The pandemic has been particularly challenging for women in the workplace. Although online learning opportunities have increased, gender equity in the workplace has not improved, with 2021’s Global Gender Gap Report showing that “the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic had increased the global gender gap by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years”. Many women remain the primary caretakers of their home and were forced to step back from work, leading to hiring rates for women plummeting and critical ground “lost in terms of getting more women into leadership roles”.
Popular gender theories often talk about the glass ceiling—a metaphor for women and other minorities not being able to rise above a certain seniority level due to invisible barriers—but a term growing in popularity is the idea of a broken rung. If you picture the workplace hierarchy as a ladder, the broken rung theory suggests that the problem doesn’t just begin and end at a glass ceiling. There’s a step missing for women to move into management positions. As McKinsey and Co. shares, the missing rung makes it “nearly impossible for companies to lay a foundation for sustained progress at more senior levels”.
Additional research from Mckinsey & Co. shows how fewer and fewer women are present in leadership roles. On average, in entry-level roles, 48.1% of positions are held by women; 38.4% in managerial positions; 34.1% in senior management/director positions; 29.4% vice president positions; 22.7% senior vice presidents; and 22.4% C-suite executives.
While research does indicate that gender parity is being achieved in many entry-level positions, the Global Gender Gap Report shows that “there is no country and no industry in the world achieving gender parity in leadership roles” today.
Gender discrepancies vary from industry to industry, with the tech industry being one of the biggest culprits against gender equity in the workplace. The Harvard Business Review notes that, in 2020, only 10% of executive-level roles in tech companies were held by women. As the female president of a tech company, I’m an exception—and that doesn’t sit well with me.
With terms like SheEO and shero thrown around any time a woman is in a position of power, it’s no wonder that a woman leader is still viewed as remarkable, when really it should be ordinary.
Gender equity in the workplace means that everyone should have equal opportunity to advance upwards if they so choose to. Organizations and their leaders need to work harder to support women who are looking to take that first step up the ladder into management.
Women can do everything that men do, only backwards and in high heels.
The famous dancer and actor Ginger Rogers, who often partnered Fred Astaire in Hollywood musicals, is said to have done everything Fred did only backwards and in high heels.
It continues to be true today. With the broken rung of the career progression ladder, women have to work harder than their male counterparts and often for less reward. McKinsey reports that women do more work than their male counterparts to support people on their team, as well as dedicate more time to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) outside of their formal obligations. McKinsey found that “senior-level women are twice as likely as senior-level men to dedicate time to these tasks at least weekly”.
When it comes to hiring, women often spend more time in their interviews just proving that they should be there. LinkedIn research found that, compared to men, women “are more frequently quizzed about their greatest strengths (44% vs. 34%), weaknesses (37% vs. 27%), and failures (26% vs. 20%). Women are also more likely to be questioned about why they should be hired (45% vs. 37%), why they want the job (44% vs. 37%), and whether they’re team players (37% vs. 31%)”.
So, even if women are getting up the ladder, they often use a great deal of their energy just proving that they deserve to be on the ladder at all. Whether you call it a confidence gap or impostor syndrome, as Forbes uncovered, 75% of women executives reported feeling like they didn’t deserve their success.
Gender equity in the workplace should be examined from an intersectional perspective.
While all woman may experience discrimination and microagressions in the workplace, women of colour experience these at a higher rate. The consequences of these actions are grave, with McKinsley reporting that “women who regularly experience microaggressions are twice as likely as those who don’t to be burned out, more than twice as likely to report feeling negatively about their job, and almost three times as likely to say that in the past few months they have struggled to concentrate at work as a result of stress”.
Progress may be slow, but there are many things that your organization can do to move forward towards gender equity in the workplace.
Here are some of the ways that your organization can increase gender equity in the workplace:
Offer more flexibility
All employees can benefit from offering more flexibility. In particular, flexibility is “a key driver for equality in workplaces as it can allow both women and men to combine work and other duties”. Having the opportunity to work remotely or choose starting hours can make a big difference in ensuring equality.
Create learning and growth opportunities
Research indicates that women are increasingly enrolling in online learning courses, whether to upgrade their skills, complete certifications, or finish another degree. Workplaces that encourage and incentivize learning are helping to bridge the gender gap in workplaces as it encourages all employees to start thinking about opportunities for growth.
Create DEI initiatives that involve everyone
The burden of responsibility shouldn’t fall solely to those that are currently underrepresented. Organizations should create DEI policies and initiatives that leaders across the organization are responsible for upholding.
Data shows that “having women at the C-Suite level significantly increases net margins”, a finding that’s been supported by more than one study. What’s more, the Peterson Institute found that “having female senior leaders creates less gender discrimination in recruitment, promotion and retention.”
Given all of this knowledge and information, why would any company not actively seek to hire, promote, and support women?