What You Can (and Should) Do to Achieve Gender Equality at Work

The topic of gender equality at work is heavily debated. Do hiring managers place more men than women? Do women earn less than men working the same jobs? Are women passed up for promotion opportunities?

According to many studies, the answer is yes to all of the above.

You can’t solve the nation’s inequalities. But, you can make a difference by striving toward gender equality in the workplace.

What is gender inequality?

Gender inequality is when men and women are treated differently because of their gender. In the workplace, this generally means men earn more money, have more career opportunities, and retain higher job titles than women. However, gender inequality can also refer to employers passing over men in favor of women.

Not everyone believes gender inequality exists. One study found that 39% of men and 17% of women either do not believe the gap is real or did not respond to the survey question.

According to a Pew Research Center report, 42% of women say they have experienced some form of gender discrimination in the workplace, compared to only 22% of men.

Gender inequality in the workplace examples

To further understand gender equality issues, take a look at some of these examples.

Let’s say you have a female employee who holds the same position as a male employee. They have the same level of education and GPA, comparable work experience, and similar work ethics. The male employee earns $50,000 compared to the female employee’s salary of $45,000.

Now, say a female employee has been working for you for 10 years as a sales supervisor. She has a strong work ethic and impressive career and academic record. She earns $700 per week. You hire a new male employee with five years of experience to take on a sales supervisor role. He earns $900 per week.

For many women, these gender inequalities in the workplace examples are realities, not extremes.

3 Main types of gender inequality at work

To combat female discrimination in the workplace, you need to know what areas it’s prevalent in. Below, you can learn more about these gaps and the supporting data.

There are three main areas of gender inequality in the workplace:

  • Pay
  • Hiring
  • Leadership

Pay gap

The pay gap discussion is arguably the hottest gender inequality at work topic. So, do women earn less than men working the same jobs?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), women earn 80.3% of what men earn. In the first quarter of 2019, women had median weekly earnings of $806 compared to the $1,004 median for men.

This BLS statistic is an overall comparison that applies to men and women of all industries. A counterargument to this data is that women tend to pursue lower-paying careers than men. So, let’s break it down further.

The BLS analyzed management, professional, and related occupations for gender pay gaps. Their findings show that men earned median weekly earnings of $1,559 while women earned $1,100 in the first quarter of 2019.

Last but not least, the BLS identified pay gaps among college graduates with advanced degrees. The highest-earning 10% of males made $4,350 or more per week. Their female counterparts earned $2,882 or more.

Hiring gap

Do hiring managers place more men than women? One Harvard Business School study indicates that male employers tend to favor male employees when hiring.

According to the study, women have a 40% chance of getting hired by a male hiring manager. On the other hand, women hiring managers hire women 50% of the time.

Job placement isn’t the only area where there’s a hiring gap. The rest of the hiring process, including the initial sourcing step, might spell trouble for gender equality, too.

One LinkedIn job study found that hiring managers are 13% more likely to click on a male candidate’s job application or profile than a female candidate’s.

Another report found that, on average, women are 30% less likely to be called for a job interview than men with the same characteristics.

Leadership gap

When it comes to representing higher-level positions, men have the lead. Data shows that men dominate Fortune 500 CEO and management positions.

The Pew Research Center found that only 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.

A Bureau of Labor Statistics survey reported that 40% of management occupations belong to women.

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Striving for gender equality at work: Tips

Check out these six tips to promote workplace gender equality in your small business.

1. Conduct a pay audit

Many employers conduct pay equity audits to analyze whether their male and female employees earn comparable wages. This can help you identify whether you provide equal employment opportunities to all workers.

You can either do a pay audit on your own, involve an HR professional, or outsource it. After deciding how to approach the audit, begin gathering information about your workers.

Pay audits compare employee titles, education, experience, and performance to identify pay gaps.

Consider listing your employee information in a spreadsheet. That way, you can easily compare your findings and make decisions.

When analyzing the results of your pay audit, consider things like:

  • Each employee’s starting salary
  • What salary structure you use
  • How negotiation affects wages
  • An employee’s length of service
  • Whether pay differences are based on gender

If you identify major pay disparities that have no explanation, decide what actions to take. If necessary, adjust an employee’s wages by offering raises.

2. Consider the negotiation process

Starting salary negotiation can significantly affect an employee’s wages.

You may find that a female employee’s wages are lower than a male employee’s because the male employee negotiated.

One study found that men are four times more likely to ask for a raise. The study also found that women who ask for raises do so 30% less than men.

A Harvard Business Review study reported that women who asked for raises received them 15% of the time. On the other hand, men who asked for raises received them 20% of the time.

When promoting gender equality in the workplace, think about your negotiation process. An employee who can successfully showcase their value shouldn’t be punished.

However, you might consider offering raises or bonuses to close the gap between an employee who successfully negotiates higher wages and an employee who doesn’t.

3. Brush up on, and go beyond, equal pay laws

Federal and state equal pay laws aim to prevent pay discrimination based on sex.

The federal Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits employers from providing unequal wages to men and women based on gender.

Most states set equal pay laws that further an employer’s requirements for setting pay. Many state laws include regulations like:

  • Employers must provide equal pay for comparable work (i.e., same skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions)
  • Employers are liable for damages related to pay inequality
  • Employees can sue for damages

Some states have an exemption for small businesses. This means that the state equal pay law doesn’t apply to eligible small businesses.

For gender equality at work, you need to:

  • Familiarize yourself with your state’s equal pay laws
  • Go beyond your state’s law to ensure overall gender equality in the workplace

In addition to following state and federal equal pay laws, consider creating your own ethical code of conduct. You might include rules for avoiding bias in the hiring and promoting processes.

4. Ask job applications for salary expectations, not history

To decrease the pay gap between genders, many employers are moving away from asking job applicants about their past wages. Instead, employers may opt to ask what an applicant their desired salary.

Many employers previously used salary history questions to help them determine a potential employee’s compensation. However, some gender equality advocates argue this may perpetuate the wage gap.

Some states (e.g., California) and cities (e.g., New York City) have already implemented salary history bans.

Salary history bans explicitly prohibit employers from asking job candidates how much money they earn in their current job or earned in previous jobs.

Even if your business is in a state without a salary history ban, consider moving away from these questions.

Rather than referring to an applicant’s past wages, look to the future by asking about salary expectations.

5. Reevaluate pay secrecy policies

To avoid resentment, many employers discourage employees from discussing salary with their co-workers.

However, pay secrecy policies may encourage gender inequality. And, they may be illegal.

According to the Department of Labor, nearly half of all workers said they were either forbidden or strongly discouraged from pay discussions in 2010.

An NPR article defined the National Labor Relations Act as protection of employee rights to discuss salary.

There is also a proposed labor law, the Paycheck Fairness Act, to discourage pay disparities among genders. One part of the act aims to prevent employer retaliation against employees who discuss wages.

Some states have adopted pay secrecy laws to encourage employees to openly discuss their wages with co-workers.

The goal of state pay secrecy laws is to promote gender equality at work. The more employees discuss salaries, the more they may learn about inequalities.

To comply with this push towards pay transparency in the workplace, consider eliminating pay secrecy contracts.

6. Document everything

Not everything is about gender discrimination. Sometimes, an employee earns more than a co-worker due to things like higher education, stronger experience, and length of service.

Back up your salary determinations with substantial payroll records. Keep documents relating to employee wages, job descriptions, and compensation reasonings for at least three years.

Documenting everything not only protects you in case of an employee lawsuit, but it also helps you stay consistent. If you pay a male employee more than a female because they have more job experience, be sure to do the same if the roles were reversed.

Use a system that lets you store records securely. With Patriot Software, you can access payroll reports that show you historical paycheck details. Explore our software for yourself with a self-guided demo!  

This article is updated from its original publication date of June 19, 2019.

This is not intended as legal advice; for more information, please click here.

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