The path to gender equality in the workplace
Countless studies have revealed there’s a gender gap in tech (and in the world of work more broadly). So how come progress has been so slow? Clearly, knowing about the problem isn’t enough to make it disappear. Here’s why we should all care about gender equality in the workplace and beyond, along with plenty of practical tips to achieve it.
What’s the state of women in tech? This is what the numbers tell us:
- Women occupy just 22% of tech roles in Europe (McKinsey, 2023)
- Only 52 women are promoted to manager for every 100 men in tech roles (McKinsey, 2021)
- Women make up only 24% of leadership roles in the tech industry. (LinkedIn 2022)
- The proportion of VC funding raised by women-only teams has dropped from 3% to 1% since 2018 (Atomico, 2022)
As you can see, we have a long way to go to reach gender equality… But doesn’t it feel like we’ve been saying that for a while now? Progress has barely budged despite the gender gap in tech being public knowledge for years now. So what’s the hold up?!
We know from organisational experiments and research in behavioural science that tweaking our day-to-day processes can have a huge impact on gender equality. The issue is, people are reluctant to shift the status quo, or they don’t know how. Leaders might worry that it’ll take too much time, cost too much money and end up not being worth all the fuss.
This article is dedicated to converting the sceptics. To mark International Women’s Day 2023, here are plenty of simple yet impactful ways to improve gender equality in your workplace. Let’s get stuck in.
Why gender equality matters
Even if you already believe that improving gender equality in the workplace is just the right thing to do, here are some undeniable stats to back up your position:
- The most gender-diverse companies are 48% more likely to outperform the least gender-diverse companies. (McKinsey, 2020)
- Doubling the proportion of women in the European tech workforce by 2027 would close the tech talent gap and add up to €600 billion to the GDP. (McKinsey, 2023)
- Diverse teams are better decision-makers, more effective collaborators, have higher financial returns and are better at capturing and retaining talent. (Harver, 2019)
Hard to argue against, right? 😉
Most of the research and data focus on women, but there are other genders that face unique barriers in the workplace too. A 2021 survey revealed that 80% of non-binary people and 73% of trans men and women have experienced transphobia at work.
Our framework for gender equality needs to include non-binary, gender non-conforming, gender-queer and trans people. See this guide for how to build a workplace inclusive of all gender identities.
The importance of intersectionality
It’s not enough to only focus on gender though. True diversity encompasses all of the various identities and experiences present in society. Women with different ethnicities, sexualities and other identities have vastly different experiences in the workplace.
That’s why it’s crucial to consider intersectionality. Multiple social identities overlap and affect an individual’s experiences. For example, women from ethnic minority backgrounds face unique barriers at work due to the overlapping effects of sexism and racism.
20% of women say they’re the only person of their gender in the room at work, but for black women, this figure rises to 45%. The experience of “onliness” can be isolating — you face greater scrutiny as the sole representative of your gender, or ethnicity, or sexuality. When something goes wrong, people are more likely to blame it on your identity rather than the simple fact that we all make mistakes.
This scrutiny and prejudice are compounded for women from minority ethnic backgrounds. In tech, women of colour are the most likely group to experience micro-aggressions. Black women are almost twice as likely as women overall to feel like they can’t be themselves at work.
When we talk about improving diversity, we can’t look at gender in isolation. Adding one white woman to your C-suite isn’t true gender equality. We need to consider the multifaceted identities that people possess. Only when everyone faces fair treatment will equality be realised.
How to improve gender equality in the workplace
How can we get closer to making that vision a reality? As we love to say at Fair HQ, simple tweaks add up to huge transformations.
We know that many companies have frozen their hiring recently, but that doesn’t mean your DEI efforts need to freeze too. You can set up the foundations for diversity, inclusion and equity within your other people processes.
Here are some common ways gender inequity can manifest in your organisation, and what you can do about it.
High-quality feedback can make or break career progression. When done well, feedback can boost performance, motivate employees and show people how to succeed.
But multiple studies show that women and other minority groups are held back by poor feedback. These groups receive less developmental feedback than men, limiting their potential to progress.
A 2022 survey of over 25,000 employees found that women receive 22% more feedback about their personality than men, and are 11 times more likely to report being described as abrasive.
Employees from ethnic minority backgrounds are also held to different standards. Black employees receive extra scrutiny from their managers, and 50% of black women’s evaluations included mentions of doing the “office housework” compared to 16% of white women and 3% of white men.
Here’s how to nudge managers toward fairer performance feedback:
Simple: Prompt managers to check their gut.
When we’re under pressure, we’re more likely to rely on our biases and preexisting assumptions. You can nudge managers towards more accurate performance reviews with a simple note on feedback forms: Before submitting your feedback, ask yourself, “Would I give this same feedback to someone of a different ethnicity or gender?”
Push: Create an excellent feedback checklist.
Create an excellent feedback checklist. Good feedback is specific, descriptive and backed up by evidence. It should focus on specific skills to improve rather than peoples’ personalities. We’ve written more on here. Show managers examples of great feedback when the performance cycle rolls around.
Transform: Set up a performance rating scale.
With a consistent scale to guide managers’ performance ratings, it’s much easier to make objective judgements and know what good looks like. In one study, said that working off a scale helped them make more consistent and fair judgements.
Women are promoted at slower rates than men across the tech industry. The “broken rung” means that it’s harder for women to reach the upper echelons of their organisations, and the data confirms it.
Here’s how to level the playing field:
Simple: Automatically consider everyone for a promotion.
Studies show that women are less than men, which might hold them back from landing a promotion. Remove the confidence barrier by automatically considering every eligible employee for promotion, unless they explicitly opt-out.
Push: Implement quarterly career chats.
Progression in your company should be guided by clear criteria. But if employees don’t get opportunities to build the skills needed to progress, then they’ll get stuck at lower rungs of the ladder. Managers should regularly discuss progression with their reports so they can identify skills gaps and develop a plan to close them. Everyone will benefit!
Transform: Set up a mentorship programme.
Women and other minority groups typically have narrower networks and may struggle to access senior figures. A is one of the most effective ways to improve diversity. These programmes have increased minority group representation in management by .
Gender pay gap
In the UK, the gender pay gap stands at 18.4% — 9 out of 10 women work for a company that pays them less (The Financial Times, 2020).
This doesn’t necessarily mean that companies pay women less than men for the same job — equal pay for equal work has been protected by law since 1970. The gender pay gap shows the average difference in pay between men and women, signaling that one group is concentrated in higher-paying roles.
Studies have shown that women, ethnic minorities and other minority groups receive less compensation than white men with equal performance evaluations. But when transparency and accountability are added to the process, gaps close.
Here’s how to add structure and fairness to your pay process:
Simple: Never ask candidates about their pay history.
Women on average get lower starting salaries and fewer raises than their male colleagues in the same job. If previous earnings determine employees’ starting salaries in your workplace, then unequal pay could follow employees throughout their careers. Make sure everyone starts at the same place with a more structured approach to salary offers.
Push: Always show the salary range in your job ads.
Women on average ask for lower starting salaries than men, but when made aware of the average starting salary, this gap disappears. If you allow negotiation, state so explicitly so that all candidates know what to expect.
Transform: Establish salary bands
Set up bands to determine pay for all roles in your company, with clear criteria to determine where employees lie within each band. Make it a rule to never pay employees beyond or below these bands to ensure consistency across the company.
As we’ve seen, you don’t need to be hiring to be improving DEI. Your strategy should be in tune with your business needs and priorities. If you’re pausing your recruitment for the moment, then focus your DEI efforts on your other people operations, like the ones mentioned in this post. And once you’re once again ready to welcome new hires, craft a hiring process that welcomes gender diversity. Whatever your circumstances, equality should be baked into your operations all year round.
Building towards gender equality in the workplace is a long-term effort. This International Women’s Day, what will you do to get us closer to gender equality?
Backing it up
- Blumberg, S. et al. (2023). Women in tech: The best bet to solve Europe’s talent shortage. McKinsey Digital.
- Brailov, M. (2022). Job performance feedback is heavily biased: new Textio report. Textio.
- Castilla, E. J. (2008). Gender, race, and meritocracy in organizational careers. American journal of sociology, 113(6)
- Correll, S. J. & Simard, C. (2016). Research: Vague Feedback Is Holding Women Back. Harvard Business Review.
- Dobbin, F., & Kalev, A. (2016). Why diversity programs fail. Harvard Business Review.
- Earles, K. (2020). The Gender Divide in the Tech Sector. Washington State Labor Education and Research Center
- Harver (2020). The state of diversity recruiting in 2020
- Hunt, V., Prince, S., Dixon-Fyle, S., & Dolan, K. (2020). Diversity wins: How inclusion matters. McKinsey.
- Krivkovich, A. et al. (2022). Women in the Workplace 2022. McKinsey & Company
- Mackenzie, L., Wehner, J., & Correll, S. J. (2019). Why most performance evaluations are biased, and how to fix them. Harvard Business Review.
- Pazzanese, C. (2020). Women less inclined to self-promote than men, even for a job. Harvard Gazette.
- Roussille, N. (2021). The central role of the ask gap in gender pay inequality. University of California, Berkeley.
- Sneader, K. & Yee, L. (2019). One is the loneliest number. McKinsey & Company
- Thomas, R., Cooper, M., Cardazone, G., Urban, K., Cardazone, G., Bohrer, A., & Mahajan, S. (2021). Women in the Workplace 2020. McKinsey and Company.
- White, G. B. (2015). Black workers really do need to be twice as good. The Atlantic.
- Williams, J. C., Loyd, D. L., Boginsky, M., & Armas-Edwards, F. (2021). How One Company Worked to Root Out Bias from Performance Reviews. Harvard Business Review.