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Changing the Course of Women’s History in the Workplace

Changing the Course of Women’s History in the Workplace

March 2023


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As we approach the end of Women’s History Month in the U.S., I’ve been reflecting on inspirational women.

One quote that particularly resonates with me is, “Well-behaved women rarely make history,” coined by Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and echoed by iconic figures such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Gloria Steinem, and Marilyn Monroe.

During the past 100 years, women have made tremendous strides. Women account for an ever-increasing share of growth in the job market, college degrees, and homeownership. Despite these gains, women still face chronic obstacles in their lives, in policy, and in the workplace.

The Current State of Gender Equity in the Workplace

For the sake of this piece, we are going to focus on the workplace and where we can use our sphere of influence to affect change. Here is the bad news: A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to Congress found that women in the U.S. still are not gaining leadership positions nor earning equitable pay, even in industries they dominate. In fact, one Harvard Business Review study showed that women do not apply for positions unless they believe they meet 100 percent of the job criteria, and another showed that they are unlikely to apply if they were rejected for a similar position before.

This issue is not limited to the U.S. The United Nations states that women are paid an average of 20 percent less than men globally and perform two-and-a-half times as much unpaid work. Within the European Union, the gender pay gap averages at 12.1 percent, with some countries like Estonia and Latvia having gaps higher than the global average (21.2 percent and 22.3 percent respectively).

The data is an egregious indictment. When we add to that the overall pay gap for women, the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles, and the prevalence of gender bias and discrimination, we are left with little hope for pay equity for women in both leadership and non-leadership roles.

Guidelines for Executives to Champion Gender Equity in the Workplace

In a world dominated by social media, it is easy to lean on platitudes during Women’s History Month. But, if we are truly committed to improving the lives of women, we cannot continue to be at peace with the status quo. We need to act. Here are some steps within our reach:

  1. Examine pay and fix disparities. In March, Pew Research found that the gender pay gap in the U.S. has not closed much over the last 20 years with women still earning an average of 82 percent of what men earned in 2022. Additionally, the European Commission claims that the gender pay gap has not changed much over the past 10 years in the EU either. As an executive, you can assess pay across your organization and take tangible steps to ensure men and women are paid equally for equal work. If you are at the manager level, you can take a critical look at your team’s pay, raise concerns up the chain, and ask the company to adjust pay so it is fair. And, if your own pay is not up to par, take stock of your contributions, know your value, and speak up.
  1. Bridge the gender gap in leadership. The first step is to take an honest look at the gaps and assess why women are not applying for leadership roles. Is it a cultural issue? Perhaps there is a need to actively recruit women and encourage them to apply for leadership roles. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but a strategic and intentional effort to put qualified women in leadership roles and empower them to lead with authenticity will pay off exponentially in both the short and long run.
  1. Build networks that include women. Women often have less access to professional networks and resulting opportunities. According to the World Economic Forum, women have a harder time building effective networks with contacts who offer information, ideas, and jobs because they are often not invited or do not feel welcome. Review your own contacts. Build up your network by connecting with women who might be mentors as well as women who might benefit from access to your expertise and connections. Ideas and leads come from many sources. You have everything to gain by cultivating a network that includes women in executive leadership as well as those who are up and coming.
  1. Mentor, coach, and engage women. The demand for women’s leadership development programs has exploded in recent years according to a recent Harvard Business Review column. That same column suggests that such programs result in higher promotion rates, better retention, and increased confidence. Be an advocate for more leadership development opportunities, a formal mentorship program, networking opportunities geared towards women and training that addresses the specific needs of women in the workplace.

These four actions are not necessarily inspiring per se, they might even be a little uncomfortable. I continue to be inspired by women who speak their truth, use their voice as the not-so-well-behaved women throughout history have done, knowing that the next generation relies on them. The next generation of women in the workforce is looking to us and our allies all to be bold, speak truth to power, and continue pushing those boundaries. We just need to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable. There is a reason it is called a “comfort zone.”  It is because you are not growing when you are in it.

About the Author

Tracy Ferry is a Director at the Washington, D.C., office of Stanton Chase. She brings nearly three decades of talent experience in search and consulting in consumer products, technology, and human resources. Her knowledge and expertise include consumer products, aerospace and defense, and diversity.

Click here to learn more about Tracy.

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