Women have made strides in the workplace, but have we achieved gender equality? The answer might depend on who you ask.
According to a new SurveyMonkey poll conducted for the Fortune Brainstorm Tech company, when asked, “Would you say that obstacles to gender equality are gone or that significant obstacles still exist?” the responses were as follows:
|Obstacles Still Exist||Obstacles Are Gone|
The responses from men and women are practically reversed, both in tech and the general workforce.
What accounts for these differences in perception? There are several contributing factors.
Perception vs. Reality
Tara Kelly, CEO of SPLICE Software believes there’s a very simple reason why the sexes have such different views regarding workplace gender obstacles. “It is always hard to truly put yourself in someone else’s shoes.” She explains, “Women experience this inequality and hear about policies and procedures, while men experience a small percentage of this inequality and also hear about all of the policies and procedures.”
But, she believes that having a policy or process in place to foster gender equality doesn’t necessarily mean that it is being implemented or that it is effective.
These types of surface-level changes are also concerning to Dr. Bernice Ledbetter, chair of the Master of Science in Leadership and Management degree program at the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University and an expert in women’s leadership.
“We see more women in the workplace and therefore the workplace is more equitable, or so the argument goes.” However, she says women are not in the top positions at most organizations. “The Fortune 500 companies provide a snapshot of what’s trending in the marketplace, and today there are 32 female CEO’s among America’s top companies – that’s 6.4%, and this is the highest proportion ever.”
However, Ledbetter says headcount isn’t the only measurement of gender equality. “It is a phenomenon that is manifested in how people are perceived, how they are treated, and how resources are distributed.”
A recent report revealed that some tech women were walking away from 6-figure salaries as a result of how they perceived they were being treated.
Ledbetter says that implicit and unspoken gender biases play a report in perceptions. “We live in an era of second-generation gender bias, which means intentions and perceptions are underground and often go unacknowledged.”
And, unless these biases are surfaced, Ledbetter says we can’t move forward. “We can’t change the equation and advance more women into leadership roles of influence and power.”
Bridging the Gap
Getting both sexes on the same page requires open and honest communication. “Create safer organizations where discussions of implicit bias and gender inequity can occur without fear,” Ledbetter says. “If we can change the conversation, we can change our organizations to be more equitable for men and women, and this will lead to increased productivity and much more successful places to work.”
Communication involves knowledge and interactions, and Kelly believes both are vital to making progress. “Creating more awareness is critical to long-term, sustainable evolution towards equality,” Kelly says. She offers suggestions for both women and men:
- Help men connect with the experience to make it real.
- Make a conscious choice to change your filter, to boldly go forward believing we are equal.
- Look for every event and moment that you can to make this reality the truth and accept nothing less.
- Think about your mother, your wife, your daughter, your niece, your sister, your girlfriend, etc., and recognize that you are able to break barriers by creating access before the idea of barriers around equality even begin to form in the mind of a female.
Kelly explains, “So much of this starts at birth, and the critical time between 3 and 7 years of age, so we need to focus on children, to really create a deeper catalyst of change.”
Kelly’s father taught her how to program when she was just 9 years old, and she says the experience was fun and resembled playing a game. More importantly, she says gender was never involved. “I was an adult before anyone ever said ‘Oh wow, you are a girl and you code, that’s amazing.’”
And she points to another issue. “Quite frankly, creating equality starts with having maternity leave and paternity leave, but no one is bold enough to want to put their money where their mouth is.” That’s in line with a report that found millennial women consider their boss when deciding if they’re ready to start a family.