Women in the Workplace: How to Speed Up the Snail’s Pace of Creating Gender Equality at Work
We apply new technologies and capabilities in our workplace every day. Only a couple of years ago, remote and hybrid work arrangements, doing business by Zoom, and widespread application of artificial intelligence were not standard practices. The next five years promise to bring another period of exponential change. Keeping up with technology requires us to learn, grow, and evolve.
Imagine what the workplace will be like for your great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter. The technologies she will use are unimaginable to us. She may be working on another planet. And when she joins the workforce in the year 2191, she may be the first in your line to experience gender pay equality at work. In their Global Gender Gap Report from 2016, the World Economic Forum estimated that, at the current rate of change, it will take 170 years to close the gender pay gap.
Technologically, we are moving at a lightning pace. We embrace this change. Societally though, we remain mired in outdated norms and archaic thinking about women at work, especially in leadership roles. It’s hard to believe that it wasn’t that long ago when, in 1974, women were first permitted to have credit cards in their names. So change is occurring. But while we are quickly keeping up with technology, we are failing to learn, grow, and evolve our cultural thinking when it comes to women in the workplace.
Why Gender Inclusivity is Vital at this Moment
Taking a broad view, we face incredible global challenges with growing economic, educational, and health inequalities, planetary pillage for the profit of a few, and severe food instability in many regions. All of these issues are exacerbated by a lack of global cooperation to address them.
The bottom line is that the political, economic, and social hierarchies that have been in place for countless years are not working.
We must place a higher value on inclusivity of all ideas, capabilities, and talents. It’s a matter of survival.
Why Women Are Decelerating Their Careers or Leaving the Workforce
Women are suffering burnout at a rate higher than men, and many are considering a significant change in their professional lives. Some are opting out of the workforce entirely.
In McKinsey’s 2021 Women in the Workplace study encompassing 65,000 respondents from more than 400 organizations, one in three women said they “have considered downshifting their career or leaving the workforce this year,” up considerably from one in four in early 2020. This exodus could wipe out recent gains towards workplace gender equality.
We become frustrated and angry when our contributions are undervalued and minimized at work. We try harder to please, we disengage, or we leave. At home, even if with a supportive spouse or partner, we wrestle with the longstanding cultural norms that have compelled us to bear the weight of planning and managing the daily demands of a household and family.
We are also on the front lines of improving the cultures of our workplaces, keeping tabs on the well-being of our employees, and spearheading diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. But this work is in addition to our primary responsibilities and often goes unrecognized and unrewarded.
How Women Are Undervalued in the Workforce, Sometimes By Their Actions
We continue to hit the glass ceiling at every level. This stagnation in upward mobility is multi-faceted with minimal representation in positions of influence, outdated societal attitudes towards our roles in the workforce, and the self-sabotaging behaviors that allow others to treat us as less capable and less valuable.
Attitudes of both men (and women) towards women leaders remain outmoded. High-achieving women are subject to negative feedback or exclusionary behavior from their bosses and peers when we come across as “too ambitious.” And due to our general lack of comfort with the concept of being “powerful,” we may downplay our achievements, fearing disapproval for engaging in any form of self-advocacy, a behavior accepted and even rewarded in our male counterparts.
Bottom Line Benefits to Gender Equality in the Workplace
We must work to normalize women in leadership roles. Equality brings measurable business, cultural, recruiting, and retention benefits. Researchers have studied the impacts of diversity in the workplace, finding that work teams with greater diversity are more creative, innovative, and financially successful. Studies show that gender-diverse teams increase discussion, collaboration, and idea-sharing, improve an organization’s understanding of customer needs, and increase the likelihood of above-average profitability by 21 percent.
Company Reward Structures, Employee Attitudes, and Women’s Self-Love to Increase Gender Equality
To increase gender equality in the workplace, three critical evolutions must occur. Companies implement reward systems to incentivize behaviors that drive equality. Workplace attitudes evolve, more fully recognizing the power of women’s leadership, competency, and impact. We women, through self-love, free ourselves from the discomfort we feel when being assertive, promoting our accomplishments, and bucking our belief that perfection is the standard by which we measure ourselves.
Sparking women to more fully value their contributions, advocate for themselves, and embrace their power as a positive feminine attribute is my mission.
Companies evolve when they reward managers who practice inclusive behaviors (e.g., equitable promotion rates, mentoring of women, etc.), institute gender-neutral performance evaluation practices, eliminate disclosure of salary histories by new hires to avoid perpetuating pay inequities, and recognize employees who actively and positively impact inclusive cultures and DEI initiatives.
The second evolution that must occur is changing others’ attitudes towards women in the workplace, especially women in leadership roles. While possible, this is an agonizingly slow proposition. Deep-rooted biases may appear to be an unyielding roadblock, but inclusive actions of company leaders, policies, and reward structures can circumvent individuals who are unwilling to change.
Lastly, we women must evolve to understand when we practice self-love, we recognize and embrace the value and power we bring to the workplace. We stop shouldering the unbearable weight of our self-imposed requirement of perfectionism. We release ourselves from concerns about who our co-workers think we should be, whether those expectations are real or imagined. We teach our colleagues how to treat and value us. We love ourselves first in a way that is not selfish but empowers us to be our best. We create positive impact by embracing and harnessing our power, instead of denying, diminishing, or fighting it.
We can implement these changes in our behavior now. We can simultaneously press our companies to evolve and push back against discriminatory, diminishing behaviors. We must do this for ourselves and for the generations of women following us who deserve greater equality at work.
Written by Jenna Banks.
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