You may have heard talk about gender equality in the workplace. Statistics such as the gender pay gap have become topics of debate in the political realm. Campaigns such as Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In movement have sprung up all around, providing a platform to discuss and to some extent combat inequality in the workplace. The bad news is that gender inequality still exists. The good news is there’s something you can do about it.
Combat Gender Inequality in the Workplace by admitting there’s a Problem
Gender inequality and gender bias are alive and well in today’s workplace. Not just in some remote small town mom-and-pop business, but in everyday workplaces all across the world. I’ve spoken to countless female Kelley Direct classmates who experience the consequences of inequality and bias at work on a regular basis. I myself spent 9 years working in a very female-unfriendly environment (think company-sponsored outings for male employees only, meeting attendees being chosen by gender rather than role, being perceived as aggressive when exhibiting the same behavior as my male counterparts, etc.), and I have the [professional and emotional] scars to prove it. In fact, that unpleasant experience encouraged me to become President of the Kelley Direct Women in Business Association. I wanted to shed light on the issues and provide a platform for my fellow classmates to learn, grow, and problem-solve together.
As part of the KD Women in Business Association, our members share stories about how they overcame obstacles, get advice from seasoned professionals, and help empower one another. Our association provides a supportive environment to bring the issues to the surface and we help each other reach our goals.
Through these interactions within the association, I have learned how complex and difficult the gender inequality issues are to define and resolve. If there’s any hope of addressing them, both men and women need to be educated about existing biases and perceptions of women in the workplace (think you’re unbiased? Take this 5-minute implicit association test to demonstrate how your brain associates concepts – the results may surprise you!). After all, we can’t change what we don’t acknowledge.
Let’s Tackle Gender Inequality Together
Another reality is that men and women must work together to solve these issues. In my year of leading the KD Women in Business Association, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that many of my male classmates had witnessed the same inequities among their female colleagues, friends and family members, and they were eager to join the cause. In fact, approximately 20% of our association members are male, which demonstrates the tremendous strength of our advocate network.
We’ve hosted several experts and speakers over the past year who led workshops for our members in topics ranging from The Imposter Syndrome to The Credibility Factor. These workshops not only provide a platform for discussing relevant issues but are also a tool to educate and enlighten current and future leaders on how to create a more equal workplace. My hope is that through these workshops we can reach beyond our online MBA and MS student members – into their communities and beyond by creating awareness and spreading knowledge about issues women face and how to combat them.
Raising Awareness about Gender Inequality Helps
Did you know that women are less likely to speak out when outnumbered by men? I recently brought up this tidbit in a gathering of mostly male classmates. A while later, I attempted to interject my thoughts into the conversation, but I was quickly overpowered. One of my classmates noticed (I’m crediting my earlier announcement for his awareness) and at the next opportunity he spoke up and gave me the floor. The two key takeaways here are A) awareness is key and B) I have awesome classmates!
Another little-known fact about gender disparities in the workplace comes from Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. In her groundbreaking book, Sandberg discusses a study which revealed that “success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively for women. When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.” This is a powerful message that men and women must consciously consider as we form perceptions of others. By simply being aware that this bias exists, we can start to reduce its impact in our workplaces.
My experience leading the KD Women in Business Association has taught me that both men and women want to be advocates for gender equality. By inviting men to the conversation, we can share perspectives and gain allies in the war on inequality. My ultimate hope is that the conversation continues, not only through the association but also into our students’ workplaces and well beyond our online community.
About the Author
Jo Cooey has more than ten years’ experience in the technology field and currently serves as the VP of Operations for GeniusCentral, a technology solutions provider in the Tampa Bay area. She holds a BS in Computer Information Systems (Internet Systems and Software Technology) and is currently pursuing a dual degree MBA/MS Business Analytics.