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People, businesses and societies have been striving for gender equality for many years. Human resource leaders and professionals are uniquely positioned to make a difference. What’s your role in promoting equality at your company? Keep reading to better understand what gender equality is and how to be an equality leader in your organization.
What Is Gender Equality?
Gender equality means that all genders have equal opportunities in the workplace and are free to pursue and succeed in whatever career they desire: an employee’s opportunities and treatment are not different based on their gender.
A more common discussion is its counterpart: gender inequality, one example of which is the wage gap between men and women. HR leaders have great influence in bringing change, both in procedure and culture, to promote and create gender equality.
The History of Gender Equality
People have been fighting for gender equality for years, as seen in movements like women’s suffrage or LGBTQ+ rights. In the business world, the first known complaint came in 1869. This complaint pointed out the difference of pay between men and women, and was followed by strikes, the Equal Pay Acts, and legal cases.
Though progress has been made, the fight for gender equality continues. Today we see fewer strikes and more open conversations. Gender minorities speak out, leaders promote equality, and research studies search for the best solutions to this problem.
Examples of Gender Inequality
To achieve gender equality, we must recognize the areas where gender inequality exists. As we discover these areas within individual organizations, measures can be taken to lessen gender inequality step by step. Below are a few of the major areas where gender inequality has been seen in the past.
The gender wage gap dominates many of the headlines in regard to gender inequality. A 2021 study found that the US national wage gap is 18%, meaning women made 18% less than men. In other words, women earned 82 cents per every dollar earned by men. To put that in another perspective, the study said, women “stop getting paid on Oct 29th” due to this pay gap.
Women and gender-fluid people are in significantly fewer leadership positions than men, and not for lack of experience. Women tend to start their careers with more educational background than men. But despite that, only 4% of US Fortune 500 companies have a female CEO. For every 100 men promoted to a manager level, only 79 women are promoted. This gender inequality results in a lack of female leadership and a lack of opportunities for female employees.
When women and men of equal skill are presented, men are hired significantly more often than women. Females may then be hired into positions they are overqualified for, resulting in dissatisfaction, lower productivity, and wage inequality.
What Causes Gender Inequality?
Understanding the causes of gender inequality helps HR professionals know how to bring change within their organization. Gender inequality can occur on individual or organizational levels. Here are a few causes of gender inequality in the workplace.
- Unconscious bias. Unconscious bias is probably one of the biggest reasons for gender inequality. Angela Livingston defines unconscious bias as “judgments and behaviors towards others that we are not aware of.” Unconscious bias can be found in thoughts, words, and actions. In regards to gender, examples might be expecting women to be in secretarial and administrative positions or tending to ignore women’s input in meetings.
- Lack of mentorship. Female employees often report having access to fewer mentors and having mentors in lower positions than men. This can be inhibiting because mentors often provide opportunities for growth and promotions. If women lack higher-positioned mentors, they have lower chances of progressing within a company.
- Gender stereotypes. A stereotype is a generalized belief about a category of people. Many gender stereotypes from the past still cause people to act differently towards members of a particular category. When individuals engage in gender stereotypes, the result is individual discrimination. When stereotyping happens on an organizational level, the result is systemic inequality. The traditional example of this is in job function when women are expected to be in more secretarial/administrative roles while men are expected to be business leaders.
- Old procedures and policies. In many businesses, existing policies and procedures have been used by companies for years. These policies or procedures can continue to enable gender stereotypes and inequality in the workplace.
Why Is Gender Equality Important?
Gender equality ties back to fundamental, human rights. All people deserve equal opportunities regardless of their gender. People should be able to pursue and excel within a career no matter their gender. Employees should be paid according to their abilities and respected and listened to, regardless of their gender.
While gender equality is desirable from a moral point of view, it also makes sense from business viewpoints. When businesses, organizations, and cultures recognize the benefits of gender equality, it will become important to them from an economical point of view as well.
Benefits of Gender Equality
There is a myriad of benefits that come with gender equality. Not only will individuals benefit from the factors below, but the company will see greater success.
- Happier employees. People feel happy when they feel equal and cared about. Gender equality doesn’t just make gender minorities happier, though; it makes the whole workforce happier. Employees will be more satisfied and less stressed.
- Stable workforce. When employees feel excluded or unvalued, they leave. Creating an open culture with equal opportunities results in higher retention and engagement.
- Improved productivity. This can stem from many of the other factors. There are happier employees, higher-quality relationships, more ideas, etc., all of which will increase productivity.
- Better decision-making. There is power in numbers, and this is true for decision-making. When all employees are included in the process, different ideas and perspectives get brought up that result in better decisions.
- Increased growth and innovation. Diversity in general— including gender diversity—allows for growth and innovation. A culture that promotes equality promotes an innovative mindset that benefits the organization in many ways.
- Improved company reputation. People respect a company that respects all of its employees, especially those who are or have been in the minority.
How to Promote Gender Equality
HR professionals are often viewed as leaders of change. This provides a powerful opportunity for HR professionals to create new processes or use new ways to promote gender equality within their organization.
Recognize Problem Areas
Each organization and culture is unique, and the causes or problem areas in regards to gender inequality are different in each business. It will take looking at your company, and perhaps running some numbers, to figure out where gender inequality exists. You can start by looking at a few simple questions.
- Do you have close to a 50/50 ratio of men and women in your organization? If not, this will show that you might want to change your recruiting efforts or retention.
- Does your ratio of men vs. women in leadership roles mirror the ratio of men and women in your organization? If not, problem areas might be performance management, talent development, and promotions.
- Are wages for men and women in the same positions equal? After accounting for other factors that come into play (tenure, education, experience), this will help you know if you need to look into this area further.
- Is your turnover rate significantly different for men and women? If it is, then you might want to look at your culture, promotion opportunities, or wages to see if women are feeling mistreated.
- Are your employee satisfaction rates significantly different for men and women? Again, look at multiple areas such as culture or pay to see if women in your organization feel mistreated.
Create a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy
A diversity and inclusion strategy can come with different names: diversity initiative, diversity plan, diversity execution, etc. While the words may vary, they all serve the same purpose: to set specific goals and implement plans to create an inclusive and equal opportunity culture and workplace.
Change the Culture
Change the company’s culture so that employees know equality is important. Get other company leaders, managers, and then employees onboard to create a comfortable environment for everyone. This can be done by clearly stating a plan for diversity, communicating efforts and progress, adding it as a company value, etc.
Implement New Programs and Benefits
There are many programs, benefits, or policies that can be changed to increase gender equality. For example, countries in Europe have seen a close in the wage gap since they started requiring equal maternity and paternity leave. A company could apply that by offering parental leave instead of just maternity leave. Don’t be afraid to look beyond typical programs or policies.
Analyze Your Wage Gap
As discussed earlier, the gender wage gap is a big example of gender inequality. You can run basic analytics or use current HR systems or programs to figure out if there is a wage gap in your own company. This can allow corrective steps to be taken.
Analyze Mentorship and Promotion Gaps
Similarly, you can gather data on the rates of promotion between genders at your company and the equality of mentorship programs. Share what you find with leadership! As you share your findings, present ideas for corrective actions that can be taken to combat these inequalities.
Combat Unconscious Bias
We all have unconscious bias, and it’s important to try and eliminate it if we want to treat others equally and fairly. This is a bigger issue to tackle, and one that can seem daunting. This HR Maverick podcast episode is a great tool to better understand, identify, and address unconscious bias in the workplace.
Tools to Promote Gender Equality
It can be hard to know where to start. Do you create and implement your own programs? Do you enlist the help of third-party resources? Each organization has its own needs, but thankfully there are many tools out there that can help.
There are many trainings available at different levels of costs. They can be specialized or general, just for leaders or for all employees. Some combat unconscious bias, while others focus on general respect and equality. You can even create your own trainings to focus on specific needs in your organization.
HR Information Systems collect and provide data to help you understand what changes need to be made. These systems can be used to find and correct problems. For example, to look at a wage gap within your company, you can pull a report on all your employees’ compensation rates separated by gender and job position, and look to see if there is equal pay. Depending on the amount of information in your HRIS, you could include other information, such as tenure or education.
Articles, Podcasts, Research, and Books
There are many educational resources from which to learn about equality. There are articles on sites like LinkedIn, the Society for Human Resources Management, or Harvard Business Review. There are podcasts and free research articles (which can be accessed through Google Scholar). There are books by experts who specialize in promoting gender equality.
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Katie is currently studying at BYU, with a HRM major and Statistics minor. She works there as an HR research assistant and also works as an HR Generalist at a local company, and both jobs provide her with a wide variety of experiences. Katie’s passion lies in HR and People Analytics, where she can discover and use data to help everyone understand and improve the workplace for a universal benefit.