpose of this service is to serve women only who don’t feel all that comfortable, or safe, riding with male drivers. Or who feel they need the company of another women.

According to city data, New York City has 59,999 for-hire drivers of livery cars, green cabs, limousines and luxury sedans, and only 2,952 of them, or 5%, are women. Fewer women drive yellow cabs: 574 out of 51,874 drivers (1%).

Stella Mateo, who started SheTaxis, said she saw this as a way to help women join an industry that has long been dominated by men. I feel that’s a fair point. Many women just don’t feel comfortable getting into the car of a male driver. That’s a fair point too.

And, according to an article, Hasidic women in Williamsburg will only ride with women. Okay, that’s fair, there’s plenty of women drivers to go around.

Got Ethics?

My ethical struggle about this service is as follows:

The app used to find a ride will ask a potential customer if there’s a women in the party. If the answer is no, then the customer will be automatically redirected to another car service. One would hope this redirect does not cause undue travel delay. (what if the customer says “yes”, the driver shows up, sees there’s no woman… will she put pedal to the metal and take off?)

Can this company be sued for discrimination? If you happen to be a gent, you’ve got to find another way home! “No service for you!” Aren’t there laws out there covering services like this that proclaim to only serve certain genders, and turn away others? Can you imagine the uproar if there was a “man’s only taxi service”? I’m pretty sure women would be pointing fingers and crying discrimination.

I completely support women breaking into a “man only” sector (as stats show). And I’m sure that anyone in NYC who needs a taxi will welcome additional cars on the road. More to choose from and you could potentially wait less for one to become available.

I completely support the culture of a company employing only women to cater to women who feel they might get treated differently by men (auto shops), or who might feel intimidated (at the gym).

But I really struggle with turning away a certain gender in what I term a “generic type of service”. If you’re breathing and upright, then you should be able to hail any cab/rideshare/etc., and not be turned away. This, I think, is where an ethical boundary has been crossed, and where discrimination is a powerful argument.

I get that some female drivers feel unsafe if they pick up male riders, but today’s taxis come fitted with bullet proof divider glass, etc. Yet, these aren’t taxis. These “rideshare taxis” are personal vehicles that are not fitted with bullet proof glass. So my mind wavers on this. Safety is a big issue.

Perhaps in some way this is women getting their own back from centuries past after living in a male dominated world. It’s just a thought.

In any light, I can see potential legal battles brewing over alleged discrimination. I wish them luck.

Big or small, all businesses need to have their “ts” crossed, and their “is” dotted.

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