My sister-in-law recently told me a story from when she was a teenager. As she was backing the family car out of the garage, she hit a tree that was planted on the side of the driveway and dented the car. Her mother was home at the time and told her she needed to tell her dad what happened when he came home from work. Needless to say, she was not looking forward to the conversation. Her dad was a hardworking farmer – a serious man of few words. She anticipated an unsympathetic reaction, but her father’s response surprised her. All he said was, “That was a bad place to have planted a tree.” Her three brothers thought she got off easy. They knew that if it had been one of the boys who had dented the car, his response would have been much stronger.
This story is a funny bit of family history, but it also illustrates the biases some people have when it comes to the expectations around gender. My sister-in-law’s treatment revealed that she was not expected to live up to the same driving expectations as her brothers. This incident happened 45 years ago, but biased expectations based on gender are still prevalent. And they go beyond driving – sadly, such biases are still prevalent in many workplaces.
According to data gathered by the World Economic Forum, it will take 108 years to close the overall gender gap and 202 years to bring about equity in the workplace. That means we are not likely to reach gender equity in my lifetime or that of my daughter’s. Even my grandchildren or great-grandchildren will probably feel the effects of gender inequity in the workplace.
Gender equity goes a step further to provide supports for those who may struggle to reach the same outcomes as other people.
Equality vs. Equity
As we explore the current state of gender in the workplace, it is important to make the distinction between gender equality and gender equity. Gender equality is about providing the same rights, opportunities, and benefits to everyone regardless of gender, whereas gender equity goes a step further to provide supports for those who may struggle to reach the same outcomes as other people. For example, gender equality would mean interviewing both men and women for a position, while gender equity would also mean that the hiring committee works to redress the gender imbalance by making an effort to advertise the position to women and encouraging women to apply. Gender equity recognizes that even if we give people equal access, there will still be barriers to being treated equally – these are the unseen biases and aspects of our systems that perpetuate the status quo of inequality. Promoting gender equity means looking deeply at these barriers and removing them.
Promoting gender equity means looking deeply at these barriers and removing them.
If we believe that gender equity – not just equality – matters in our workplaces, then knowing how far we have to go is both disturbing and problematic. Most importantly, this knowledge should propel us to action. At ACHIEVE we are committed to creating more equitable workplaces. As part of our efforts, we recently conducted a survey to find out the experiences of women in leadership and in the workplace. The survey data reiterated the prevalence of differing expectations based on gender, much like what my sister-in-law experienced 45 years ago.
The findings verified that although there have been advances in gender equality, it is clear that we still have a long way to go. For example, one interesting finding from our survey was about attractiveness and how it supports advancement in leadership. Attractiveness was mainly seen as helpful for women. Only 27 percent agreed or strongly agreed that attractiveness helps advance men in leadership positions, while 41 percent agreed or strongly agreed that attractiveness helps women.
Gender inequity continues because many of our workplace systems are set up in such a way that they perpetuate gender inequity. A study by Harvard Business Review states that if there is one woman in a candidate pool of four people, statistically there is a zero percent chance (yes, zero percent, sadly that is not a typo) that she will get the position. A single woman among a group of men stands out as different, and human beings like to perpetuate the status quo. The article goes on to point out that 95 percent of CEOs are men and less than 35 percent of managers are women, and that this statistic isn’t likely to change without intervention.
What can we do to help the move toward equity?
I don’t think there are easy answers to this question, but I do know that the first step to solving any problem is moving from awareness to action. A good place to start is by critically assessing your workplace. I appreciate that this can feel like a daunting task, but from my experience both as an employee and now as a leader within an organization striving for gender equity, there are five key things organizations can do to start building a more equitable workplace.
Establish Clear Goals
Complete a review of your workplace and make a plan to improve gender diversity. Ask your employees about areas where they see possibility for improvement and use the information to establish goals to really move the needle. Be sure to communicate these to your staff and keep yourself accountable to meeting these goals.
Evaluate Your Hiring Practices
Review your job advertisements and interview questions to ensure they are gender neutral. Use descriptive words that apply to the whole gender spectrum. Make sure that all job titles are gender neutral, for example, salesperson rather than salesman. Provide bias-awareness training to all involved in the hiring process. Also, ensure you have women on your hiring committees and allow them to give input when making hiring decisions.
Examine Your Pay Structure
Conduct a pay audit. Be on the lookout for discrepancies between the rate of pay among staff who have similar experience and comparable roles. If you note inconsistencies, make a commitment to equalizing the pay structure.
Re-evaluate Your Promotion Process
Equity in the workplace is not simply about having equal numerical representation of all genders in your organization (although this is a good place to start). It is also about who holds what position – especially when it comes to leadership roles. Equity is about the quality of employment that is available and how transitions are created, planned for, and shared among genders. Capacity building and opportunities for training and advancement should not be dependent on gender.
Equity is about the quality of employment that is available and how transitions are created, planned for, and shared among genders.
Gender equity contributes to a vital workplace culture. In our survey on women in leadership, 68 percent of those who agreed that their workplaces were committed to equal gender representation in leadership also said they had a healthy workplace culture; only 18 percent of those who disagreed that their workplaces were committed to equal gender representation in leadership also said they have a strong workplace culture. It’s clear from the survey that workplaces that are committed to equal gender representation tend to have happy, satisfied employees and teams that work well together. Although we did not assess equity in our study, we did see a positive impact on workplace culture when there is equal gender representation. We believe that a commitment to equal gender representation is predicated on creating equity.
Gender equity contributes to a vital workplace culture.
Gender inequity means certain voices are underrepresented in the workplace and, in some cases, they are not represented at all. This means we miss out on ideas, creativity, and influence simply because we do not have gender equity, and our overall culture suffers. It is time we consider the implications of gender inequity and work to make the future different. The sooner we begin, the better.
This blog comes from our book, Don’t Blame the Lettuce- Insights to Help you Grow as a Leader and Nurture Your Workplace Culture.
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