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The Perception Gap: Women Half As Likely to Believe Women and Men Have Equal Opportunities in the Workplace

Topics: Data & Research

By now, everybody has heard about the gender pay gap. Women in the workforce don’t earn as much as men, whether you’re comparing overall earnings or comparing men and women working in the same jobs. But despite the data, debates still rage on in the media about whether gender inequity in the workplace is real. A new report from PayScale illustrates just how strongly this inequity is felt by women. Based on a sample size of over 140,000 employees taking the PayScale Salary Survey, 67 percent of men say there is equal opportunity for men and women in most workplaces, while only 38 percent of women say the same. This perception gap is even wider in the tech industry despite widespread media coverage of tech’s gender problem.

Gender Opportunity Perception Gap
According to the study, men were almost twice as likely as women to say that they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “In most workplaces, men and women have equal opportunities.” When asked if men and women had equal opportunities in their specific workplaces, both men and women felt more positive, but the gap was still just as bad. Three-fourths of men said they felt opportunities were equal at their own workplace, but just 51 percent of women felt the same.

The difference is striking. And, if you’re a woman who has experience working in male-dominated fields, it probably isn’t very surprising. The accumulation of frustrations faced by women in the workplace, even in high-demand fields like tech, is a key reason why so many
women leave high-paying STEM careers. But many men simply aren’t aware of the problem because they don’t see the issue from a woman’s perspective. That’s exactly what I’ll be discussing on Sunday, March 13 during the SXSW Interactive panel “How to Diversify Tech and Hack Our Unconscious Bias,” along with Matt Wallaert, behavioral scientist and founder of; Liz Morgan, leader of LinkedIn’s engineering diversity program; and Lisa Lee, senior diversity manager at Pandora and cofounder of Thick Dumpling Skin.

“Our number one goal has to be awareness that a problem exists,” says Wallaert.  “Implicit bias training and other programs are interesting only to the extent that they help people to see that inequity is real, and not just somewhere over there, but around all of us.  Otherwise, we’re all just standing in a circle, pointing at each other.”

Wallaert also notes a significant “Lake Wobegon” effect, named for the fictional town where ‘everyone is above average.’ PayScale’s data shows that both men and women are less likely to identify an equality issue in their place of work.

“It is logically impossible for it to be a pervasive problem that happens everywhere and yet for us all to deny that it happens around us,” says Wallaert. “But that is precisely what people do, because it is hard to confront the fact that we are part of a system and workplace that perpetuates inequity.”

Do You Know What You're Worth?

A lot of very smart people, both male and female, have written and spoken about why gender inequity in the workplace exists, what to do about it, and why tech is so strongly affected. But very few employers have been able to make meaningful change in employee demographics, including the number of women in technical and leadership roles. As a recent comparison of tech employers from PayScale showed, the top technology companies are still very male-dominated. The numbers are even more depressing when you focus on technical roles. Yes, there is a need to encourage more women to study STEM subjects and gain these in-demand skills, but there is also a need for employers to create workplaces where female employees thrive instead of leave. Morgan summarizes how important this new data pull is for employers when she says:

“This data should be the tipping point to make employers to finally realize the importance of providing women the same professional support and opportunities that men receive throughout their careers, especially in highly competitive fields like tech.”

The stark difference in perception of equality between men and women is a wake-up call for everyone in the workforce. Instead of arguing about whether or not the playing field is level, it’s time to accept that it’s not. Who else besides women can tell us how women experience opportunity at work? We hope that this new data serves as a launching pad for a more open discussion of the problem, more education about the unconscious bias that drives the behaviors that limit opportunities for women, and more transparency from employers about diversity.


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It is very confusing to me why so many people look at this “issue” from the completely wrong perspective. When talking about equality everyone seems to jump to numbers of who is in what job and what are they paid. this is so completely wrong and absurd! Equality is about equal opportunity. That is what it is at its core. It is meaningless and absolutely wrong to just look at the results of what has occurred and claim inequality without… Read more »

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