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Facing the Gender Gap in the Workplace

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley

Despite increased publicity and discussions surrounding the inequalities women face in the workplace, there remains a tremendous amount of work to be done to close the gender gap.

According to a McKinsey study on women in the workplace, corporate America has made almost no progress improving women's representation over the past four years. The research shows that women are underrepresented at every level, and women of color are the most underrepresented group of all, lagging behind white men, men of color and white women. The study revealed that the underrepresentation of women in high-level roles isn't due to lack of education or attrition rates.

Mandy Price is the co-founder and CEO of Kanarys Inc., a platform that gathers and analyzes cultural and demographic data to help organizations build more inclusive work cultures. At Kanarys, she is witness to the inequality and lack of action that society still suffers from today. Price said that the recently stalled gender gap should serve as a wake-up call to our business leaders.

"It is disconcerting to see that even though the business community is well aware of the benefits of a diverse workforce – such as innovation, employee retention and increased financial returns – there is still a lack of progress in closing the gender gap," Price said.

Gender gap in the workplace

The McKinsey study showcases the drastic comparison between men and women in the workplace. It states that women are less likely to be hired into entry-level jobs than men, even though they currently earn more bachelor's degrees and have the same attrition rate. As employees move up the corporate ladder, the disparity increases. Only 79 women are promoted to manager, compared to every 100 men.

The lack of entry-level women hires results in fewer qualified women to promote from within. This creates a vicious cycle, which McKinsey said will continue until companies take dedicated action toward gender equality.

"Although companies have long pronounced commitments to gender diversity, it's important to remember that only active and intentional actions on the part of employers to enlist women in the workforce, at all levels, will help toward narrowing the gender gap," said Price.

2019 Equal Pay Day

Equal Pay Day, which falls on April 2 in 2019, represents how far in the year women must work in order to make the same amount of money men did in the previous year. Since women typically earn less than men, currently 80 cents on the dollar, they have to work much longer to earn the same amount of money. This wage gap is often even greater for women of color.

Equal Pay Day originated in 1966, started by the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) as an act of public awareness to demonstrate the gender wage gap between men and women. To support the movement, employees are encouraged wear red on Equal Pay Day. This color symbolizes how far women are "in the red" with their salaries.

How to create gender equality in the workplace

Legal changes aside, companies can focus on cultural and organizational changes to reduce gender inequality. It is not enough to simply hire more women, although that is a start. Businesses must focus their efforts to both close the gender gap and create truly inclusive workplaces, since, as a study published in Science Magazine points out, diversity alone doesn't create inclusive workplaces.

Organizational changes

Businesses should focus on hiring more senior-level female workers and promoting qualified women from within. McKinsey's statistics show that men currently hold 62 percent of manager positions, with women only holding 38 percent. In the C-suite, only 1 in 5 executives is a woman, while fewer than 1 in 30 is a woman of color.

According to Price, companies must become assertive about gender diversity and treat it as an integral part of their business strategies. She suggested tying supervisors' bonuses to diversity and inclusion objectives.

"It is important for companies to track, measure and hold managers accountable for diversity and inclusion efforts," Price said. "If this important business metric is not tracked, we may never see any improvement."

Everybody, not just women and minorities, benefits from transparent hiring, evaluation and promotion procedures. Companies can also include comprehensive benefits and more opportunities for better work-life balance, such as better access to child care and greater acceptance of flexible work schedules. This can allow qualified mothers to play a more active role in the corporate world.

Cultural changes

To bridge the gap, companies must create a culture where employees feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. They should focus on improving their cultures to increase inclusion and enhance employee experience and engagement. Along with creating gender equality, Price said fostering inclusivity can spur innovation, retain valuable talent and reduce attrition rates.

Women can also benefit from working with other women. According to McKinsey, 1 in 5 women said they were often the only woman, or one of the only women, in the room at work. This was twice as common (40 percent) for senior-level women and women in technical roles. Women who are "onlys" have a significantly worse experience than women who work with other women, and about 80 percent of them receive microaggressions, which are verbal and behavioral indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults.  

"Women who commonly encounter microaggressions are more likely to leave the workplace, encounter sexual harassment at work, and have their qualifications challenged," said Price.

Creating a work environment that is not only diverse, but also inclusive, is an integral part of reducing the gender gap. Price said that, for businesses to truly benefit from the myriad backgrounds in the global economy, they must make room for everyone in their companies and empower them to speak up. Companies must take bolder steps to create inclusive cultures so women, and all employees, feel supported at their workplace.

Political changes

Democratic candidate for President, Kamala Harris, has proposed a new plan as part of her 2020 campaign. It would require companies to obtain an "equal pay certification." It would mean companies with 100-plus employees prove that men and women are paid equally. It would need to be renewed every two years. Failure to comply would mean a fine of 1% of the earnings for every 1% of the difference between the genders. The fines would then be used to invest in universal paid family and medical leave.

“As the daughter of a working mother in a male-dominated field, I know the fight to be treated equally in the workplace has persisted for generations,” Harris said in a statement. “This plan will finally put the burden of ensuring equal pay on the corporations responsible for gender pay gaps, not the employees being discriminated against. We can finally ensure women earn the wages they deserve by forcing companies to step up, holding them accountable when they don’t, and committing as a nation to ending pay inequity once and for all.”

How companies benefit from bridging the gender gap

An Atlassian survey about diversity and inclusion revealed that 80 percent of respondents think diversity and inclusion are important to creating a successful workplace. A diverse and inclusive workforce results in greater employee engagement, innovation, financial returns and market share. The key to this being both diverse and inclusive.

"It is time we all acknowledge that having a diverse and inclusive workforce is good for business," said Price. "The numbers simply don't lie."

Image Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock
Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley
Business News Daily Staff
Skye Schooley is a staff writer at and Business News Daily, where she has written more than 200 articles on B2B-focused topics including human resources operations, management leadership, and business technology. In addition to researching and analyzing products that help business owners launch and grow their business, Skye writes on topics aimed at building better professional culture, like protecting employee privacy, managing human capital, improving communication, and fostering workplace diversity and culture.