As anyone who’s been working for a decade or more will testify, there are signs of progress when it comes to reducing levels of gender bias in the workplace. You’re hopefully less likely to hear openly-expressed views of prejudice towards different genders these days. You’re also more likely to have different genders represented at different levels of a business.
However, there is still an incredibly long way to go before gender inequality and bias become topics of conversation that no longer need discussing. As we’ll see below, its lingering presence is not only a negative for those directly affected, but it impacts the economy and the wider world as a whole.
Gender bias is prejudice towards a different gender, whether conscious or otherwise. In the working sphere, this can manifest itself in a variety of ways. It may occur at the job advertisement stage, during interviews, through workplace dynamics or contractual negotiations.
Although bias can affect all genders, both cis and trans women tend to experience greater gender-related bias than men. In the US alone, a huge 42% of women have experienced gender types of bias in the workplace.
What is the meaning of gender equality? Simply put, it’s the complete opposite of gender bias. No person is judged because of their gender, but merely on their skill-set and capabilities. True equality goes beyond gender and includes any protected characteristic such as race, age, sexuality and disability.
It might surprise a few people that gender equality laws have only been around since 1970 – at least in the UK. The law states that men and women must be paid the same for equal work.
However, a high-profile case against the BBC made the headlines as recently as 2020, when presenter Samira Ahmed won a gender discrimination case that ruled her work was of equal value to her higher-paid male counterpart. Such an example shows that gender equality laws and the situation, in reality, are still two very different things.
Although not exhaustive, here are some common examples of gender inequality in the workplace:
Equal pay for men and women is still not a given, and Samira Ahmed’s case is sadly not an isolated one. A study in 2020 showed that women typically earned 84% of what men earned in the exact same job role.
For every 100 men given management roles and leadership positions, only 86 women receive the same promotion. The problem gets worse the higher up the corporate ladder one travels. Women account for just 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs and fewer than 15% of corporate executives at top companies.
3. Maternal prejudices
Women with children, or those of child-bearing age, are far less likely to hear back when applying for jobs.
The importance of gender equality cannot be underestimated. Firstly, the obvious – gender equality is a fairer system, judging people on their skill-set as opposed to their physical make-up. Secondly, studies show that gender equality benefits both employers and employees alike.
An equal system for all leads to improved employee engagement and increased staff retention. Improved engagement leads to increased productivity, meaning more work gets done and a greater profit for businesses. Increased staff retention not only cuts down your time and money spent on hiring, but it sends a message out to potential employees that your business is worth working for. Businesses needing to attract top talent need a high level of staff retention.
Gender diversity and equality also ensures a greater pool of ideas when it comes to creativity and problem-solving. A room full of individuals of the same gender, of similar age and experience, will have a limited pool of ideas by comparison.
The more diverse your employee roster, the more chance of innovation, and research shows that company profits and share performance can be close to 50% higher when women are well-represented in leadership positions.
The effects of gender equality in the workplace are a huge positive for individuals, teams, businesses and the world as a whole.
No matter what our age group, we’re all likely to have experienced some form of gender bias. This may be something we’ve personally witnessed or something we’ve simply complied with without thinking.
Many instances of this bias are so entrenched in our society that it takes a high-profile case for them to be noticed. But achieving gender equality is perfectly possible – it simply starts by having a greater awareness.
Introduce diversity training programs for all employees, at all levels of your business. Make it clear what language is acceptable and unacceptable within the workplace, and act upon any instances which go against this.
2. Ensure your hiring process is diverse
A diverse hiring process needs to go much further than simply being open to both male and female candidates. Consider the language used in your job adverts – it may not be explicitly ‘male-based’, but it may be sufficient to deter women from applying. Review your interview panel - a diverse panel will promote diverse decision making and ensure your interviewers are not hiring in their own image.
3. Make no exceptions
A candidate’s worth should not be determined by how much they are currently paid, or by their lack of awareness on current market rates for their skillset. Avoid at all costs the temptation to negotiate a reward package on candidate expectations. While it might seem appealing to acquire talent below budget, organisations that do so perpetuate the problem further and are a large contributing factor to the gender pay gap.
Eradicate any such considerations from your policy. If an individual is good enough to do the job, pay them appropriately. Equal work means equal pay, end of the story.
Given that gender bias is at least 8,000 years old, every one of us has a part to play in eliminating the issue from today’s society. Creating a culture where all can thrive is not only a step towards a fairer work environment, but it’s one that will give your business a distinct advantage as well.
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Elements are the pioneers and leaders of Embedded Talent Consultancy. Our consultants are embedded within some of the world’s best-known organisations, solving their toughest and most complex hiring challenges.
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