When most of us think of gender inequality in the workplace, we usually relate it to the pay gap. While the gender pay gap is genuine, there are far more pressing gender issues in the workplace that often go unnoticed. If anything persists undetected, it can never be fixed, so organizations must have the courage to dig deep below the surface first.
The reality is that many of these unrecognized problems contribute directly to the pay gap and will continue to do so until we speak openly about them. Unfortunately, many of these gender inequality issues are deeply rooted in broader society, so on the surface, they seem acceptable.
The ‘hidden’ contributing factors
Culture, economic conditions, and region have a substantial impact on society and drive perceptions of how women and men should conduct themselves and be treated. Even in a country like the USA, demographic statistics show that there are regional disparities in attitudes towards women. A 2013 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) found that, in general, women working in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions have a better earnings composite index than women working in the South.
The IWPR estimates that in the USA, at the current pace of change, equal pay might only be a reality by 2059. Worse still, the World Economic Forum estimates that is could take close to 200-hundred years for equal pay to become a global reality. Apart from culture and region that fuel sexism, racism is an everyday universal truth.
How personal perceptions infiltrate the workplace
Men and women in the workplace aren’t automatically separated from their own belief systems when they clock in. Some biases and prejudices are blatant and outright, but many more are subtle and unconscious because we were literally born into them. We bring what we believe with us into the workplace, and then expect others to toe the line. If they don’t, it can create conflict. Many women are raised to be peacemakers and to avoid clashes resulting in them avoiding confrontation.
Executive management often create a culture that is counterproductive because it attracts bias and prejudice that includes inequality of women. Obviously, this isn’t intentional, but the personal beliefs of C-suite executives quickly filter down to the grassroots level. Conversely, if executives adopt a zero-tolerance attitude towards gender inequality, they’ll ensure that systems are implemented to promote equality.
Women in the workplace regularly battle duality
The majority of women with further education didn’t envisage themselves as homemakers when they entered college. Having a family is a natural life progression. However, that leaves countless working women sitting with two sets of responsibilities; a career by day and family care by night. It’s unfortunately a fact that family responsibilities usually still fall squarely on the shoulders of the majority of women. And this despite the fact that today many women are equal or even sole breadwinners.
Although some modern men do step-up to family responsibilities, women also frequently feel that they have to shoulder the bulk of the load to be good mothers. This kind of thinking is driven by cultural belief systems leaving women torn between their ambitions and what society dictates. Women are often left feeling guilty for wanting a career if they have a family and this has led to a trend where career women delay having a family. Either way, women end up making sacrifices that they shouldn’t have to.
Higher education isn’t a useful tool for gender equality in the workplace
Equal qualifications and skills should mean equal pay and working conditions, but when it comes to gender, it isn’t. Globally, women continue to earn less than men and are considered for promotion less often. There’s plenty of research that proves that women make anywhere from 50% to 20% less than their male colleagues who have the same and or less, experience. Women are also commonly overlooked for promotion despite working as hard as their male counterparts and wanting to develop their career.
In some organizations, there’s a culture of proving your dedication and ambition by putting in long hours, and women can’t always do this because they have families waiting at home. Management has set an invisible bar of bias that women can’t transcend because they’re not regarded as being ambitious enough.
In general, women are held to higher standards in the workplace and regularly have to prove themselves – something that’s not expected of men. These hurdles can make women accept that they can’t apply for promotion, making them step aside despite their abilities and aspirations.
How do we address gender inequality in the workplace?
Gender roles in the workplace are deeply rooted in social beliefs and perception, so changing them is challenging, and progress is slow. Gender equality isn’t only for the benefit of women though. There’s ample research that directly links gender equality with the economic performance of individual organizations and national economic growth.
Workplace inequality must be addressed by companies and governments alike. Apart from boosting economic growth, equality increases productivity, promotes national and employer branding and attracts more qualified candidates.
Governments need to implement labor legislation that addresses gender (and all other) bias and discrimination. Organizations must implement policies, including recruitment and selection processes that are fair and transparent.
How employers can improve gender inequality in the workplace
If your company is serious about gender equality issues, it’s essential to compile and implement strict policies and procedures with consequences if there are violations. When composing your internal processes it’s vital to engage with your employees to understand the gender culture. You might think that there’s no discrimination, but your staff could be experiencing something very different. Personal beliefs and biases can be very subtle.
When we can agree that culture, economic conditions and region play a significant role in all types of discrimination, then we can tackle these areas with confidence. Although an employer has no right to question a person’s cultural beliefs, they can implement internal rules and regulations. By doing this you ensure that policies and procedures keep your workplace free of gender inequality and bias.
Further reading: How to avoid gender bias with hiring technology
6 social issues you must keep out of your workplace
Not all women workplace issues make comfortable conversations, but they must be addressed if you want to be seen as a fair and transparent employer. Here’s a list of six critical problems that you can’t afford to ignore.
1. Consider your industry
Certain industries, including manufacturing, mining and tech, are inclined to higher levels of inequality in the workplace. Is your organization in these industries? It’s well known that these same industries tend to only promote men to C-suite positions.
We’re not only speaking about pay gap and promotions here. Some industries are inclined to high levels of sexual harassment, and these include the hospitality and retail industries as well.
If your company is in any of these industries, it’s advisable to get outside labor consultants to conduct HR audits, make recommendations and provide training to management and staff.
2. Sexual harassment
The #metoo movement has dragged sexual harassment in the workplace into the spotlight. The problem is that it’s focused mainly on the entertainment industry, politics and big business. It certainly has had a positive impact with quite a few high profile people being brought to book. But what effect has it had on ordinary women in ordinary companies who desperately need their job?
There’s very little information available on whether #metoo has helped women in the workforce who need their paycheck. Many women still fear to lose their job if they report sexual harassment. You can, however, do something about that.
Implement very specific policies to report sexual harassment in confidence, and ensure that every claim is thoroughly investigated. No matter who has leveled the charge or against whom, investigate and take decisive action where necessary. Let your employees know that your organization takes sexual harassment claims very seriously.
All women are affected by gender inequality in one way or another, but the burden is far greater for women of color and different ethnicities. People with racist attitudes can be overt, but many are in denial, so their beliefs exist on a subconscious level.
Conduct a thorough audit of diversity in each department and then implement change through policy. Traditionally, women of color and different ethnicities are also economically disadvantaged making them desperate for their job. This leaves them totally exposed to discrimination, sexual harassment and even exploitation.
4. Promotion process
Does your organization have a culture of women having to prove their worth that doesn’t apply to men? This attitude is rife! Just because a woman can’t stay late every night or work the whole weekend doesn’t mean that she’s not capable and committed. To be honest, if people regularly have to put in hours and hours of overtime, something is probably wrong.
Set up precise criteria to qualify for promotion for each position and make it non-negotiable. Hold department managers responsible if they fail to follow procedure and demote anyone who’s promoted outside of policy definitions.
5. Gender pay gap
For centuries it’s been accepted that a woman’s place is in the home and they’re not serious about having a career. In certain circles, women were even considered to be intellectually inferior to men. Although we’ve made considerable progress, second-generation bias still lingers on.
This type of thinking fuels the gender pay gap! To begin with, you must conduct comprehensive salary audits to identify gender variances on your payroll. Inequalities in pay must be rectified at once and job grading systems implemented. Grading systems allow you to set a salary bracket for each position based on the level of skill and responsibility. Gender, ethnicity and race must have no part in the pay scale.
6. Hiring practices
Organizations that are prone to any type of inequality usually weave bias into their recruitment process steps. Recruiters and hiring managers filter out applicants based on gender and race early on in the process. Women who do make it through are subjected to questioning around family responsibilities, pregnancy and ambition. Men are rarely exposed to this kind of questioning.
The best way to curb this trend is to invest in an applicant tracking system and make collaborative hiring mandatory. A diverse hiring team is less likely to allow discrimination and more inclined to ask unbiased interview questions. Asking all candidates the same questions, and including pre-screening questions and skills assessments also makes your hiring more transparent and fair.
We’re a long way from eliminating gender inequality in the workplace. If, however, every company, line manager, HR department and hiring team make a concerted effort, we’ll get to where we need to be sooner rather than later.
Personal belief systems will never be transcended in the workplace, but with the right training and proper policies and procedures, organizations can make a difference. Best practices keep employees in line and also create a safe working environment.
If people know that their prejudices and biases won’t be tolerated at work, they’ll adapt. Likewise, if people know that they can speak out without the fear of losing their job, they will. Once we can openly address the deep-rooted social issues behind the gender pay gap the pay gap will take care of itself.