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How to address discrimination against women in the workplace

While women have felt the sting of discrimination for hundreds of years, it continues to permeate the workplace - even the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionally impacted women.

The pandemic changed how we work, including the way we interact in the office (or not), our career paths, and the daily routine of our family lives. Everything was uprooted, affecting female workers in a multitude of ways.

In this article, we'll look at 18 statistics showing the impacts of discrimination against women in the workplace and how we can shape it for the better. Keep reading to find out how to create opportunities for women and develop an inclusive culture at work

Workplace discrimination statistics

The COVID-19 pandemic challenged the entire workforce. Yet women in particular felt the effects of the precarious job market, responsibilities at home, and pressure at work, leading to a negative outlook for an uncomfortably high proportion of them.

Check out these surprising women in the workplace statistics:‍

1. 1 in 4 women considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers because of COVID-19. (1)

2. 3 in 4 of those women who considered leaving the workforce (or working at reduced capacity) cite burnout as the main reason. (1)

Women with children were three times more likely as fathers to be responsible for a majority of the housework and childcare during the pandemic.

Coupled with stress from their jobs, the pandemic itself, and precarious working situations, this was the leading cause of burnout.

3. During the pandemic, childcare and housework responsibilities mostly fell to mothers. (1)

Mothers were more likely than fathers to be spending an extra 20 hours per week on housework and childcare, increasing the pressure on them and leading to the symptoms of burnout.

4. 45% of women in leadership say it’s difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings. (14)

And 1 in 5 women say they’ve felt ignored or overlooked by colleagues during video calls.

3 in 5 female employees say they feel like their prospects of getting a promotion are worse in their new remote work environment.

The #MeToo movement had an impact on women in the workplace

The #MeToo movement is a social campaign against sexual abuse and harassment specifically aimed at alleged male perpetrators in positions of power. Starting in Hollywood in 2017, it spread across the world giving opportunities for women to speak out about their experiences.

5. 34% of women believe things have improved for them in the workplace since the #MeToo movement began. (3)

In contrast, 57% believe things have stayed the same and 9% believe things have got worse.

6. Only 8% of women surveyed report that new policies have been implemented in their workplace to address issues related to #MeToo. (4)

According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal government agency responsible for enforcing sexual harassment laws, there has been a 12 percent increase in the number of harassment filings made since 2017.

7. 3/4 of executives say they're satisfied with their companies' efforts to address women's harassment issues in the workplace. (5)

This suggests that executives - those in positions of power - are less likely to identify gender-based discrimination or harassment and think that their efforts are satisfactory when they're not.

8. 64% of senior men avoid solo interactions with junior women because they fear rumors about their motives. (6)

This means many women miss out on crucial mentorship opportunities, as "men typically have more power than women in most organizations", according to research into the topic.

Gender gaps in today's economy

Global economic trends have caused all kinds of shifts in the labor force - for better and for worse, as shown by these women in the workplace statistics

9. Women now hold more jobs than men in the US workforce. (7)

At the turn of 2020, women held 50.04% of positions in the United States. That's a difference of 109,000 in real terms.

10. There is widespread consensus that gender equality in the community promotes economic growth, lowers fertility, reduces child mortality, and improves nutrition. (8)

According to the medical journal, The Lancet, gender equality in science, medicine, and global health has the potential to lead to substantial health, social, and economic gains.

11. The greatest challenge preventing the economic gender gap from closing is women’s under-representation in emerging roles. (9)

According to the World Economic Forum, only 12% of cloud computing roles are held by women, with 15% in engineering and 26% in data & AI.

12. Women make up 75% of the global health workforce but disproportionately make up the lower ranks of that workforce. (8)

Women in leadership make up a smaller fraction of healthcare positions around the world than men, but overall the health workforce is feminizing more as a trend.

13. Women lead the way in studying medicine, dentistry, agriculture, law, education, and communication. (10)

In contrast, they make up smaller student populations in computer science, engineering, and technology. Business and administrative studies show almost an even split.

14. Scandinavian nations have more women in the boardroom than anywhere else. (10)

Iceland is the top country for overall gender parity and has been for the last 11 years. 9

15. The UK's gender pay gap among all employees decreased in 2020, from 17.4% in 2019 to 15.5%. (11)

Among full-time employees, the gap was 7.4%, which reduced from 9% the previous year. A slightly higher proportion of men were furloughed with reduced pay in April 2020 due to the pandemic.

16. Women in the US workforce are making roughly $0.80 for every dollar earned by their male colleagues. (12)

Compared to 2010, the US has actually narrowed the pay gap by 2.6 percentage points, with most states in the country showing improvement in this area.

17. There has been a surge of women in marketing leadership roles in 2020. (13)

Women now hold 45.4% of all executive positions in the advertising, media, and marketing technology sectors compared to just 29% in 2019, according to the third annual #Inclusive100 benchmark study.

18. According to researchers at the University of Castilla la Mancha, Spain, gender-diverse R&D teams lead to greater creativity and better decisions. (2)

Gender diversity benefits companies and teams with a wider range of perspectives and approaches to creating things, tackling problems, and communicating issues.

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How to be allies to women in the workplace  

Improving workplace experiences for women requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses various aspects of gender equality and creates an inclusive culture. With more support and opportunities for women to succeed, gender discrimination can be greatly reduced. Here are several HR-related decisions and initiatives that can help create a better workplace for women and increase employee well-being:

Close the gender wage gap

Ensure that women are paid the same as their male counterparts when performing the same job and having the same level of experience and qualifications. Conduct regular pay equity audits to identify and rectify any disparities any gender-based discrimination.

Flexible work arrangements

Offer flexible work schedules, remote work options, and part-time opportunities to accommodate the diverse needs of women, particularly those with caregiving responsibilities.

Mentorship programs

Establish mentorship programs to help women advance in their careers. Encourage senior leaders to mentor and advocate for quiet hiring to put women in leadership roles.

Workplace culture

Develop an inclusive culture that fosters respect and gender equality. Encourage collective action to support one another and create safe spaces for employees to voice concerns.

Eliminate gender bias

Promote awareness and training to eliminate unconscious bias in hiring, promotions, and evaluations. F4S delivers quantifiable insights based on 20+ years of motivational research, helping you reduce human error in the hiring process.

Coaching and personal development

Invest in coaching and development. F4S is a self-development platform that empowers individuals to build their skills, confidence, and leadership abilities. We even offer free AI coaching that can help women, no matter what their goal is.

Sexual harassment

With more employers working from home, there is less chance of sexual harassment, although it can still occur virtually. That said, now's a good opportunity to think about how to make the workplace safer for women.

FairyGodBoss, a women's career platform, answered the question "What do you think employers and companies can do to prevent incidents of sexual harassment at work?"

  • Create better, clearer policies that protect victims
  • Create better, clearer policies that address perpetrators
  • Create an anonymous helpline to report incidents
  • Make it easier to take legal action

Addressing gender career inequality

When looking at career differences and how they play out in the women in the workplace statistics, it’s worth first considering the bigger picture.

Understanding gender differences is a wider societal concern that can be hard to unpack, simply because it involves the collision of historical, and cultural trends with complicated mass psychology and the changing nature of Western economics.

Are differences inherent or learned?

Many people generalize that men tend to be more interested in things (material objects) and women tend to be more interested in people and relationships.

A meta-analysis in 2009 found that to be the case after surveying over half a million respondents. This could suggest that vocations like engineering and computer science are statistically more likely to be populated by men because of the nature of people's preferences and interests.

However, this is a dangerous assumption for a business to make because none of this is set in stone. It is extremely difficult to extract gender-related ‘inherent’ preferences from those ingrained by societal norms. The safest bet is to steer clear of stereotyping and embrace that each individual will have their own unique preferences, talents, and motivations.

It’s likely these trends will change over time as societal and economic structures shift. There is a long and glorious history of women obtaining some of science's greatest achievements, of which there will be plenty more.

The role model factor

There's also the role model factor: seeing more women in certain industries could make them more attractive to other women. That applies to education, too; a male-dominated engineering classroom might be a little uncomfortable for a young woman, and seeing more of her own gender might be more likely to persuade her to join.

Having more women in top positions in business is undoubtedly a good thing, both for companies themselves and society at large. Not every woman (or person) will want to be in the boardroom, but it is important to make sure the opportunities are there to enter that competitive arena and be treated fairly, and the women who really want it are equipped with the skills - both technical and interpersonal - to make a success of it.

The gender wage gap

According to the UK's Office of National Statistics, the gender pay gap is calculated as “the difference between average hourly earnings (excluding overtime) of men and women as a proportion of men’s average hourly earnings”. It is a measure across all jobs in the country, and as noted above, has gotten a little better alongside the US.

There’s a complex set of forces acting on these stats and multiple ways of addressing them.

Rather than looking at the simplified ‘gender pay gap', it might be more helpful to talk about specific pay gaps in certain areas and industries.

What can we do about it?

Change can be made by highlighting and campaigning on these issues, but efforts do need to be focused on the data. Sometimes change can be achieved through simple programs run by businesses themselves. Sometimes it comes through a complex equation of collective action, education, economic equality, political will, and cultural forces. Change can happen over the course of days, weeks, months, or years.

Making these changes is generally important on a societal level. Companies that follow their valuesand emphasize diversity tend to be more profitable. If you want to make a positive change in the organizational culture of a company, one of the best ways to do it is to start speaking their language - numbers.

One good way to start would be looking at structured compensation frameworks that companies have made to address this. Both Buffer and Gitlab publish their compensation philosophy transparently, so you can see how different roles and demographics stack up when it comes to pay. As per their principles, "GitLab will continue to monitor pay equality to ensure underrepresented groups are paid at the same rate as the company."

If your company hasn't thought of at least looking at the representation landscape in your organizational structure, now might be a good chance. With fair opportunities and fair treatment, you'll build a more equitable company that attracts great talent from every group of people.

A kinder, more equitable office

Creating a workplace that's more comfortable and welcoming for women is not only the right thing to do. It'll make for a more successful company. There's two ways to achieve this: intentional actions and building culture.

When it comes to meetings, whether in-person or remote, creating processes to mindfully include everyone in the conversation is of great importance. If 45% of women feel that it's difficult for them to speak up in meetings, systems should be put in place to avoid that. Set clear meeting guidelines, leaders can manage interruptions, and women in leadership can help each other out.

As well as this, methods of measuring the causes and magnitude of gender disparity will come in useful, too. Researchers created a 47-item gender bias scale which companies and other organizations can use to "survey their women employees to more accurately and reliably measure their experiences with and perceptions of gender bias". This system can help diagnose specific types of unconscious bias women might experience, such as the 'glass cliff' (women being put in positions of power when things are going poorly) or occasions where women are being held to higher performance standards than men.

Programs like this can fit alongside cultures that are pro-equal-opportunities with open dialogue built into their values. If people are afraid to speak up when there's injustice or feel that their opinions won't be listened to, things won't change for the better. It's up to the owners, leaders, and all organizational decision-makers to act in accordance with their values and show that women have an equal spot in the workplace.


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