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Gender Inequality in the Workplace: Recognizing Our Bias

When I think about the fact that women have only had the right to vote for almost 100 years, I feel pretty impressed with how far we have come. Having come a long way does not mean, however, that there aren’t some significant ongoing discrepancies for women in the workplace.

Leadership Roles

Labor statistics (as presented by Catalyst.Org) demonstrate that the number of women in the workforce has grown 28% since 1978, but the move into higher level leadership roles has been slower to advance. After diversity-related initiatives were passed, there was tremendous growth in the presence of women on boards of large organizations, moving from 9% in 2006 to 25% in 2016.

There also has been growth in the percentage of women in CEO positions, up to a current level of 5.8% in Fortune-500 companies. At the very top of most professions, you tend to see men: restaurateurs, art, clothing design, finance, educational leadership, and the list goes on.

When You Look at Wages, the Statistics Remain Challenging

Women consistently earn less than men, and women of color face a significant challenge. The average working woman will lose $418,800 over a 40-year period simply due to the wage gap; Latinas will lose $1,043,800 due to the wage gap would need to work an additional 34 years to make up for the salary difference.

There are many reasons given to explain the difference in wages and achievement, the most common of which place responsibility on the shoulders of women: taking time off for childcare, being less willing or able to work late hours due to family responsibilities, and even some argue that the hormone differences between men and women make it more challenging for women to be in leadership.

“There are many standards and beliefs that hold women back, and these beliefs can be shared across gender lines.”

It is not uncommon to hear that both men and women prefer male leadership, but preference alone cannot explain the fact that males in any profession earn more and are held in higher regard.

According to a CBS news article, there are only 9 professions in which women out-earn men: Counseling (100.5 cents for every dollar), dishwashers (100.2 cents for every dollar), transportation managers (100.5 cents for every dollar), special education teachers (100.1 cents for every dollar), social services (100.2 cents for every dollar), transportation screeners (102.5 cents for every dollar), retail buyers (103.3 cents for every dollar), vehicle cleaners (105 cents for every dollar), and film production (106 cents for every dollar).

The majority of these professions are low-wage jobs which had historically been dominated by women.

So, Why Do We Continue to See These Disparities?

In a recently published book, The Hormone Myth: How Junk Science, Gender Politics, and Lies About PMS Keep Women Down, Dr. Robyn Stein Deluca break apart all of the misguided beliefs that people use to belittle women.

There has been a long history of the concept that hormones make women more vulnerable to emotions, and contribute to problems with effective workplace behavior. The term hysteria was initially coined to explain the tendency of female hormones to trigger insanity.

We heard about this excessively when Hillary Clinton was campaigning for the presidency, but it has also come up more recently with the infamous Google internal memo in which an engineer outlined why women do not make good computer engineers.

As a working mom, I have been blown away by some of the judgment that I have received for having a busy career outside of the home. I will never forget the time that one of my superiors in training questioned my commitment to finishing my doctoral education because I was a mom.

There are many ulterior motives behind perpetuating these myths: medications intended to treat PMS generate a lot of revenue, hormone replacement therapy also generates a lot of revenue, and delegitimizing the role of women in the workplace, particularly within leadership roles.

One of the Biggest Challenges: Implicit Bias

We can see these obvious factors, but one of the biggest challenges that we all face is a tendency toward implicit bias. Implicit bias is the tendency to demonstrate an unconscious preference for certain characteristics.

Many people may know that they have some specific biases, but sometimes are unaware of other factors that may affect their decisions- these biases are unconscious or implicit. If you would like to assess your own bias, you can do so at this site.

“The average working woman will lose $418,800 over a 40-year period simply due to the wage gap.”

There are many standards and beliefs that hold women back, and these beliefs can be shared across gender lines. I was actually stunned by my own score on the implicit bias evaluation- I scored as slightly biased against women in the workplace- CRAZY!! Being aware of your bias sensitizes you to a tendency towards preference that you can now address.

I challenge you to assess where you might have a bias and see if you can be open to doing it differently. For me, that will look like building up the ladies around me! Even understanding personal bias can allow for increases in sensitivity. My plan is to keep moving that needle forward so that my own daughters have even more opportunities in front of them.

Click here to read more articles by Dr. Kristin Daley!



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