Gender equity and equality go hand-in-hand. Oftentimes when one is disadvantaged, the other is as well. As best defined by the United Nations Population Fund, “a critical aspect of promoting gender equality is the empowerment of women, with a focus on identifying and redressing power imbalances and giving women more autonomy to manage their own lives.” To be clear, this does not mean that men and women strive to become the same but rather strive to have equal access to opportunity.
As we work in the field with businesses of all sizes through our Gender in Perspective series we regularly encounter companies who believe they are doing a great job at achieving gender equality. Things have come a long way and many people are working hard to achieve a level of gender equality that hasn’t been part of the workplace for as long as we know. But that doesn’t mean that we are “there” yet. Just to give you a reality check if you were wearing rose-colored glasses, there are more CEOs named John running Fortune 500 companies than all women CEOs combined in the Fortune 500.
So how can you take off the rose-colored glasses and tell if your company truly has a gender equality imbalance? Here are 5 ways to tell:
1. General culture of fear
Though company culture has been a hot-button topic for the past several years, there are still so many businesses that gloss over weaknesses which could identify deep-rooted issues. Companies with a significant gender equality issue likely have some level of fear present within their company culture. Likely a fear that surrounds women who feel like they cannot inquire or raise issue with gender equality in the workplace. There is a general fear surrounding talking about the question everyone is thinking, “where are all the women at the top ranks of this company?”
2. Avoidance of gender-related conversations
Gender equality discussion is everywhere. It’s in the content we read, it’s on the news we watch, but companies who avoid the discussion at all costs may as wave a huge red flag. Avoiding the topics altogether is either a signal that leadership is too afraid to put themselves under a gender equality sense or that they simply don’t know how to have the conversation at all. These companies have leaders who say things like:
“We offer flexibility for women to take care of their families” (aka we believe that is primarily women’s role)
“We treat men and women the same here.” (aka we don’t understand the neuroscience of male and female thinking and behaviors and by treating women like men we are putting them at a disadvantage)
3. There’s a heavy focus placed on women to cure the gender imbalance
The brutal truth is that women have suffered from decades of gender imbalance. The only way that we can make progress in equalizing the playing field is to work hand-in-hand, women and men together. In workplaces where the burden is placed on the women to learn about and compensate for the lack of effort, the gender imbalance will continue indefinitely.
4. Unequal pay for women and men
This is one of the most obvious, most discussed, (yet surprisingly) still the most common red flag for companies who have a deeply engrained gender equality issue. According to a 2018 McKinsey study titled Women in the Workplace, “For more than 30 years, they’ve been earning more bachelor’s degrees than men” yet still women remain largely underpaid, under promoted and entirely under represented in leadership compared to men.