Empowering Women in the Workplace

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Author: Bradley G., Public Relations Intern


This month is Women’s History Month, which gives us an ample opportunity both to share information about important female figures across time and to talk about how women factor into marketing and business.

It goes without saying that women are half of the population: throughout all of human history, men and women have worked side by side to keep civilization going. From hunter/gatherer societies to ancient empires, medieval kingdoms, industrial development, and the modern world, women have played just as much a part as men have in developing the human world to be the complex, developed world that we know. However, given certain patriarchal trends originating within the last few thousand years in powerful Western societies, men have occupied a solid role of power over their female counterparts for much of recent history. In our own country, while Rosy the Riveter of World War II welded and worked like any man could, from the 1950s onward, conventional society imposed the idea that the place of women was in the homestead.

Since the late 1960s into the modern era, many women have protested this sexist imposition to some great result: women are now a larger part of the workforce than ever before in American history. However, there are still problems within the system that relegate women to hold lower positions, earn lower wages, and lack confidence that they can balance a job and a family. Thus we reach the question for this article: how should we empower women in the workplace? To answer this, we’ll explain what challenges women face in the workplace, discuss what management can do to help upcoming women have better circumstances, and, finally, give some suggestions for what women can do to maintain confidence and vocational inertia.

Article Contents
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Challenges to Women in the Workplace

We feel it’s safe to assume that anyone reading this is familiar with the historic problems women have faced in the workplace: sexual harassment, the pay gap, and hiring biases have been hot-button topics for over fifty years now. However, for those of you who may be unfamiliar with the subject, need a refresher or the specifics, or just want to see some substantiation to these claims, here’s a basic list of large-scale problems of discrimination against women.

  • Lower Hiring Rates - A review of many studies of U.S. decision-makers who hired candidates found that clearly competent men were rated higher than equally competent women. [1] To quote the Chicago Tribune, “One study, conducted by professors at Columbia, Northwestern and the University of Chicago, found that two-thirds of managers selected male job candidates, even when the men did not perform as well as the women on math problems that were part of the application process.” [1] Even when women manage to find a position at a company, their livelihood and career still face challenges.
  • The Pay Gap - You’ll often hear the “$.70 to a man’s dollar” or similar figures, but the numbers have been substantiated several times over the past three decades. The pay gap between men and women hasn’t improved all that much; even female Harvard graduates only make 70% of the pay of their male counterparts. [1]
  • Lower Promotion Rates - Women are also substantially less likely to be promoted, with reasons ranging from perceived lack of “potential” to a manager’s bias to want to promote someone they see as similar to themselves. [1] SKDknickerbocker Vice President Shira Fine has noted that while entry level positions in corporations have a roughly equal amount of men and women, the amount of female representation gradually decreases as you go higher up the corporate ladder. [4]
So with all of these problems, stemming both from corporate cultural traditions and antiquated cultural norms that suggest “women don’t need a high-paying job because they’re going to drop out when they have children,” women have a lot to deal with in their careers. How can we fix this problem? The answer has to come from two places: corporate management has to rethink their attitudes, and women in the workforce are going to have to continue doing their best.

What Management Can Do to Empower Women

Now, if you’re reading this article, it can be assumed that you have at least some belief in the benefit of having an equal opportunity workplace. To us, it seems logical that if women comprise half of the human population, then women should be treated just as well as the other half in terms of hiring, pay, and promotion. If, however, you remain unconvinced, we do have some information to share on the benefits. SmallBusiness.com states that an independent survey found that the companies who focused their efforts on empowering women reported significant business benefits, including increased profits and short term investment growth. [3] Research at the University of California suggests that putting women in administrative positions diversifies decision-making, which leads to more productive and potentially lucrative business decisions. [3]

In short, it benefits the company financially if management works to be equal opportunity. What specific actions can management take to empower women within the workplace? The answers are simple. Flexible work schedules in cases of family emergencies, mentorship, and managerial openness to constructive criticism benefits everyone in the office, women included. [2] This allows women the ability to balance time with their prospective families, receive training and encouragement that they need, and establishes a rapport between employees and management. This last point is especially crucial; by giving regular feedback, management can help employees (both male and female) feel that their work is valued. This method also allows for direct communication to employees to understand what management wants from them. [5]

And don’t mistake equal opportunity as meaning “excuse the mistakes of all women in every situation;” it just means that mistakes and achievements are treated equally for both genders. If companies focus on the training, accountability, and results of their employees regardless of gender, employees will be more trusting of management and a more productive work environment will be born. [5]

What Women Can Do to Empower Themselves

While a lot of the problems with equality in corporate culture stem from upper and middle management, there are strategies that women in the workforce can employ to help resist the tide of prejudice. Forbes suggests that many women face obstacles internal to themselves, such as their fear that any mistakes in the workplace will cost them their job, or the idea that men may inherently be better at it. [2] All of these things can cost an aspiring female employee her career, and they are problems that must and CAN be overcome. Forbes also suggests that if women learn to be confident in themselves, learn to embrace and learn from mistakes, and tackle their workplace problems head on with a good work ethic. [2]

There’s no substantial study that’s ever been conducted that suggests that women are intrinsically prone to more mistakes or are less intelligent or competent in any field than men. Women can perform just as well, and even if the system makes women prove it over and over, it’s not a viable option to give up. One method women can employ to help their effort is the use of specific career goals for income or management ranking. BetterWorks suggests that setting specific professional goals in the workplace helps women to provide self-motivation throughout many of the issues we’ve mentioned before. And, should a woman get into a position of power in management, many point out that it shouldn’t just be met with token acceptance. Women in power should use the opportunity to promote an environment where other women can grow. [2] Solidarity is one of the strongest tools one can develop; if women are willing to mentor other women and help overcome the barriers from inside the system, the whole process of equalization can be accelerated much more smoothly.

Conclusion

We understand that the issue of female empowerment in the American workplace isn’t something that we can fix overnight. However, if you take away just one thing from this article, it’s this simple fact: acknowledging and remembering the problem helps every day.

If a male vice president is preparing to hire some new employees and he notices he’s gravitating toward male applicants, he can curve this and look over the female applicants one more time to see if he can correct his bias. If a female employee gets passed over for a promotion and she remembers that promotion rates are lower for women, she won’t lose confidence in her performance. If a male manager is upset at a woman for calling in sick for a few days but remembers that she was recently on maternity leave, he can arrange a more flexible schedule so he avoids losing a good employee. If a female employee isn’t sure how to manage herself in a male-dominated workplace and remembers that goals can push you forward, she might be aim to break the glass ceiling of her workplace and diversify hiring. The possibilities here are endless.

You don’t have to refer your coworkers or your friends to this article specifically, but we encourage you to remember both the benefits of equality in the workplace and the challenges that equality currently faces. Remember the challenges so you can fight them, and remember the benefits so you keep being motivated to fight.

Cultural gender equality is a problem that’s going to take a lot of time to solve, but if we can keep spreading the idea and engaging others in the conversation, we might be able to make it a reality just a little bit sooner.

Questions?

Contact us by email at alliaudrey@idesigncollaborative.com.


  [1] http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-women-pay-gap-workplace-equality-perspec-0519-jm-20160518-story.html

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/ellevate/2014/08/25/lead-like-a-girl-how-to-empower-women-at-every-level/#6a7a5d406714
[3] http://smallbusiness.chron.com/women-empowerment-workplace-17827.html
[4] http://www.adweek.com/digital/how-to-empower-women-in-the-workplace/
[5] https://www.betterworks.com/resources/goal-setting-insights/3-ways-goals-empower-women-in-the-workplace/