July 1, 2018
By Hei-ock Kim
The Kim Center for Social Balance interviewed 30 for-profit employees to examine aspects of workplace culture that obstruct women’s success, specifically in San Diego. We learned that progress toward gender equity is NOT happening organically. Both men and women still perpetuate misconceptions and unexamined beliefs about women. Those biases permeate our workplace cultures and influence behavior that obstructs women’s ability to succeed.
Each person was asked the same 25 questions, ranging in topics from their current caregiving situations to their awareness of gender equity issues in the workplace. Everyone agreed that fair practices such as equal pay and talent-based opportunities should be standard operating procedure. However, we found trends among their beliefs that in reality prevent these practices from becoming the norm.
Here are 5 of the most notable issues:
1. Both women and men underestimated the financial, physical and/or psychological challenges working women face. These challenges were not experienced by the men in our group.
- Many women described multi-tasking as a necessary evil. Most women viewed NOT multi-tasking as a luxury only enjoyed by men.
- Women only considered leaving male-dominated professions because of overwhelming stress from discriminatory practices, such as:
- Sexual harassment
- Lower salaries than male co-workers
- Punishment for “un-feminine or aggressive” behavior
- Lack of recognition for their accomplishments
- Mothers only considered leaving their jobs or working part-time when:
- Their salary was lower than the cost of childcare
- They shouldered the greater burden of childcare and/or household management even if both spouses worked full-time
- Women cited several reasons for inequity at home, including:
- Societal expectations
- Lack of initiative from husbands to take on more responsibilities
- Their own cultural inhibitions about stepping outside of traditional roles
2. Those who were unaware or less aware of gender injustice tended to use stereotypes to explain what they see in the workplace.
- There are fewer women in fields like technology and engineering because women are more interested in, and better at, nurturing and creative fields.
- Mothers avoid or leave aggressive careers because children need their mother’s nurturing at home more than they need their father’s.
- Women are well-suited to support roles because they are biologically more detail-oriented and better at multi-tasking than men.
- More leaders are men because men have more leadership qualities than women.
3. Women generally felt they have to work considerably harder to be recognized and rewarded than men.
Obstacles experienced only by women almost daily included:
- Double standards of behavior and/or higher standards of achievement than men, such as.
- Longer hours and harder work to prove they’re as motivated and valuable as male co-workers even though they have children
- More criticism for minor missteps or petty details
- Constantly walking a tightrope between “too outspoken” and “too quiet”
- Needing to strategize before meetings to have their ideas supported or presented by male colleagues in order to avoid being ignored or belittled
- Evaluating and monitoring their physical environments to ensure personal safety while traveling
- Varying levels of sexual harassment and deciding how much to tolerate silently
4. About half of our respondents believed men are better leaders than women.
- The qualities most people felt were essential to leadership – trustworthy, collaborative, and communicative – were described by everyone as being either gender-neutral or feminine qualities, but not masculine.
- Men and women in our group equally disliked negotiating salaries and asking for promotions, but it was mainly the women who were interested in getting promoted.
- Most people believed advancement depends on motivation, assertiveness, and self-promotion, but only women reported obstacles to negotiating salaries or asking for a raise. Consequences included:
- Being called “too aggressive”
- Being told that a male co-worker was chosen for a raise instead because he had a family to support while “she had a husband”
- Getting fired
5. Only a few men understood their part in achieving workplace gender equity.
Their thoughts ranged from:
- Never noticing any gender injustices in the workplace
- Noticing it but not knowing how to react or help, or whether it’s their place to do anything
- Advocating for women where they could, such as encouraging potential hires to ask for more money
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
The Kim Center for Social Balance hopes you will become an agent of change, because every one of us has the ability to help lead true transformation.
1. Engage in conversations that encourage:
- Men to increase their understanding of women’s challenges
- Women to explore better ways to support other women
- Women to insist on more realistic boundaries for themselves
2. As a company or civic leader, set clear expectations of yourself and others to:
- Place deserving women in leadership roles as often as deserving men
- Foster environments where everyone’s voices and contributions are fairly recognized
- Explore ways to incorporate family-friendly practices and normalize the acceptance of caregiving by men
- Encourage the attitude of “if you see something, say something”
- Regularly assess your salary and hiring practices for equality
WHO WERE OUR SUBJECTS?
- 18 women and 12 men working in the for-profit sector
- Ages 26 to 75
- At least some college education
- 67% Caucasian, 23% Latino or part-Latino, and 10% East Asian
- Self-identified as female or male