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When Gender In The Workplace Matters (And When It Doesn’t)

Topics: Work Culture
Image Credit: Pexels

It’s one thing to agree that equal opportunity is important in the workplace. It’s another to make it happen. In last week’s Jam Session with the Ellevate Network, PayScale’s VP of Content Lydia Frank talked through these workplace challenges, as well as presenting solutions to help you overcome them in your own workplace.

Here’s a recap of some of the key takeaways from the discussion and some data to help make sense of everything.

When Does Gender Matter?

When Equal Opportunity at Work Goes Missing

When only 38 percent of women believe they have equal opportunity at work, we have a big problem on our hands. PayScale surveyed over 140,000 employees to get a better understanding of equal opportunity in the workplace. We found that while 67 percent of men believe that men and women have equal opportunity in the workplace, only 38 percent of women agree. PayScale calls this the Perception Gap.

When You’re Paid Less Because Of Your Gender

One of the most common assumptions about the gender pay gap is that women are paid less because they choose to go into lower paying jobs and fields. The idea is that women gravitate towards jobs that are often dominated by women, and tend to pay less. But a 2016 study reported in the New York Times revealed that as women take over a male-dominated field, pay drops. For example, when women dominated jobs in the recreation field, the median hourly pay dropped 54 percent from 1950 to 2000. Over the same period of time, designers’ pay dropped 34 percent and biologists’ 18 percent. (Again, pay declines ensued when the fields became female-dominated.) What this tell us is that even when women move into male-dominated fields, they are still valued less than their male counterparts. And that is a problem.

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When Diverse Companies Perform Better

Fun fact: Companies who have a more diverse workforce and leadership team perform better financially than companies who don’t. However, you’d never know it by the current landscape for female board representation. It’s pretty bleak: only 19.9 percent of board seats at Fortune-500 companies are held by women. Why does this matter? Companies with the highest percentage of women board directors outperformed those with the lowest percentage by at least 42 percent. In this scenario, more gender diversity means better performance for the company overall.

When Gender Shouldn’t Matter:

When You Perceive Ambition

Think women aren’t as ambitious or interested in being executives as men? Think again. According to a recent study of 200,000 respondents performed by Boston Consulting Group, women have as much ambition as men in terms of having the desire to hold leadership positions and to get promoted — especially at the start of their careers. The study also points out that women having children does not make women less ambitious. What does ambition come down to? Company culture:

When both male and female employees feel that gender diversity at their organization is improving, there is no ambition gap between genders. In other words, women aspire to leadership roles in companies that have positive work environments and value diversity. Conversely, at organizations where employees of both genders report the least progress on diversity—where women see an uphill battle to reach an unattractive summit—an ambition gap opens up between men and women.

When You Interact With Others

Frustratingly, job-seeking women (especially women of color) have had to learn how to “game” the system in order to get their foot in the door. Women might change their name on a job application, simply using their initials instead of their full name — and get more calls for interviews as a result.

Working women are forced to spend a not-insignificant amount of time dealing with the impact of sexism. In a recent experiment, a male and female coworker swapped email signatures for a week. The male coworker had the worst workweek of his career. Clients who had been respectful and courteous when he signed his messages with his real name were dismissive or straight-up rude when he signed them with a female name. He realized that his female coworker was required to spend much of her time dealing with these attitudes, on top of her actual job duties. He was completely shocked. His female coworker was not.

When You Negotiate Your Salary

Negotiating salary should never come with social consequences or penalties, regardless of the negotiator’s gender. However, there is a double standard when it comes to men and women asking for more. Hannah Riley Bowles, a researcher at Harvard, articulates the problem:

Women get a nervous feeling about negotiating higher pay because they are intuiting — correctly — that self-advocating for a higher pay would present a socially difficult situation for them — more so than for men.

In Riley Bowles’ experiments, both male and female evaluators penalized women more for negotiating. Evaluators of both sexes were less likely to want to work with women who asked for more, perceiving them as “too demanding” and “not nice.” They expressed no reservations about working with a man who attempted to negotiate.

Tell Us What You Think!

Do you think that gender matters in the workplace? We want to hear from you! Comment below or join the discussion on Twitter!

Ellevate Network is a global network of professional women who are committed to elevating each other through education, inspiration, and opportunity. Our mission is to close the gender achievement gap in business by providing women with a community to lean on and learn from.

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