Workplace Gender Disparity: Perceptions Are Not Always Reality

“To be a woman in the United States is to feel unequal, despite great strides in gender equality, according to a wide-ranging poll about gender in postelection America released Tuesday. It’s catcalls on the street, disrespect at work, and unbalanced responsibilities at home.” (New York Times, 1/17/17).

In spite of this, studies show a stark disconnect between men and women—men perceive women as equal. For real. And, according to a new poll, on average, most Republican men think it is a better time to be a woman than a man.

Don’t believe me?

Check out the excellent column by Claire Cain Miller (quoted above) in the New York Times. Miller reports the findings from a poll by a nonpartisan research and polling firm of 1,302 adults in December. Miller spoke with an 81-year old retired police captain from McKeesport, Pa., who is a registered Democrat but did not vote that way in this last election. “It’s easier being a woman today than it is a man,” he said in the interview. “The white man is a low person on the totem pole. Everybody else is above the white man.”

Women “should be highly respected,” he said, but he believes that they are no longer unequal: “Everything in general is in favor of a woman. No matter what happens in life, it seems like the man’s always at fault.”

The recent election certainly seems to be a result of such perceptions.

In any event, this guy’s perception is certainly news to most women, 82% of whom polled said that sexism was a problem in society today; 41% of women said they had felt unequal because of their gender.

Sex/Gender Discrimination in the Workplace

Regardless, until the perceptions of men and women correlate, sex discrimination in the workplace continues and shows no signs of abatement.

Sex discrimination is not just catcalling or making inappropriate comments about a woman, her anatomy, or women in general. As we talked about here, it’s failing to hear a woman’s ideas in a strategy meeting until they are expressed by a man. Like in the blockbuster hit, “Hidden Figures,” it’s assuming that the black woman in the room, instead of a colleague, is there to empty the trash. It’s failing to promote a woman for being “strident” yet promoting a man for being “aggressive.”

As the outgoing FLOTUS, Michelle Obama, once said, “No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.”

Make no mistake—at most workplaces, companies are depriving women. We’re paying our women around 77 cents (the number tends to vacillate between 76-78 cents depending on the study you read) to every paid to a man, and paying women of color two-thirds of what a man makes for the same work. Look at this—the U.S. Department of Labor filed suit against the country’s largest bank after a compliance review allegedly revealed the pay of almost 100 female tech workers in the investment banking unit to be less than the male tech workers’ pay.

Women face other hurdles in the equal pay arena such as contending with wage penalties when they become mothers, especially if they take extended time off, i.e., being “mommy-tracked,” as we wrote about here.

How is that equal?

These are facts, not just perception or even rhetoric. One Glassdoor study published in March 2016 found that women earned between 2 cents and 7 cents less for every dollar their direct male counterparts made in 25 major industries. Holy *@&*$!

Women often face inequality at home. How many times have you played the game with your spouse, “Whose job is more important?” How many schools only call the “mom” when children are sick? How often are men lionized, or have the expectation of being lionized, when they do the school run, weekly grocery shopping, or make dinner?

As the sage U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg explained in a 2015 interview with Bloomberg, “I was a law school teacher. And that’s how I regard my role here with my colleagues, who haven’t had the experience of growing up female and don’t fully appreciate the arbitrary barriers that have been put in women’s way.”

Tell it, RBG, tell it like it is.

Takeaway:  Employers take note! Attention must be paid!

As RBG said, it’s time to teach.

And with that, we give you a checklist, much of which we discussed here, to minimize sexism, gender bias, and unequal pay in your workplace:

1) In your policies, employee handbook, interviews, and agreements, express to your employees why equal pay and sex discrimination is such an important issue for your workplace. Have open, candid conversations about it, and be transparent about your gender metrics.

2) Provide pay transparency, which gives women a level playing field for negotiating salaries and pay increases.

3) Ensure the fairness of hiring, promotions, and performance reviews. Have a strong policy promoting gender diversity and implement it, filtering out any inherent bias where you find it.

4) Employee training. As I emphasized here, here, and practically everywhere, substantive, equality and sexual harassment training for everyone in your workforce, but especially managers and supervisors, is critical.

5) Focus on accountability and results. Use targets to set goals for hiring, promotions, and equal pay.

6) Allow for flexibility and telecommuting in jobs where face-time is not necessary.

Just imagine if all workplaces did this…

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Amy Epstein Gluck

Amy Epstein Gluck has represented individuals and corporate clients in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and various federal district courts for more than twenty years. Ms. Epstein Gluck’s current practice areas include employment law—advising on and drafting employment agreements; handling employment negotiations, severance agreements, noncompete and nondisclosure agreements, “wrongful terminations” and other EEO matters; representation at the EEOC level; advising employers about discrimination laws and how to remain in compliance, and employment negotiations.