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What’s Holding Women Back at Work?

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Unfortunately, we all know that women’s experience in the workplace is different than men’s. We also know there are fewer women in leadership roles across industries. Today, we break down a few of the reasons why we don’t see more gender equality in the workplace today.

Discrimination and Mistreatment

Women face discrimination in many forms in the workplace. Women are mistreated more than men, especially for reasons specific to their gender. Pregnant women face both discrimination and harmful helping behaviors from coworkers that impact their wellness. Also, pregnant women are often held back from opportunities and challenging projects, harming their overall career potential. In addition, pregnant women often feel pushed out of the workplace, causing many of them to fully exit the workforce after having a child.

Pregnancy discrimination is just one type of discrimination women face in the workplace.

Single, childless women similarly have to deal with treatment based on stereotypes that impacts their experience at work. For example, they are often expected to work longer hours based on the perception that they have no other responsibilities outside of work. These expectations can lead to increased burnout and, thus, decreased engagement and performance, harming their career potential.

Women also often complete more office housework than their male colleagues. This means women are doing more work that is irrelevant for their career growth than men, slowing down their progression. Even when women do make it to the highest levels, they are held to different standards and are held back by activist investors. Specifically, when shareholders feel like they aren’t making enough money, they are more likely to take action against women CEOs than men. Thus, when at the top, shareholders are more likely to remove women quickly than their male counterparts.

Finally, we talked about sexual harassment recently but it is worth the reminder. Women face more sexual harassment than men which not only harms wellness but can create barriers to long-term career opportunities.

Lack of Gender Equality in Pay and at Home

In addition to discrimination and mistreatment, women are held back by the lack of gender equality in pay and at home. We are all familiar with the gender pay gap but there’s also a gender equity gap. In other words, in the exact same roles, employers often reward women with less stock or options than men. This clearly creates a long-term imbalance in wealth between men and women.

During COVID, the gap between men and women at work widened, often due to inequality in housework and childcare.

Women also struggle with gender equality at home, which can hurt their careers and well-being. The pandemic is a perfect example of how this plays out. So many women left the workforce during this time that we are now dealing with a women’s participation rate similar to what we saw in the 1980s! Women faced more interruptions during their work and had to manage majority of the childcare at the height of the pandemic. We see the impacts of this in the decrease of women in the workforce. However, we also expect that women may see a slowed career progression from their decreased time at work during this time period.

We Need to Fix Our Systems!

The issues women face in the workplace are large and systemic – similar to other marginalized groups. Each of these individual challenges, plus those we haven’t discussed in this article, are difficult enough to overcome individually. Combined, it’s not surprising that women still working to break the glass ceiling.

So what can we do? Organizations need to take a look at their diversity data to determine where they may have areas for improvement. They need to review their policies to ensure they aren’t causing discrimination and providing the proper protections. Senior leaders needs to hold people accountable for discrimination and harassment. Compensation teams need to ensure equity across all individuals in all types of compensation and benefits. Partners at home need to step up and split the work at home fairly.

That being said, we as individuals can’t do everything alone. Large companies should use their power to influence change. We need societal and systemic change to improve women’s experience at work in order to see women’s experiences equaling men’s.

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