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Updated Oct 23, 2023

Why Women Feel Left Out of the Conversation at Work

Women are often underrepresented, overlooked, and interrupted in the workplace.

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Shayna Waltower, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
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Many women in today’s workplace face challenges that men rarely – if ever – encounter, including pregnancy discrimination, the gender pay gap, sexual harassment, and career advancement challenges. 

Several factors contribute to these issues, and there are many ways to address and mitigate them within your company. We’ll explore common challenges women face in the workplace and how you can create an inclusive workplace culture where everyone’s contributions are valued.

Common challenges women face in the workplace

Typical challenges facing women in business include the following:

  • Women face issues balancing work with childcare. Many female employees with children, especially single mothers, feel they’re working two shifts – one at home and one at the office. As a result, many of these employees may deal with exhaustion and employee burnout at work.
  • Women are underrepresented in leadership and management. While the state of women in leadership has improved, women are still widely underrepresented in leadership and managerial positions. A 2020 McKinsey & Company survey of 65,000 employees from 423 companies found that women held only 38% of entry-level management positions; men held the remaining 62% of these positions.
  • Women often face the problem of being an “only.” An “only” is the only person of a race or gender in a room at work, leading to more scrutinization. The McKinsey report revealed that about 20% of women are often the only woman, or among the few women, in a room at work at a given time. Only 7% of men said the same. This gender discrepancy in rooms at work is twice as common among senior-level women. 
  • Women often deal with microaggressions. Among women in work rooms full of non-women, about 80% experience microaggressions (subtle actions or statements of discrimination). And while all women reported dealing with microaggressions, Black women face broader — and a higher rate — of microaggressions, including being subjected to demeaning comments and having their judgment questioned. 
  • Women often feel overlooked at work. Women report feeling overlooked at work, and this experience also translates into the digital space. A survey by Catalyst asked 1,100 U.S. employees about their thoughts and experiences regarding workplace inclusion. The survey was organized in the earlier months of the COVID-19 pandemic when virtual meetings held companies together. The results showed that women are more likely than men to feel overlooked during video calls. About 21% of the female respondents said they felt a co-worker had overlooked them. Similarly, 19% said they felt a co-worker had ignored them on a video call.
  • Women are more likely to be interrupted at work. Researchers at Barnard College and Emory University found a potential key reason why women may hesitate to speak up at work. The researchers reviewed transcripts from more than 24,000 hearings in Congress that spanned 25 years. Their findings showed that, in Senate committees, women were 10% more likely to be interrupted than men. The research also suggested that these interruptions were more significant when issues particularly important to women were on the table. In these hearings, the research found that women in Congress were twice as likely to be interrupted than during other hearings.

Women facing these – and more – challenges at work may feel the need to work harder or prove they’re qualified and capable of holding their positions. 

Did You Know?Did you know
The workplace gender gap is particularly pronounced in IT. The McKinsey report reveals that around 40% of women in technical roles are often the only woman or one of the few women in their work settings.

How to create an equitable company culture

As a business owner or manager, one of your main priorities should be creating an environment that’s comfortable and productive for everyone. Below are some tips to help you promote diversity and inclusive communication in your business.

1. Diversify your hiring to foster collaboration.

Hiring a diverse team brings varying perspectives, increases creativity and innovation, and helps normalize inclusive collaboration. Businesses should prioritize diversity of gender and race in senior-level positions as well as general staffing. 

A diverse team strengthens your organization culturally and can improve your bottom line. Additional McKinsey research reveals that companies’ profits and performance are nearly 50% higher when women are well-represented in management positions.

In the hiring process, creating a diverse team isn’t just about checking off boxes to meet a quota of genders and races. It’s about cultivating a work environment that consists of many backgrounds, experiences, and skills that a team of one gender or ethnicity can’t provide.

Did You Know?Did you know
Tech tools can help diversity hiring by eliminating subconscious bias. For example, applications like Toggl Hire can remove bias from initial application screening.

2. Encourage open communication to show you value all employees.

Women may sometimes seek to diminish and soften the impact of what they’re saying to avoid sounding harsh or threatening. Business owners and managers can counter this needless trend. Try taking active steps to help everyone feel comfortable respectfully expressing their complete ideas without being judged or having their qualifications questioned.

Your focus should go beyond encouraging women to share their thoughts. It should include creating a space where women don’t feel the need to hesitate when they want to speak. This means giving effective constructive criticism to employees prone to interrupting others and encouraging employees to respond thoughtfully to their co-workers’ ideas.

The McKinsey research showed that employees with female managers often say their manager checks in with them about their well-being and workload. This benefit of a diverse management team with open communication can help employees feel more valued, motivated, and satisfied as members of your team.

TipTip
Listen to your employees, and encourage employees to openly share and listen to others' ideas so everyone can feel valued and respected.

3. Create a DEI program to get everyone onboard.

A structured diversity and inclusion training program can help you emphasize the importance of fostering an inclusive work environment. Once your program is set, you can hold training sessions that inform your employees about their roles in promoting an inclusive work culture where people of all genders, races, sexual identities, and sexual preferences feel valued.

Invite everyone to the conversation

Though women often experience challenges in the workplace, leaders can take proactive, intentional steps to create a healthy work culture for all employees. As you implement new initiatives to prioritize inclusivity, be sure to track your organization’s progress. For example, conduct employee surveys to see how your team is receiving your efforts and where you may need to make changes.

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Shayna Waltower, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
Shayna Waltower is a business journalist with a multimedia background. She spent years doing on-the-ground reporting in local communities from coast to coast before narrowing her focus to helping small businesses nationwide streamline operations, attract customers and improve profitability. Waltower, with her previous experience in storytelling across mediums (broadcast, social media, etc.), enjoys not only producing digestible guides for business owners that break down complex topics but also helping entrepreneurs competently convey their brand stories to consumers. Over the years, Waltower has developed expertise in a number of wide-ranging but critical business areas and topics, including POS systems, workplace management and cybersecurity.
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