It’s 2021 and incredibly, gender discrimination is still an unresolved problem in far too many workplaces. Although attention has been paid to this issue for nearly fifty years, there remains a fundamental injustice in the treatment of women in work environments that are either directly dominated by male leaders or at least influenced by the attitudes, mindset and practice of traditional leadership.
Although women make up around 50% of the workforce, they are still discriminated against in several important areas. These include unequal pay, a lack of organizational mobility for promotion, a lack of critical decision-making authority, and sexual harassment. These are profound flaws and injustices in the work culture. The time is long gone to eradicate these blemishes from our workplaces. Such shortcomings are not only ethically unjust, but also suppress the hitherto untapped productive potential of half the workforce.
It’s not that there haven’t been attempts to eliminate gender inequalities in the workplace. Many leadership teams recognize the historical existence of male-centric favoritism and sexism ingrained in their and other workplaces. This recognition has been responded to with initiatives to make their businesses and organizations fairer and more just. But the problem persists. Cases of gender discrimination continue to be documented and fought in management offices, human resources departments and law firms, leading to a significant use of resources in a seemingly endless dealing with the consequences of wrongdoing.
Elisabeth Kelan from the University of Essex in the UK has been researching gender equity issues for over twenty years. She has found that there is widespread agreement that gender inequality is widespread overall, but interestingly, the same people will not admit to such occurrences in their own specific workplaces. Why is that? dr Kelan sees several reasons for this. First of all, many see discrimination as a fault of their competitors or other companies, but not their own more virtuous workplace. Second, there is a belief that the problem has been worse in the past but is being largely resolved, confirming that all containment efforts undertaken to date have helped reduce it to a minor problem. Finally, there are those who don’t see gender equality as a big deal, and if it happens at all, it’s not their fault.
If we read the results of Dr. Accepting Kelan as authentic begs the question, “What do people think?!” What I think they think is what has always been thought. On levels, men big and small see themselves as better leaders, sharper decision makers, sharper managers, stronger dealmakers, and superior competitors. And let’s face it, there are some traditionalist women who think these roles are more masculine in nature as well.
Even looking at the data and intellectually accepting gender discrimination as a problem does not automatically imply that the necessary behavioral changes will occur. When I reflect on my own past, I see relevant examples. I have long believed that gender equality in the workplace is a quality worth pursuing. It’s child’s play. However, have there been instances when, during a meeting, I have been more apt to accept another man’s opinion than a woman’s, or thought a female colleague was too sensitive and not tough enough, or cared more about a woman’s looks than to listen to her? Throughts? Embarrassingly, the answer is yes. It’s these small but meaningful actions that are holding us back from making progress in accepting women as full and equal partners at work.
Anti-bias training programs and the like can make some difference in changing operational behavior, but greater progress can be better made by each of us delving deeper into how we interact with each other beyond superficial manners. Clarifying the personal values that motivate our behavioral patterns can reveal more about us individually and empower needed improvements than any mission statement or management protocol. It is now time to end gender discrimination.