Gender Inequality in the Workplace Can Destroy Your Business. Here Are 5 Ways to Fix It

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine
May 18, 2024 at 7:10AM UTC
When people think of gender inequality in the workplace, the gender pay gap most frequently comes to mind. Women continue to make around 79-81 cents to the male dollar on average in the United States, and the pay gap is even worse for women of color.
The gender pay gap is certainly an issue and something that businesses need to address, but it is not the only marker of gender inequality in the workplace. Women face inequality at work and beyond in many different areas and across industries on a regular basis. While change does not happen overnight, it is important to recognize that problems exist, so you can try to take steps to improve the work environment for everyone.
Read on for five prominent examples of sexism in the workplace—the gender wage gap is one of them—and some steps you can take to reduce them at your office to help ensure that your employees feel safe, secure, and that they are being treated fairly and with respect—no matter what their role, position, or duties.

1. Hiring practices

Despite some organizations' attempts to address hiring practices that unfairly discriminate against women (and sometimes men, too), unconscious gender bias (and occasionally conscious bias) often plays a role in the decisions hiring managers and executives make when recruiting and hiring new talent.
Gender differences should not be a part of the interview or any aspect of the hiring process. A hiring manager, for instance, should never ask a candidate about her plans to start a family and whether she might someday ask for parental leave. While this can happen to women and men alike, women may more frequently face this kind of inappropriate question
Additionally, perceived gender roles should not play a role earlier on in the hiring process, either. A hiring manager or HR professional should never be able to refuse to interview members of a certain gender (or any group, including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, background, religion, or other minority). This practice is not only unfair; it is also illegal. Hiring managers need to be open all candidates, regardless of their identity.
Companies should establish clear HR policies regarding hiring practices. They should make it clear that gender stereotypes and assumptions about gender roles have no place in hiring decisions–and that there will be consequences if anyone violates this policy. Candidates should be considered fairly regardless of gender. Asking different questions of men and women is an example of gender inequality, and probing comments about women's roles or private lives—which includes pregnancy and any future plans or requests for parental leave—are forms of sexual harassment.

2. Promotions

Have you been gunning for that promotion, only to be passed over for a male candidate who performs similarly, or even not as well, as you do? Well, you are not alone.
A study by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co found that women are 15 percent less likely than men to get promoted, despite wanting to be promoted just as much as their male counterparts; 75 percent of women and 78 percent of men said they hoped to be promoted. This is true across organizational levels.
This is troubling, of course, especially considering that women are at least nine times more likely than men to say they are more responsible for childcare, according to the same study. Clearly, women are juggling many responsibilities at work and at home, and facing a gender bias that prohibits them from achieving the positions they want should not be yet another obstacle standing in the way of their ability to grow in their careers.
So how can you help ensure that women are being treated fairly with regard to their ability to receive promotions and advance in their careers?
The researchers suggest measuring the problem—finding ways to quantify the issue of gender inequality in terms of promotions and other areas—to see where they are in terms of promotional practices for women and men. The should use this data to determine whether there are, in fact, barriers women face to receiving their desired promotions (it is possible that men face obstacles, too, so keep an open mind and let the data speak for itself), and how big a role—if gender does, in fact, seem to play a role—gender plays in determining career advancement.
If you find that there does seem to be significant discrepancy in terms of promotions for women and men, there are a few ways to address them. The researcher suggests setting targets for female leadership. Again, this should also be reflected in HR policies; HR practices should dictate how employees earn promotions, along with measures managers need to take to ensure that gender is not a factor in their decisions to promote or not promote employees. Managers need to evaluate and consider male and female employees equally, examining their skills, abilities, work ethics, and other factors that influence how well they will and do perform in their positions at work. HR practices regarding promotion need to be as objective as possible, including specific tasks employees must accomplish or perform in order to advance to higher roles and levels.

3. Sexual harassment

Today, people are more aware of the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace than ever before, thanks to the #MeToo movement and women coming forward to speak about obstacles they have faced and personal experiences with sexual harassment and assault. But this pressing issue is not limited to workplaces that employe celebrities; it is problem that affects women and men in the typical work environment, too.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that at least 25 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. In some reports, this number could be as high as 85 percent. Since many women do not report sexual harassment, it is difficult to identify exactly how many instances have occurred. Meanwhile, roughly 10 percent of men say they have been sexually harassed at work.
While sexual harassment should not be tolerated no matter to whom it occurs, whether the victim and perpetrator are male or female, the fact that women and men experience it at widely varying degrees makes it a gender discrimination issue.
Adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward gender discrimination of any form in the workplace. Develop a procedure for handling sexual harassment complaints, and follow it, no matter who the accuser and accused are. In light of the #MeToo movement, taking sexism and harassment seriously is essential to keeping your company functioning and your employees feeling safe at their job. Any accusation, no matter how small it may seem to you, warrants an investigation and appropriate measures to be taken to make sure everyone is treated fairly.

4. Gender wage gap

You knew this was coming. One of the most prevalent forms of gender inequality in the workplaces comes in the form of differences in pay between women and men who perform similarly or have the same functions at an organization.
While the wage gap has narrowed over time (in 1979, women earned approximately 60 percent of that of their male counterparts, and in 2017 they were up to 82 percent), it is still not enough. According to the Pew Research Center, the pay gap has remained relatively stagnant over the past 15 years. The same study reveals that 42 percent of women report having experienced gender discrimination in the workplace, with 25 percent of employed women saying they earned less than male counterparts performing the same job.
Perceived gender differences should not play a role in the wages of men and women. As with promotions, companies need to establish clear procedures to ensure gender equality in terms of pay. Just as with promotions, set clear guidelines for how employees earn raises. Additionally, establish a blanket entry-level salary for specific positions and incremental increases.

5. General gender inequality

Many women face other forms of inequality in the workplace. Women face gender stereotypes, such as perceptions that they may not be able to perform the same tasks as men or the idea that they will leave to start families.
Diversity and unconscious bias training can help promote gender equality at your organization. While there is some question as to the effectiveness of such workshops and training, your company needs to be making every effort possible to ensure that all employees—men and women alike—feel safe and comfortable and believe they are being treated fairly and equally at work. Training plays a part in this.
Set up diversity initiatives to ensure that all employees are being treated fairly and equally and with respect. You might establish a diversity task force and survey employees on their comfort levels at work. Make sure to take complaints and feedback from employees seriously. While you should always have protocol for sexual harassment claims, take other feedback about gender inequality seriously as well. You may believe that gender inequality does not exist at your organization, but you are not able to see and observe everything that happens all the time. Your employees are your eyes and ears, and you need to recognize and understand when someone feels that she has not been treated fairly.

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