March is Women’s HERstory Month (WHM), a time dedicated to highlighting women’s historical and present-day contributions to society. WHM is celebrated annually in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. WHM also happens to coincide with International Women’s Day, which is celebrated around the world. This day of civil awareness recognizes women’s achievements but also stands as a call to action for accelerating gender equality around the world.
Celebrating women’s achievement
WOMEN. ARE. AMAZING.
Women have played critical roles in every aspect of culture and society. They are renowned artists and activists, admired explorers and scientists, revered leaders and visionaries, and loved relatives and friends. Because of women, we laugh, wonder, seek, and pursue.
Women have achieved more than history could ever record or that they will ever receive credit for. Nevertheless, we continue to benefit greatly from their deeds, feats, and triumphs.
“Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.”
Raising awareness against bias
Today, women represent nearly half of the world’s population and global workforce. Yet they continue to face alarming inequity and inequality at home, at work, and in society. Gender studies by the United Nations, the World Economic Forum, and the Pew Research Center confirm that:
- Almost 90 percent of men and women globally hold pervasive biases against women.
- Those biases perpetuate significant gaps in social, political, educational, cultural, and economic attainment.
- Gaps are felt at every step of the employment life cycle.
Due to snap judgments about the ways women look, show up, contribute to, and perform at work, they are more likely than men to see unfairness in recruitment, hiring, compensation, promotion, advancement, and treatment during their tenure.
Consider these facts:
- Women and men ask for promotions at similar rates, yet for every hundred entry-level men promoted to managerial-level roles, only 72 women are promoted. (LeanIn.org)
- Only 23 women are CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies and just 9 percent of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) executive leadership positions are held by women. (Fortune, Boston Consulting Group)
- Women hold 26 percent of board seats at the 3,000 largest publicly held companies in the United States; women of color hold only 6 percent of corporate board seats in general. (Catalyst.org)
- Women hold only 34 percent of entry-level engineering and product roles. (LeanIn.org)
“I matter. I matter equally. Not ‘if only.’ Not ‘as long as.’ I matter equally. Full stop.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
An important thing to know: Everyone experiences bias. However, while women generally face bias more often than men, Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, Hispanic/Latin, Indigenous, South Asian, and Middle Eastern women (collectively “women of color”) are confronted with bias at greater frequency and intensity.
According to McKinsey & Company’s study of women in the workplace, women of color are two to four times more likely than White women to encounter disrespect, disregard, and discrimination in the workplace because of their overlapping social identities (e.g. race, ethnicity, color, religion, sexuality, disability, age, etc.). Various studies confirm that women of color are held to higher standards, repeatedly require proof of their knowledge and abilities (despite proven track records of success), must go above and beyond to receive the same recognition as their White peers, and are paid less than their male counterparts with similar experience and seniority. All of these factors compound the emotional tax, lack of safety, and absence of support that women of color navigate daily while at work.
Gender bias is not limited to race and ethnicity, however. It presents at other intersections such as age, sexuality, and ability as well. For example:
Age. Although ageism affects women and men at similar rates and ages, women 40 and older face marginalization based on gendered youthful beauty standards or “lookism.” As a result, older women experience more employment rejections than older men when job hunting. (Catalyst)
Disability. Women with disabilities are more likely than women overall to experience microaggressions that undermine them as professionals. They’re about 1.5 times as likely as women overall to have their judgment questioned, as well as to hear others make comments about their emotional state. (Health.com)
Gender identity. Trans women face coworker harassment, employment discrimination, and inappropriate questions about their transgender or surgical status. They are denied promotions, have little to no direct face-to-face contact with leadership or clients, and face low earnings. Trans women of color experience these same issues — but up to four times more than the general cisgender population. (McKinsey, UCLA, Vice)
Migration status. Migrant women encounter multiple forms of discrimination, specifically sexism, racism, and xenophobia. As such, they receive lower wages than men and can experience nonpayment of wages, withheld or delayed payments, and transfer of wages into accounts they cannot access. (United Nations)
Parental status. Women with children experience a series of disadvantages (or “motherhood penalties”) compared to women and men without children. Visibly pregnant women are judged as less committed to their jobs, less dependable, less authoritative, more emotional, and more irrational than otherwise equal, nonpregnant women. Mothers are six times less likely than nonmothers and nonfathers to be recommended for hire. Mothers are recommended an 8 percent lower starting salary than nonmothers, and a 9 percent lower starting salary than that recommended for fathers. Additionally, fathers are offered significantly higher starting salaries than nonfathers. (Harvard)
Religion. Women who adhere to dress codes that align with their religious beliefs (i.e., hijabs, khimars, niqabs, burqas, abayas, skirts, dresses) are up to 69 percent more likely to face harassment and hostility than women who do not have or hold to religious requirements on attire. (American Civil Liberties Union, Pew Research Center)
Sexuality. Queer women with an LGBTQ+ indicator on their resume are 30 percent less likely to receive a callback compared with straight female applicants of equal qualifications. When hired, queer women who are out experience higher rates of generalized workplace abuse (e.g., workplace bullying, mobbing) than their straight female peers. (Harvard)
Weight/size. Women who are overweight by as little as 13 pounds earn $9,000 less per year than their average-weight counterparts, while women who are overweight by as much as 65 pounds earn $19,000 less annually. Overweight and obese men experience no such wage loss. (Guardian)
Overall, these biases ― generalized as the glass ceiling for White women, the concrete ceiling for women of color, the bamboo ceiling for East Asian women, and the canvas ceiling for women of refugee or asylum status ― materialize into gender attainment and achievement gaps that are estimated to take between 136 and 268 years to close. (McKinsey)
Taking action for equality.
To break gender bias, women need strong managerial and peer support, more opportunities to lead and meaningfully contribute, and greater work-life balance all year round. When these basic needs are met, not only do women benefit, but the organizations where they work do, too. Companies with aggressive gender parity strategies realize increased work performance and productivity, above average profitability, and better competitive advantage.
Here are three key ways to establish equality as a workplace practice:
Allyship is an invaluable asset to career success. People with at least one ally in the workplace are twice as likely to experience a greater sense of belonging, safety, and satisfaction. The same holds true for women, especially those with intersectional identities.
Women need trusted champions who will take action to support them — both men and women. At the very least, they need upstanders (the opposite of bystanders) to reduce harm by speaking out against biases levied on them. At best, women need “equity brokers” to leverage their power, influence, and privilege to dismantle exclusion, inequity, and injustice and to lead positive change.
For those willing to step up, the journey toward allyship presents the following opportunities:
- Growth. Self-education allows you to unlearn implicit biases, learn inclusive behaviors, and expand your understanding of others’ experiences.
- Authenticity. Having transparent conversations, leaning into your own discomfort, and considering new perspectives creates openness and builds empathy with others and for yourself.
- Empowerment. As your awareness, knowledge, and appreciation of others grows, so, too, does your ability to influence others to take accountability for their behaviors and personal action to break biases.
When it comes to leadership, women face a series of barriers that prevent them from being promoted to top jobs. Because power and decision-making in the workplace remain overwhelmingly dominated by men, women often lack the tools, access, and support needed to advance.
Reversing this trend requires:
- Consciousness. The cliche, “out of sight, out of mind,” could easily describe women’s road to the C-suite. Without women in the leadership pipeline, succession planning automatically favorsg men. Internal accountabilities must be instituted either by individuals, operations, or systems that call attention to this homogeneity and compel more equitable process changes.
- Mentorship. Although mentors are essential to closing the gender gap in leadership, less than 40 percent of women have ever had a mentoring relationship. As a career development tool, mentoring provides women a safe space to address the issues and challenges they face in the workplace, offers constant and consistent feedback for honing skills, and presents opportunities to network and build connections. Instituting a formal mentoring program not only improves women’s retention but strengthens their engagement.
- Development. Research has found that women who eventually make their organization’s leadership track tend to be set up for failure. They receive fewer resources (e.g., funding, team size), fewer stretch assignments, and less executive support than men. For women to succeed at senior and executive levels, they require leadership development training that will help them sharpen their decision-making and action planning skills, manage high-performing teams, negotiate winning outcomes, and manage organizational conflicts and crises.
Women face a lifetime of income inequality due in large part to being paid a fraction of what men earn. In its examination of the wage gap, the Center for American Progress revealed that for every dollar men were paid in 2021, women in the United States earned the following pay for equal work:
- Women in the LGBTQ+ community were paid 87 cents.
- Asian American women were paid 85 cents on average.
- White, non-Hispanic women were paid 79 cents.
- White, non-Hispanic women aged 45 and above were paid 76 cents on average.
- Women with children were paid 75 cents on average.
- Migrant women were paid 73 cents on average.
- Black/African American women were paid 64 cents.
- Mulitracial women were paid 63 cents.
- Women of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Island descent were paid 63 cents.
- Trans women were paid 60 cents.
- Women with disabilities were paid 60 cents.
- Native American/Indigenous women were paid 60 cents.
- Hispanic/Latin women were paid 57 cents.
The United Nations reports that globally, women workers earned 77 cents for every dollar men earned, which affirms that gender bias and its impacts are not geolocation- or culture-specific.
By performing pay equity analyses and ongoing audits, organizations can identify gender, racial, and other intersectional pay gaps; establish fair compensation and equitable rewards practices (e.g., pay transparency policies); and address the systems, culture, and behaviors that perpetuate pay inequity and exacerbate gender poverty.
“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”
Women have a role and a place in the technology industry as well. By learning from each other, we grow with each other. As women, let’s connect and collaborate with as many women around us as possible, and encourage one another to engage and explore in our workplace. Men, we welcome you to be visible advocates, sponsors, allies, and promoters of women. Together, we can empower each other toward an inclusive, sustainable industry.
Wondering what you can do personally to break gender bias and to speak up, stand up, and lift up women? Check out these tips and resources.
- Reach out to the women in your life who have inspired you (e.g., relatives, friends, neighbors, mentors, teachers). Send an email, card, bouquet, or small gift to thank them for the impact they’ve had on your life.
- Send a free, eco-friendly ePraise card to women on your team, in your department, or within your company to let them know how much their daily efforts are appreciated.
- If you identify as a woman, applaud yourself. Take a moment to celebrate you and all that you can do.
- Read Actions individuals can take to become advocates for gender equity.
- Join the HeForShe global alliance, the United Nations Women’s solidarity movement for gender equality.
- If you identify as a woman, learn the 7 ways to be your own biggest champion and practice the 6 ways that women can champion each other at work.
- Unlearn the biases that perpetuate gender discrimination by taking the Implicit Association Test (IAT) and by reading Recognizing microaggressions and the messages they send.
- Learn how to become a better ally. Participate in Lean In’s allyship at work virtual training program.
- Read the PowHER redefined: Women of color reimagining the world of work report by nFormation and the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, and Catalyst.org’s Intersectionality: When identities converge to better understand women’s experiences in the workplace.
- Support these 10 nonprofit organizations empowering women around the world.
- If you identify as a woman, be your own support. Try these self-care strategies to help meet your wellbeing needs.
“Imagine a gender equal world.
A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.
A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
A world where difference is valued and celebrated.
Together we can forge women’s equality.
Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.”
International Women’s Day 2022 theme
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