What is gender inequality? The concept, details, and overall objective of gender inequality can be confusing with various programs and studies available. It’s time to review just what gender inequality is, what programs are doing to solve it, and if they are on track.
First, the facts
“Gender inequality” or “parity” is often a reference to discrimination against women in the workplace — specifically women not being placed in jobs, being paid less than peers, or not attaining upper-level leadership positions. Federal and state laws exist to prevent discrimination, and companies have reinforced legal measures with their own efforts, with some progress:.
- Efforts to reduce the gender pay gap haven’t been as successful, with the International Labour Organization reporting only a 3 point improvement since 1995. However, the work environment has improved through affordable child care, flexible work arrangements, and maternity/paternity leave.
- Attainment of upper level leadership positions by women remains the most complex issue. While gender equality was an overall objective for all occupations, some professions adopted gender neutrality faster and with fewer difficulties. In international government alone, the percentage of female Members of Parliament (MPs) has doubled since 1995. But in contrast, within the C-Suite of global corporations, women total less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs, with fewer than 25% in senior management and only 19% at the Board of Directors level.
Why does it matter
The rewards of having men and women equally represented are widespread, gender equality can bring a myriad of advantages to a company, and enhance employees’ — both male and female — lives.
As companies become more gender neutral, society benefits proportionately. Greater female workforce participation results in higher educational levels, more community development, and increased healthcare as a result of women workers who are more likely to invest a significant portion of their income in these areas. More women are prompted to return for post-graduate studies to attain upper level positions, thereby elevating the overall educational rank within our culture. Increased education allows men and women to equally participate and compete in the workplace, providing for overall economic empowerment and investment. Society, as a whole, benefits when that individual contributes their obtained knowledge for the greater good.
Increased freedom of choice is also available for both men and women when roles in the workplace are viewed from a perspective of talent management rather than gender. With equal gender distribution at all levels, there is an expansion of positive role models for children who see men and women fulfilling jobs based on capability rather than gender, judgement or bias.
But if those facts aren’t enough, economists estimate eliminating the gap between male and female employment rates could boost the GDP in the United States alone by 5%.
Advantages for Companies
An organization benefits from gender parity in both subtle and overt ways. A parity of men and women provide a balance with greater social variety in the workplace. Communication is improved when everyone is striving to understand each other.
This pays off directly on the bottom line. An entirely gender-neutral workplace has the potential to increase revenue by 41%. This environment provides the benefit of an increasingly varied set of skills, which can improve workplace functionality and profitability. Reduced turnover due to efforts by a company to retain their workforce and hire from within has a direct positive impact on revenue, saves money — and also leads to greater overall employee job satisfaction.
Clients perceive a more positive brand image through observing a diverse work team and view it as potential for understanding their diverse needs — a definite advantage over a myopic, gender-centric focus. Diversity of talent results in various perspectives and a more comprehensive view than is possible in a gender-dominant environment and attracts top talent that is gender neutral.
Enhancement of Employee Lives
Current leadership inclusion programs encourage cooperative communication across gender, function, and responsibility which fosters employee engagement, leading to active participation and higher job ownership and satisfaction.
Men and women both benefit with gender neutrality and achieve a more integrated business and personal life through balancing time and responsibilities. This life integration is not a gender specific issue and the attention to gender parity in the workplace has helped make the topic gender-neutral, resulting in the establishment and growth of maternity/paternity leave policies and the acceptance of previously non-traditional roles.
So, What’s the Problem?
We’ve geared all of our programs towards women because they are underrepresented and have been traditionally disadvantaged in the workplace. But the issues that affect society, our companies, and all of us as individuals are not female.
Men and women are equal but different. Aren’t we, at the base of this issue, looking to use the impact of feminine attributes that we all possess to varying degrees, to rebalance and benefit our companies, society, and ourselves?
The differences between genders are a benefit and a strength, not a hindrance. Using our differences collaboratively should be the goal.
It’s like the pendulum phenomenon — at extreme times, the pendulum swings to an end —either end are both extremes, but then balances to the middle when equilibrium is achieved. It’s time to find the equilibrium
When we emphasize one aspect for too long, as we risk doing with our gender programs, we develop a blindspot and are no longer aware of the wisdom that founded the initiatives. We are no longer attuned to what drove us to start the change.
Consider the driver — and aim
Consider the drivers behind the issues keeping women back, and affecting us all. The C-Suite isn’t benefiting from female leaders for several reasons, including a predominance of women in staff roles rather than in roles with line responsibility which lead to greater upward opportunity, an ambition gap for top leadership, and a perceived sense of higher stress and less satisfaction at the executive level. At the upper levels of management, men are in 64% of the jobs that contribute directly to the company’s bottom line, and lead to the top roles of the company. Over 55% of women without children, and 58% of women with children don’t want the stress and pressure of the executive role and see it as their highest obstacle to the role, and only 28% at the senior-level of leadership say they are happy with their career.
But leadership benefits from gender diversity and inclusion. By broadening our outlook and language, we can still increase the number of women at top leadership levels while we address widespread concerns, and still benefit organizations, the workforce, and our global economy.
Building a diverse team requires an appreciation for the differences within us and others, and an ability to balance and work collaboratively within it. Company leadership that fosters promotion, establishes a level playing ground, and alleviates concerns in an organization that can be practiced at all levels, from employee to C-Suite.
Gender parity — true equality — should, by definition, be neutral. Gender diversity should be the inclusion and balance of both male and female attributes, in equal measure, when we are each able to contribute our strengths to the workplace and collaborate with others who lend their strengths. Gender neutrality in the workplace will have been successful when it is no longer notable to see rising numbers of women in any area and leadership programs are structured according to the talent gap rather than a missing gender.