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Dealing with Discrimination

Workplace discrimination, which can include lower pay for a worker doing the same job as another, can be demoralizing. In fact a recent study found the pay gap has U.S. women intensely bitter, even decades after attempts began to address it. But there are ways for both female employees and business owners to adjust.

Individual solutions

  • Keep records

If your workplace puts women in a double bind between self-advancement and the need to be nice, you may have to play to the system. The Project for Attorney Retention's Williams suggests keeping a dispassionate record of your accomplishments as they happen. Then, when it comes to negotiate for a raise or promotion, the data is there for the higher-ups to see without you needing to talk yourself up.

  • Form a "self-promotion posse"

If bragging about yourself gets you the cold shoulder, form a pact with other employees to brag on each other, Williams suggests. Complimenting your coworkers makes you look selfless and nurturing. And when they return the favor, your boss may respond more favorably than if you compliment yourself.

  • Find male and female mentors

Networking can be a pitfall for many women, so be proactive. Women who are higher up in the hierarchy are a great resource, but many are swamped with mentees, said Wellesley College's Carli. Seek out male mentors who won't mind taking a female employee into the fold.

  • Don't give up on having it all

If you want both career and family but feel pressured to pick one over the other, don't, said Carli. Combining work and family can provide a sense of well-being and balance that is psychologically healthy.

"The research shows that even though it’s stressful and difficult and time-consuming, it’s actually a good idea to embrace the work role plus the family role simultaneously," Carli said.

That's not to say that women should bear the burden of both work and home, Carli cautioned. Men benefit from taking on multiple roles as well.

"I think the solution is that women and men should share these roles," she said.

Institutional solutions

  • Be transparent and accountable

The best thing employers can do to ensure fair compensation is to be open and honest about their policies, Williams said. Her survey of law partners found that only 60 percent of full, or equity, partners and 30 percent of income partners understood the compensation system at their firms. When rules are murky, employees who are already at a disadvantage are the least likely to understand them, creating a cycle of discrimination.

"Research shows that if you have an organizational process that is not clear, takes place behind closed doors and for which people are not held accountable, that is a Petri dish for gender bias," Williams said.

  • Lead by example

How the leadership of an organization approaches gender bias determines the attitude of the company as a whole. This is especially true for small businesses, a quarter of which are women-run, said Carli. The owners of these businesses can emulate non-discriminatory behavior by using objective criteria to evaluate employees, by recruiting openly for new employees as opposed to picking friends or acquaintances, and by making their employees aware of stereotyping and bias. They can also institute family-friendly policies for both genders.

  • Institute transformational leadership

Both women and men can benefit from transformational leadership, which blends traditional "masculine" traits like confidence with traditional "feminine" traits like supportiveness. Research has shown that transformational leadership is very effective in multiple fields, Carli said. This style also helps women get around the double bind because it values both competence and warmth. Plus, she said, transformational leadership is increasingly seen as the right way to lead.

"If women embrace this style, they're actually going to be embracing the style that is advocated," she said.