It’s Still Harder To Be A Woman In The Workplace Today

March 12, 2018

Yep, even in 2018, women are losing in the workplace. 

We’ve made some great progress for women in the workplace in the past few decades.

The US Census Bureau shows that in 1970, there were 30.3 million women in the workforce, which is only about 37.9 per cent. But between 2006-2010, this number grew to 72.7 million – or 47.2 per cent – of women who now make up the modern day workplace.

While we definitely have reasons to cheer and successes to celebrate, there’s also concern that we’ve hit a plateau. The Bureau of statistics show the majority of the growth occurred between 1970 and 1980, with only small increases up to today.

It’s also worrying to see where women are in the pipeline. It would be great to assume we’re equally dispersed throughout industries and managerial positions, but this just isn’t the case.

A recent study of HR data from 132 companies, and surveys of 34,000 employees, showed that it will take over 100 years to reach parity in the C-suite for women and men. In other words, when you say to your boss you want to be a CEO one day and he laughs and says over his dead body, he’s right. You will both literally be dead.

This news is even worse for women of color in almost every aspect of workplace equality. For a little perspective, one in five leaders are women, but only one in 30 are women of color.

So, why are we still so far behind, even in the age of one of the biggest gender equality movements we’ve ever seen? There are a number of less obvious reasons women struggle to make progress in the workplace, and overcoming these hurdles is our next step.  

Model behavior

Women report that one of the major barriers to advancement in their career is a lack of role models. As the saying goes, you can’t be what you can’t see. While there have been incredible female trailblazers throughout history, for most of us, seeing a woman breaking stereotypes and succeeding helps us believe it’s possible.

Beyond believing, women need a sponsor. As much as we’d all assume the most qualified and deserving candidate gets the job or promotion, relationships play a huge part in almost all work settings. If a woman has an advocate willing to speak on her behalf in a meeting, volunteer her name for a new project, and talk about how wonderful she is behind closed doors, there’s a greater chance she won’t be passed up. She now has visibility in her workplace instead of being mistaken for a pretty piece of office shrubbery.

Marilu, a financial investment analyst, says she noticed this problem in her previous company. Looking up the ladder, she saw only a couple of women in mid-level positions, and no women at the top.

“I was an analyst an entry-level professional position, and there were other women analysts, but the disparity of ages between those women was large. The management would keep women analysts in that position for as long as possible. They needed strong sponsorship to be promoted to associate, whereas men would be promoted simply because it was time.”

Where credit’s due

As it turns out, when men and women work together as a team on a project, the credit isn’t evenly shared. Add that to the growing list of reasons why just you love group assignments.

In traditional “male” tasks, such as designing investment portfolios, studies show women who worked collaboratively with men were seen as less competent. When the project was successful, women were seen as playing a less influential role, while the male counterparts were assumed to have taken a leadership role.

And a woman missing out on credit where it’s due can have far-reaching repercussions on her career prospects. A Harvard study found a bias which favored men when research papers were presented with both a male and female co-author on them, and called the phenomenon a ‘penalty for women’ as it lowered her probability of receiving tenure the same time as the man.

In order to give a woman credit, she needs to first be acknowledged. It seems obvious, and yet in the case of Jane, a senior social impact consultant, being ignored by clients and partners is still a problem.

“I have faced instances when a client has acknowledged – stood up to say hello, addressed in meetings – male colleagues and not me as the female colleague. Male colleagues have rarely done anything in the moment, but I’m not sure if it’s because they don’t notice or because they feel awkward with our clients.”

Whether it’s receiving credit for your work or being confused with the wallpaper, these assumptions incorrectly imply a woman has less to contribute and therefore deserves less recognition.

Barriers to entry

It’s really hard to make a difference in an industry when you can’t get a job. Women currently make up 57 percent of college graduates, and yet, are less likely to be hired to entry-level positions than men.

In one study looking into the industry of science, faculties from research-intensive universities rated applicants who had been randomly assigned either a male or female name for a laboratory manager position.

You can probably already guess what happened. The faculty rated the male applicant as more competent than the female applicant, despite their identical applications. They even threw in a few perks like a higher salary and career mentoring to the male.

After getting hired, the next biggest challenge women face is when we try to take the next step. McKinsey’s 2017 report found entry-level women are 18 percent less likely to be promoted than their male peers.

I know what you’re thinking – it’s because women don’t ask as much. McKinsey also thought so at first, but then found out the answer is, nope. Women are just as interested in being promoted as men, and ask for promotions at comparable rates.

No room for movement

In her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg shares this statistic: “Forty-three percent of highly qualified women with children are leaving careers for a period of time.”

This isn’t necessarily good or bad, as long as the woman is able to make the choice for herself. A new mother may decide to take a career break and focus on the early years of her children’s lives. Hopefully, she’s not been pushed out because her workplace quantifies a person’s success based on the number of hours they sit at a deskPerhaps she wants to continue working while raising a family, or maybe she financially needs to do both. Having the ability to come and go, or work from home some days of the week, allows women a level of freedom.

There should be a disclaimer here that these arrangements shouldn’t come as punishment. They are not an excuse to pay a woman less, or promote her less often. In reality, women report feeling more committed to their career when they’ve been granted a flexible schedule, so it’s a good deal for everyone involved.

As a working mother, Tania Garonzi knows how important it is to have flexibility.

“Women and employers alike need to remember that being a mum and a successful professional are not mutually exclusive. This starts with encouraging flexible work arrangements and making sure this is open and available to all parents, no matter their gender what level or position they are at on their career path.”

A pregnant pause

Forty years ago, the US government passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, prohibiting unequal medical and work-related treatment based on a woman’s childbearing status.

Done and dusted right?

Sorry, but we wouldn’t be bringing up the same issues over and over again if they weren’t still a problem. Between 2010 and 2015, nearly 31,000 pregnancy discrimination charges were filed with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Here’s what this discrimination looks like; a low-wage working woman tells her boss she is pregnant and gets fired at the end of the week under the guise of an unfounded excuse. Or a woman goes on maternity leave and keeps up positive communication with her manager for the following months. Weeks before her planned return to work, she’s informed that her services will no longer be needed. Or it’s Emma’s story, when she went looking for a new job as a senior consultant. 

“I got asked by two different companies about my age, my marital status, and whether or not I had a family. All three of those interview processes fell through after that round, despite very high interest prior to that.”

Each of these hurdles expose problematically outdated stereotypes, gender bias, and damaging assumptions about women that still linger. While we look back at how far we’ve come, we still have a ways left to go for women to not only succeed, but be comfortable in their workplace. 

Images via tenor.com, giphy.com, shutterstock.com.

Comment: What do you think still needs to be done to help women progress in their careers and feel confident in their workplace? 

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