Gender equality in the workplace has not been achieved, as the #MeToo movement has made clear. But are employers taking ACTION to end gender inequality at work?
The allegations against media mogul Harvey Weinstein opened the floodgates in the fall of 2017. Victims have continued to come forward, drawing attention to the psychological, professional, and financial damages sustained as a result of being the subject of gender discrimination. They’re not only calling out abusers but also demanding employers and industry heavyweights make big changes to increase gender equality.
According to a 2018 Pew Survey, 86 percent of adults now think that men getting away with sexual harassment in the workplace is a problem. However, 51 percent think increased focus on workplace harassment won’t have any impact on women’s experiences at work. Major employers like Facebook, Microsoft, and the federal government have made it easier for victims to take action against harassers and abusers. But these organizations are only a few of the millions of employers in the United States.
ARE EMPLOYERS TACKLING GENDER EQUALITY?
We used PayScale survey data to better understand workers’ perspectives on their employers’ attempts to increase gender equality in their organizations. We compared data collected from over 100,000 workers through the PayScale Salary Survey in Fall 2016 and from 22,000 workers in Spring 2018. Respondents were prompted to rate their employer’s activity in addressing workplace gender inequity on a scale from one to five. In this case, one indicated their employer was not taking action and five indicated that their employer is proactively addressing the issue. They were also given the option to say that there was no gender inequity in their current workplace.
This research yielded two important findings that both employers and employees should be aware of. First: workers have trouble identifying gender inequity and sexual harassment in their workplaces. Second: men and women disagree on the state of gender equality. This disagreement extends to the issue of whether their employers are taking sufficient action to rectify the situation.
Gender Inequity is Hard to Recognize
We were surprised by how few workers reported gender inequity in their own places of work. Almost 50 percent of our sample said that their employer did not have any gender equality issues. This was true for both men and women, both before and after the rise of the #MeToo movement. This stands in stark contrast to the Pew data showing that 85 percent of adults say that workplace harassment is a problem.
Even though people know that inequality and harassment exist, they don’t see it in their own lives. This tension could result from a lack of understanding as to what exactly counts as workplace inequality or sexual harassment. Additionally, some people may be hesitant to identify as victims or to call attention to their organization’s shortcomings. Speaking up could cost them their reputation, their career, their financial security, or even their safety. For some, ignoring the issue may feel like the safest option.
Men and Women Disagree on Employers’ Impact on Equality
Unsurprisingly, men and women do not have the same experience of gender inequality in the workplace. This gap is most clearly seen at the extremes. Men are much more likely to say that their employer is proactively addressing the issue and women are much more likely to say that no action is being taken.
In Fall 2016, 18 percent of men said that their employer was proactively working towards gender equality while only 11 percent of women agreed. In Spring 2018 those numbers remained stable (17 percent of men and 11 percent of women).
On the other end of the spectrum, opinions are trending in favor of employers. The percent of workers who said their employer was doing nothing to achieve gender equality fell by three percent for men and six percent for women. In Fall 2016, 11 percent of men said that their employer was taking no action to address gender inequality in the workplace, while 21 percent, respectively, of women said the same. By Spring 2018, those numbers had fallen to eight percent and 15 percent. This tells us that the #MeToo conversation has either spurred a significant number of organizations to take action or to make their existing efforts more visible to their employees. However, as the percentage of workers who gave their employer a five did not budge, we see that companies can still make significant improvements.
What Can Employers Do?
For employers seeking to improve gender inequity in the workplace the first step is to take an honest inventory of your organization’s practices including hiring, advancement, training and organizational culture. Local governments and international groups like NATO have also published best practices for achieving and maintaining gender equity. You can also look to workplace focused organizations such as Lean In or Change the Ratio for programming and resources. If your company has the resources, consider engaging a diversity consultant as a neutral third party to give specific recommendations for your organization.
Ending workplace harassment and achieving gender equality will not happen without employers taking decisive action. Building a more equal work environment will not only benefit your workforce but will also help your organization thrive. Increased fairness will make your employees happier and more satisfied, which will pay dividends in retention, productivity and organizational reputation.