Staff Development

Beyond Stereotypes: What Really Matters to Women in the Workplace

December 15, 2017 11:11 am

It’s difficult to read the news these days without noticing the number of headlines about harassment in the workplace. Whatever your personal experiences and views of these allegations and incidents, it’s clearer than ever before that many women have different experiences in the workplace environment compared to men.

Women continue to face challenges and inequities in the workplace, regardless of industry. As the CEO of Fairygodboss, a career community where women share anonymous job reviews and workplace experiences with each other, I’ve heard from thousands of women about the issues they face at work.

Don’t get me wrong; they share much more than just bleak news. In fact, most women in our community are happy with their jobs. Across all the job reviews women share on our site, the majority report having a job satisfaction level of four or five on a scale of one to five, with five being the highest rating. What’s interesting is to see what correlates with reports of relatively high job satisfaction. Our job reviews ask for a variety of opinions about everything from job flexibility to whether women believe they’re treated equally at their employer.

Our findings reveal that when women say they’re happy at work, they tend to also believe the following things:

  • Women and men at their firms are treated equally;
  • They have family-friendly employers (in terms of either hours, culture, or policy, or some combination of all three);
  • They report relatively high levels of job flexibility;
  • They have taken higher-than-average paid maternity leave.

Many of these correlating factors seem to make sense, but what’s less obvious is what women say is the No. 1 reason they think their workplace is unfair to women. When women report gender inequality at work, the top issue—reported by 36 percent of women—is that they don’t feel they are promoted equally and fairly relative to men.

Women on Sources of Gender Inequality in Their Workplace

Other sources of inequality are unequal pay (29 percent), unequal evaluation and review processes (21 percent), and unequal hiring practices (14 percent).

In other words, equal pay issues tend to be highlighted more often in the media than promotion practices as an issue of concern to women. However, by looking at the data, it’s clear that women don’t feel they are proportionately given leadership and management-level responsibilities. This reality is unsurprising when you consider that countless studies have found that the corporate pipeline notoriously under-represents women at almost every level of seniority.

According to McKinsey’s 2017 report on women in the workplace, inequality begins at the very first promotion. White women represent 17 percent of all managers (compared to 47 percent of white men), and women of color represent 11 percent of all managers (compared to 16 percent of men of color).

What is the solution to this problem? Women in the Fairygodboss community routinely give advice to other women about how to best succeed at their firms, and they advise others to advocate and negotiate for yourself from the outset. From the very first job offer, women in our community say things like, “Negotiate for yourself!” Or, “Ask for the promotion you want.” In other words, many women believe that there’s a role for the individual to play in terms of asking for more.

On the other side of the equation is the employer. Employers can recognize that they need to do more to help fight bias in the promotion process. It has been said that, “Men are promoted on the basis of potential, whereas women are promoted on the basis of performance.” This kind of behavior may be unconscious, but it still affects women’s earning potential negatively and reduces the likelihood that she will stay at a firm if she sees equally or less-qualified male counterparts being promoted ahead of her.

To combat these issues, some of the best companies for women, as rated directly by women in the Fairygodboss community, have implemented diverse slates (e.g., slates that include women or minorities) for consideration when a management position opens up. Other companies have implemented sponsorship programs whereby high-potential women are identified and given executive-level support and opportunities for engagement to build stronger internal political support and relationships.

Awareness of the issues many women face—and hearing from women themselves—is a powerful start to identifying the roadblocks women feel they face at work. Happily, solutions and best practices exist to address these issues both for women who are striving to climb the corporate ladder as well as companies that aim to do better.

Georgene Huang is obsessed with improving the workplace for women and is the CEO and cofounder of Fairygodboss , a marketplace where professional women looking for jobs, career advice, and the inside scoop on companies meet employers who believe in gender equality.


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