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5 Ways to Reduce Gender Inequality at Work

A group of people sitting around a table in an office.

​Generation Z women have lower pay expectations than men have when entering the workforce, according to a recent report by career app Handshake.

The survey of more than 1,800 college-graduate job seekers revealed that women in the class of 2023 expect about a $6,000 lower average annual salary compared with men. Women respondents across all racial groups set a lower "high" starting salary than men did.

According to Handshake researchers, "[The difference in pay expectations] highlights the long-standing issue of gender pay disparity: Women's salary expectations are lower from the start, potentially reflecting historical pay gaps."

The report was released ahead of International Women's Day—an annual campaign devoted to raising awareness for gender inequality and other women's issues. Gender inequality can manifest at work via unequal pay and disparity in promotions.

These inequities can influence the way men—who largely hold corporate power—view female workers, according to Tina Opie, an associate professor who focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass.

"Gender inequity frames how men see women [in the workplace], how they see systems," Opie said, while noting how women are underrepresented in the higher-paying positions and are paid less for the same work as their male counterparts.

A Glimpse into Gender Inequality

Multiple studies show how dire gender inequality is in the workplace. For example, a 2022 McKinsey & Company report explored gender inequality at work and factors that influence it:

  • Just 1 in 4 C-suite leaders is a woman, and only 1 in 20 is a woman of color.
  • For every 100 men who are promoted from entry-level roles to manager positions, only 87 women are promoted.
  • Women experience microaggressions that undermine their authority, making it more difficult for them to advance.
  • Female leaders are twice as likely as male leaders to be mistaken for someone more junior.
  • Latinas and Black women are less likely than women of other races and ethnicities to report their manager supports their career development, negatively influencing their ability to ascend professionally.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2021:

  • Women made up about 44 percent of the total workforce but only 41 percent of managers.
  • Overall, women earned about 82 cents for every dollar men earned.
  • Hispanic or Latina women earned about 58 cents and Black women earned about 63 cents for every dollar white men earned.

"The widening gap is worse for women from historically marginalized [racial and ethnic] backgrounds, such as women who are indigenous, Black, Latinx/Hispanic, Asian and Middle Eastern," Opie said. "This suggests that organizations are not doing a good job addressing inequities and could follow a few steps to improve."

How to Improve Gender Equality in the Workplace

Leeatt Rothschild is the founder and CEO of Packed with Purpose, a Chicago-based woman-owned business dedicated to creating meaningful social impact and strengthening human connections. She offered five tips for companies to improve gender equality:

Invest in DE&I. Spend resources to improve DE&I within your company. This could mean investing in unconscious bias training or enlisting outside expertise to educate and raise awareness for women's issues to build the skills to counter inequality.

Show empathy and offer flexibility. Developing a culture of openness, empathy and flexibility can make everyone feel comfortable in the workplace and reduce barriers to growth. Rothschild said companies should allow employees to address their needs at home.

Promote more women. How can young women starting their careers envision an equitable path for their career if they cannot see women in leadership positions? Promoting women into executive roles can help promote DE&I.

[SHRM Resource: Advancing Women Leaders: Changing the Game for Women in the Workplace]

Support women's professional development. Mentorship, networking and other professional development opportunities help grow careers.

Make employee well-being a priority. Focusing on employee mental health can also help to address equity in the workplace. Be flexible in the way you support your employees' well-being, whether through exercise, meditation or just a day off.

Opie said that she routinely encourages organizations to:

  • Speak with their executive team to convey why gender issues like pay inequity are a problem.
  • Offer reward structures, metrics and trainings that reflect the value of equity.
  • Conduct equity audits examining pay by race, gender, division and rank.

"If there is evidence of inequities, the executives have to determine how or if they will redress those inequities," Opie said. "It can be extremely harmful for organizational leaders to say that they will redress inequities, conduct an equity study, find inequities and then fail to [act]."



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