Here it is, the year 2021 and gender discrimination is still, unbelievably, an unresolved issue in far too many workplaces. Despite attention being drawn to the issue for nearly fifty years there still exists a fundamental unfairness in how women are treated in employment environments that are either directly dominated by male senior management or at least influenced by the attitude, mindsets, and practices of traditional leadership.
Although women make up about 50% of the workforce they still experience discrimination in several significant areas. These include unequal compensation, a dearth of organizational upward mobility, a paucity of key decision making power, and sexual harassment. These are profound work culture deficiencies and injustices. The time is long past to eradicate these blemishes from our workplaces. Such defects are not only ethically unrighteous, but they depress productive potential heretofore unrealized from among half of the workforce.
It is not as if there have not been attempts to remediate workplace gender inequities. Many senior management teams acknowledge the historic existence of male-oriented favoritism and sexism embedded in their and other workplaces. This recognition has been acted upon with initiatives to make their businesses and organizations fairer and more equitable. Yet the problem persists. Instances of gender discrimination continue to be documented and contested within management offices, HR departments, and law firms, resulting in deployment of considerable resources for a seemingly unending management of the consequences of bad behavior.
Elisabeth Kelan of the University of Essex in the UK has been researching gender equity issues for over twenty years. She has determined that there is widespread agreement gender inequity is prevalent overall, but interestingly these same individuals will not admit to such incidents occurring in their own specific workplaces. Why is this so? Dr. Kelan sees several reasons for this. To begin with, many see discrimination as a fault of their competitors or of other companies, but not of their own more virtuous workplaces. Secondly, there is a belief the issue was worse in the past, but is largely being resolved, affirming that all of the mitigation efforts made thus far have worked to reduce it to a minor issue. Finally, there are those who do not fully appreciate gender equity as a big deal and if it occurs at all it is not their fault.
If we accept Dr. Kelan’s findings as authentic it begs the question, “What are people thinking?!” What I think they are thinking is what has always been thought. At levels great and small men see themselves as better leaders, sharper decision makers, keener managers, stronger deal makers, 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 if one sees the data and intellectually accepts gender discrimination as a problem it does not automatically follow that requisite behavior changes will occur. When I reflect on my own past I see pertinent examples. I have long believed that gender equity in the workplace was a quality worth pursuing. It is a no-brainer. However, have there been instances where I was more inclined to accept a fellow male’s opinion over a female’s during a meeting, or thought a woman colleague was too sensitive and not tough enough, or paid more attention to a woman’s looks rather than listening to her thoughts? Embarrassingly, the answer is yes. It is these small, but meaningful actions that keep us from achieving progress in accepting women as full and equal partners at work.
Anti-bias training programs and the like may make some difference in altering operational behaviors, but greater progress may better result from each of us looking more deeply into how we interact with each other beyond surface manners. Clarifying the personal values that motivate our behavior patterns may reveal more to us individually and strengthen needed improvements than any mission statement or management protocol might. The time is now to end gender discrimination.