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How Women Can Work Together to Defeat Gender Inequality

Topics: Work Culture
Gender inequality is a persistent issue for women at work and at home. In her new book, Dr. Nancy O’Reilly explores how women can work together to defeat it.
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The gender pay gap is real, no matter how you cut it. Women are still paid significantly less than men. The median salary for women was about 22 percent lower than the median salary for men in 2018. Even when you compare the salaries of workers who do the exact same job, women earn 97.8 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn.

There is also a real and significant opportunity gap at play here. Relatively few women occupy roles at the top of their industries. By mid-career, men are 70 percent more likely to be in executive roles than women. And, by the time they’re in their late-career, men are 142 percent more likely to be in VP or C-suite roles.

Gender inequality doesn’t just hurt women. Lack of diversity hinders innovation, creative problem-solving and progress. For example, science has proven that increased gender diversity leads to better research. Decision-makers from every industry should care about closing these gaps once and for all.

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Community, Success and Well-being

Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, (also known as Dr. Nancy) is an author, educator and founder of Women Connect4Good, Inc., a foundation that supports the development of women-helping-women networks. In her new book, In This Together: How Successful Women Support Each Other in Work and Life she shares stories and advice on how women can support each other and work together to break the binds of gender inequity.

Gloria Steinem said of the book, “Whether our problem is isolation in a male-dominant culture, distance across racial barriers, living in front of a computer screen, or all three, Nancy O’Reilly’s In This Together will help us to create community, success and well-being.”

I interviewed Dr. O’Reilly via email about her ideas and advice regarding how women can support one another and work together to move closer toward gender equality.

A Conversation With Dr. Nancy O’Reilly

PayScale: What are some of the greatest challenges women face in the workplace as a result of gender inequality? It impacts salaries and opportunities for advancement, of course. But, are there other things we should keep in mind when we consider the challenges women face professionally?

Dr. Nancy O’Reilly: The biggest challenge for women is our own unconscious biases about what we can and should do and be. Most women have internalized our culture’s assumption that men are the leaders and women are the nurturers. We’re trained to take care of others and put them first, and that can prevent us from seeing ourselves as leaders.

We need to expand our perception of what makes a powerful leader and empower ourselves to fill those roles. Only then will we be able to change how others see us and earn credibility at work.

We know from experience that women make amazing leaders. Study after study shows that when women are in the C-suite or serve on the board, businesses are more profitable and organizations are more successful. Women need to work together to help another woman advance to an executive position, because having a single women at the top triples the rate at which women advance in that company. You have to see it to be it. And, it’s up to us to lead the next generation into true gender equality.

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PayScale: Are there any unique or particular challenges that women encounter when they telecommute or work as freelancers?

O’Reilly: Many women choose freelancing or telecommuting because it gives them greater flexibility to take care of family and other responsibilities.

Another big benefit is you get evaluated based on your performance rather than personality or appearance.

You may have to work a little harder at communication when face time is limited to keep everyone informed and collaborate well.

You also have to be disciplined to keep distractions from interfering with work, but no one will know what time of day you do your job or whether you care for an ailing child or parent when you do it.

My own Women Connect4Good team is phenomenal and we all work from wherever we happen to be. Each one has their skill set, but when one of them has a family issue or illness, the others step up to help. You can’t do anything alone. We really are in this together.

gender pay gap
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PayScale: What role do men play in all this? How can they help to diminish, and hopefully someday eradicate, gender inequality issues in the workplace? Are they doing those things now?

O’Reilly: Men play a large role. We have a whole chapter about the importance of our male allies.

Women have always counted on the support of enlightened men who see the strengths and benefits women bring to work. There are a lot of great men out there who would like to help, but they don’t know how. We need to ask them to help and show them what to say and do that will help women advance.

Women understand what their challenges are and they don’t need some well-meaning man to mansplain it to us. For example, we talk in the book about ways women can amplify each other’s good ideas to make sure they get the credit. Often in a meeting, a man will take over a woman’s good idea and claim in as his own. A courageous male ally can speak up and redirect attention to the woman who had the idea first.

In industries where there are very few women in leadership, like tech, for example, there are not enough women to serve as mentors. Men need to mentor and even sponsor women to achieve equal pay and advancement into management positions. That means speaking up to suggest women by name to fill openings in a company, and coaching them to handle the challenges.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”By mid-career, men are 70 percent more likely to be in executive roles than women. By late career, men are 142 percent more likely to be in VP or C-suite roles.” quote=”By mid-career, men are 70 percent more likely to be in executive roles than women. By late career, men are 142 percent more likely to be in VP or C-suite roles.”]

Many men do this now because they see the value of diverse perspectives and inclusion of women at all levels. The best companies offer flexible policies like parental leave equally for men and women. And, everyone in the company, even the president, takes advantage of it.

Gender equality has to be in place at home with family before a woman can achieve it at work. Most women still work a second shift of children and housework after work, which severely limits how they can advance. But when both parents share the parenting and housework, women can invest more time and energy into their careers. Studies also show that many husbands are happier when their wives also have successful careers.

And of course, men have a vital role in stopping sexual harassment and violence. Too many women still experience the abuse of cat calls, degrading language and physical assaults from men at work. Men who have a sense of fairness and justice will speak up and say it’s wrong and insulting. We need their help to establish what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in order to change the culture so that women are respected and valued as equal member of the team.

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PayScale: How can women help to support one another? And, how do these actions work toward the greater goal of gender equality at work?

O’Reilly: First, women need to get better about asking for help. Second, we need to ask, “How can I help you?” It’s not a weakness to show our vulnerability and ask for and receive help. The more we reach out to help each other, the more we engage our power and work together. Honestly, that is the most powerful thing I’ve ever seen. I have experienced it for myself.

When you put five women in a room, they will analyze a problem, figure out a course of action and get busy solving it in no time. It is a powerful experience to see women collaborating toward a common goal. There is no greater goal than to achieve gender equality for all of us.

In the old days when only a token woman or two was hired, women competed for the few jobs. It’s called the “not-enough-pie” syndrome. Today, the opposite is true. One study charted the track of women advancement and found when there was just one woman in the C-suite it actually tripled the number of women who were promoted. And they were on a much faster track, advancing within five years.

I like to focus on how phenomenal women leaders truly are and on or abundance of opportunities. Let’s focus on including and being in this together. Let’s create open and transparent dialog about salaries, so women get the same pay as their male counterparts. Let’s get over feeling threatened by other women and instead reach out to help. Let’s get a mentor and be a mentor, and develop strategic relationships to help all of us advance.

For more on the current state of the gender pay gap, read PayScale’s report.

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