How gender equality in the workplace affects women

By Robert Half 7 March 2016

Nowadays, more employers are taking gender equality into consideration when evaluating their treatment of their employees. The general consensus is that it’s outdated to think of women as somehow lacking in professional capability when compared to men.

Even then, a one-size-fits-all approach is no longer optimal as men and women encounter different challenges, and thus have different needs. While equality dictates treating everyone the same, equity is addressing the specific needs of each gender to create a level playing field for all.

This International Women’s Day, we look at some of the ways that gender equality in the workplace could be improved.

Women at the top

Management opportunities are less commonly offered to women as they are to men. Leadership traits like assertiveness are often seen in a negative light when displayed by a woman, whilst being championed in male leaders. As much as we think we’re treating everyone equally, it can be hard to assess a candidate’s suitability for the job without being affected by our own gender stigmas. A simple mental exercise would be to picture certain undesirable actions coming from the opposite sex of the person. Would this behaviour be acceptable if it had come from a man instead of a woman, or vice versa?

Keep in mind that everyone has a different approach to handling stressful situations, regardless of their gender, and there will never be a single best way to lead a team. Rather than speculating on possible success, get your management trainees to run smaller projects in teams while monitoring their progress, rather than focusing too much on their individual management styles.

Parenthood does not affect productivity

The idea of stay-at-home mothers is still more palatable than stay-at-home fathers. A working mother often prefer to take on jobs with shorter or more flexible hours, or would want to re-negotiate their contract though they might not be compensated as well. Meanwhile, society’s perception of men as the breadwinner and provider often pushes them to opt for greater responsibilities after having children.

However, flexible hours and telecommuting doesn’t necessarily equate to lowered productivity. The common perception that women are less hardworking after having children because of a shift in priorities - and men more hardworking - is simply not true. So is the belief that parents might be less likely to work hard because of commitments to the family.

One possible solution would be to initiate company-level policies which would allow employees, male or female, to work out flexible working arrangements, and measure productivity in terms of results rather than desk hours. Employers are more understanding when it comes to working mothers in this aspect, but not so much with working fathers who want to be more involved with their children.

Realistically though, this comes at a cost to employers when facing gender equality in the workplace; companies want to hire employees who will prioritise their careers, because they would be the most productive. Encouraging men to take on more childrearing duties might also shift further shift hiring practices towards single men and women, which brings us to our next point.

Fathers are parents too

Some employers will view pregnancy – or even a woman who is newly married and planning to start a family – as a no-go. Maternity laws differ across Asia; in Singapore for example, mothers are eligible for maternity leave if they have been working for at least 3 months. While some governments do bear part of the cost of remunerating new mothers during the period of maternity leave, employers don’t want to have to cover for someone who will be absent for 12-16 weeks in their first year of work – or at all, for that matter.

Paternity leave has been widely mentioned as a possible remedy to this issue, though once again, it simply ropes men into the problem rather than solving the problem itself. However, it’s a start, and the sooner that both sexes can be on equal grounds, the easier it will be to work towards gender equality in the workplace.

Don't allow dress to make stress

For men, it’s easy to dress for work. The staple combination of a shirt and dress pants or a suit on important days never goes wrong. For women, there are too many pitfalls to avoid. Skirts can be too short or too tight, heels too high or not high enough, certain outfits may be deemed too casual and an inch too low is all it takes for your neckline to be deemed too risqué. With the myriad of options available, it’s a lot easier to make a wrong move than it is to dress just right.

Imposing a strict dress code is never a good idea, so it’s best to lead by example. Unless you’re getting complaints from clients or you’ve personally witnessed wardrobe malfunctions, it’s generally fine to let your employees dress the way they want to – within certain boundaries according to company policy, of course. 

Lastly, no matter how distracting the outfit, it’s no excuse for any harassment.

Harsh words hurt all of us the same

“Why are you crying like a little girl? Man up!” – This statement is gender-biased for so many reasons. Are women more emotional than men? Not exactly true, if recent surveys are any indicator. Studies into the psyche of the sexes have shown that it isn’t the case; men generally experience emotions on almost the same level as women, but are conditioned to hide them. Still, with most of us still believing that women are more likely to take criticism personally, these stereotypes need to be addressed. Employers act on these beliefs in multiple ways – either by coddling their female employees to the point of being patronising, or going in the other extreme, being harsher in a bid to avoid “going easy” on them.

Get to know your employees and understand how they react to different motivating factors. Part of the job is managing people, not just projects, and there will always be different strokes for different folks. Just remember that the carrot is usually a lot more favourable than the stick, regardless of whether you’re dealing with a man or woman.

Gender equality in the workplace matters

Remember that gender equity is not about treating everyone exactly the same, but by helping everyone to get on the same level to take on challenges, or assigning tasks to employees based on their various strengths and weaknesses.

In conclusion, take your perceptions of gender traits out of the equation entirely, and simply treat your employees the way you’d like to be treated.

More From the Blog...