Gender equality at work, while having made progress throughout the years, still needs more time to improve. Historically, hiring managers place more importance on men than women, women earn less than men despite working the same jobs, and men tend to get more promotion opportunities compared to their female colleagues. These kinds of mindset have remained in our society for so long that it has always been difficult to fight them.
The World Economic Forum, an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas, reported that it would take about 257 years before gender parity can be achieved due to three primary reasons: not enough women are entering professions where wage growth is the most pronounced, women have greater representation in roles that are being automated, and women face the perennial problem of insufficient care infrastructure and access to capital.
Fortunately, several countries are actively working to achieve equal rights in the workplace. The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Gender Gap Report showed that Iceland leads in closing the gender gap (0.877) followed by Norway (0.842), Finland (0.832), Sweden (0.820), Nicaragua (0.804), and more. The report also stated that women’s under-representation in emerging roles is a great challenge. For instance, there are only 12% of women professionals in cloud computing, 15% in engineering, and 26% in Data and AI.
Forum Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab emphasized that closing the gender gap means equal inclusion of half of the world’s talent. “At the present rate of change, it will take nearly a century to achieve parity, a timeline we simply cannot accept in today’s globalized world, especially among younger generations who hold increasingly progressive views of gender equality,” he added.
Challenges Women Face in the Workplace
While women make up half of the world’s population, they generate only 37% of global GDP, showing that they do not have equal access to labor markets, rights, and opportunities. A 2019 McKinsey and Company report revealed that there are over 655 million fewer women in the labor force than men, 195 million fewer women than men are literate, 190 million fewer women than men have a bank account, there are only 22 women in ministerial and parliamentary positions for every 100 men, and women spend three times the amount of time as men on unpaid care work in the home.
Thus, despite the promising progress that women’s movements have made so far, there’s still significant work to be done. The following are some of the issues fueling gender inequality in the workplace.
1 - Sexual harassment
Stories of sexual harassment against women in the workplace are nothing new. In the rise of the #MeToo movement, many women across the world have had the courage to come forward to report their perpetrators/abusers. But this isn’t enough to stop the practice. A lot of women are still subjected to this type of mistreatment.
A 2018 survey conducted by nonprofit organization Stop Street Harassment reported that 81% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime, while 38% have experienced the same thing in the workplace. A study by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that the number can reach as high as 85%.
Some industries also face the same problem. According to SkillCrush, an interactive online learning community for creatives, thinkers, and makers, 58% of female surgeons suffer sexual harassment and 64% of women in law firms have experienced sexual harassment at work.
2 - Racism
Race still plays a huge role in how women are treated and compensated in the workplace. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported that Asian/Pacific Islander women have the highest median annual earnings and are compensated $46,000, which is followed by white women at $40,000. Meanwhile, Native American and Hispanic women have the lowest pay, earning $31,000 and $28,000 per year.
Reports also showed that black women make up 17.6% of the low wage workforce. They usually have jobs in retail, housekeeping, home healthcare, food service, and others with little to no job and/or skills training and advancement. At the same time, women of color only make up 9.8% of first- and mid-level officials and managers, 5% of executive and senior-level officials and managers, and 3.8% of board positions in S&P 500 companies.
3 - Unequal pay
Among all issues of gender inequality in the workplace, unequal pay is the most concerning. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported that women earn 49 cents to every $1 men earn. The US Department of Labor also reported that women who worked full-time year-round earned 20% less than men on average. While the pay gap has decreased since the 1970s as more women seek higher education and enter the workforce, the slow rate of change means that women are still not expected to reach pay equity with men until 2059.
Progress towards equal pay among men and women began slowing down in 2001. Since then, it has somewhat stalled over the years. If this current rate continues, women might not actually reach pay equity until 2119.
Achieving Gender Equality in the Workplace
Currently, more and more employers are recognizing the need for gender-balanced teams, especially at the top of the organization. However, some only focus on empowering women when the key is ensuring that both genders have opportunities to progress and succeed. Workplace gender equality is achieved when all employees have the same access or enjoy the same rewards, resources, and opportunities regardless of their gender and race.
To broadly achieve equal outcomes for men and women, workplaces need to provide equal pay for work of equal or comparable value and remove barriers to the full and equal participation of women in the workforce. All employees should have access to all occupations and industries, including leadership roles, regardless of gender and eliminate discrimination on the basis of gender, particularly in relation to family and caring responsibilities.
With gender equality in the workplace, companies can expect improved national productivity and economic growth, increased organizational performance, enhanced ability of companies to attract talent and retain employees, and enhanced organizational reputation.