While women have certainly made much progress in the workplace over the years, there is still a long way to go. One of the most telling illustrations of the divide is the gender pay gap.
In the United States, women make about $0.82 for every dollar their male counterparts make. The divide is even stronger for women of color, particularly Native American women who make just $0.57 for every male dollar. Canada is slightly better, with women making $0.87 per male dollar. These divides exist all over the world and although they are tightening, there is much we can do to speed up progress.
Causes of the Gender Pay Gap
In order to combat this phenomenon, we must first understand it. Seniority, type of work, industry, and general bias all contribute to the gender pay gap.
When criteria are set for promotions and raises, that criteria can sometimes skew in favor of the male experience. What is often perceived as “gender neutral” is typically just built for men. As always, promotions and raises should be awarded based on merit and not fulfilling a quota, but meritocracy requires a level playing field. We simply don’t have that yet.
We can see this bias in more concrete iterations, especially in the physical office space. Open staircases in offices were not designed with dresses and skirts in mind, for example. Even more mundanely, unisex t-shirts are often indistinguishable from a male cut. This implicit bias can often creep into our corporate processes if we aren’t aware and looking for them.
Key areas where we can attack these biases and hurdles are leadership, parental leave, and flexible working.
While being a woman does not automatically make you an excellent leader, those who are should be recognized. We’ve found that having women in leadership positions helps to level that playing field for their fellow women – their voices are more easily heard, and issues more readily addressed.
Mentorship also plays a key role for women in more male-dominated fields, such as technology. Having more women in leadership helps to foster these relationships.
These promotions and placements are often based on seniority, which proves a problem for some women. Many women who are in male-dominated fields will have a tougher time meeting those requirements, as will women who exited and re-entered the workforce for parental leave or any other reason.
This is why including talented, skilled women in these conversations – perhaps fast-tracking their promotions or putting them in the final interview stage -- is so important.
Parental Leave and Flexible Work
One of the key drivers of the gender pay gap is the fact that more women tend to work part-time, and that these positions are paid at a lower rate than full-time work. A top reason that women take these positions is expectations in the family. Traditional gender roles tend to put most of the pressure to raise children on women. While this is, of course, not always the case, it is a hurdle in the experiences of many women.
Flexible working can greatly change this. As we’ve seen recently, flexible working is a viable option for many jobs. This practice can allow many women to juggle a full-time position with raising a family, which can open many doors.
Additionally, inclusive parental leave is key. Many maternity leave policies are set up for the ideal situation – that the pregnancy goes “normally” and everyone is healthy. There should also be room for complications. Unfortunately, having a child can be a complicated process and women may need time to recover from a miscarriage, premature birth, or a generally difficult pregnancy. Mental health effects like postpartum depression should also be taken under consideration.
Similarly, partners should be included in any parental leave policy. Partners may not suffer the physical effects of pregnancy, but they do have a role in recovery and childcare. Including these parties can take mush of the pressure off this experience.
While there are many factors in the gender pay gap, here are a few more to consider:
- Retirement plans are often neglected during maternity leave. Employers should ensure contributions can still be made and matched during leave.
- Traditionally “female” jobs such as healthcare, education, and social work are lower-paying jobs. Many of these positions were deemed essential during the COVID crisis, which has shone a light on the pay disparity.
- Women are not only expected to take care of children per traditional gender roles, but also their elderly family members. Well-over half of informal/unpaid caregivers are women. This is another reason flexible work is key.
- Giving women in your organization a role in key projects sets them up to prove their skills and achieve their potential.
- Taking workplace harassment seriously can help women to be more successful. Feeling unsafe at work can drastically affect performance, not to mention general health and well-being.
- Development training and bias training are essential.
- Ensure your healthcare plans include women’s healthcare.
- Embrace official mentoring programs and networking events.
All of these things can help women to reach their full potential and eliminate roadblocks keeping them from doing so. This will not only lead to a more level playing field, but also grow opportunities for your business to flourish.
You can read more about the importance of diversity and inclusion here, and if you’d like assistance building out your team, please reach out to us today.