For over 35 years, women in the U.S. have earned more college degrees than men. But despite massive cultural changes in the past few decades, U.S. workplaces still have more work to do to achieve gender equality. Research from McKinsey & Co. and the Lean In Foundation lays the facts bare: “For every 100 men promoted to manager, just 79 women are promoted.”
So what can organizations do to create a more equitable workplace? Here are a few things to know as you work to create a workplace that looks more like the world we live in.
Gender Equality Is Better for Business
While gender equality is a moral and ethical issue, it’s also financial. Research from McKinsey indicates that gender-diverse companies have a greater chance of outperforming their competitors.
But gender-parity initiatives also have broader organizational benefits that extend beyond the balance sheet. “They can expand and enhance an organization’s talent pool and improve the understanding of its female stakeholders and customers,” says Dorothy Dalton, CEO of 3Plus International. “Gender-balanced and inclusive workplaces show stronger employee engagement, less absenteeism and higher talent retention, which impacts employer brand.”
Looking for ways to begin working toward gender balance at your workplace?
Download our free guide to gender neutral job descriptions today!
How Policy Can Reinforce Stereotypes
U.S. workplaces have come a long way in terms of gender equality. Research from Catalyst indicates that women now hold slightly more than half of the managerial and professional positions in the U.S., an increase of 70.6% from 1968. Part of the reason for this is cultural; in fact, only 20% of Americans now believe that motherhood is an impediment for women to climb the corporate ladder into leadership roles.
However, there is still significant progress that needs to be made. Dalton notes that gender stereotypes are ingrained in cultures around the world, with women often stuck working in “pink skill silos” such as HR, while men are steered into other departments with greater earning potential.
But these stereotypes manifest themselves most powerfully with paternity leave. Dalton says that even in Europe, organizations have difficulty getting men to take paternity leave. Men are stereotyped as “revenue generators,” she says, while women’s roles are associated with childcare. This, Dalton says, is an outdated attitude. “Childcare needs to be more accessible and affordable for men and women,” she says. For an in-depth look at the importance of equal access to paternity leave, she recommends reading Reddit co-founder and activist Alexis Ohanian’s article on his personal experience taking paternity leave.
Gender Equality Is an Ongoing Effort
Achieving gender parity in the workplace isn’t something that can be fixed by hiring a consultant or holding training seminars. It requires an ongoing effort and strong support from leadership. “Organizations have to treat any initiatives for gender parity like any other cultural transformation, with a clear leadership commitment, appropriate systemic changes and a focus on individual behavioral change,” Dalton says. Organizations need to make sure they put real muscle behind their initiatives, with both sound strategy and a significant financial investment.
And companies shouldn’t confuse a lack of complaints on the issue of gender parity with the idea that it isn’t a problem at the organization. “In most geographies, women experience sexism and harassment, and most cases are unreported,” Dalton says. “Employers should have zero-tolerance policies with effective protocols in place for dealing with any issues related to sexism and especially harassment.”
Creating such an environment also means having a safe place for women to make their voices heard. “Organizations need to create cultures where women are not afraid to speak up without fear of judgment or repercussions,” Dalton says. Once this environment is in place, then organizations will be better aware of the issues they have — and what they can do to solve them.
Looking to take some steps to begin evening out the gender gap in your workplace?
You can start by downloading our FREE guide to writing gender-neutral job descriptions.