How to Promote Gender Equality in the Workplace

Workplaces Must Eliminate Gender Discrimination to Promote Gender Equality

A diversified group of male and female employees clapping during a stand-up team meeting.

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In business, gender equality is the equal treatment and access of your female and male employees to opportunities and company resources. This includes employers providing equal opportunities and consideration for promotions; pay raises; desirable, preferred jobs; advancement, and inclusion in decision-making processes.

Progress Remains Slow to Ensure Gender Equality

With so much attention paid to the issue of gender equality in recent years, you might expect progress to have ensued. However, according to research by, the "uncontrolled gender pay gap, which takes the ratio of the median earnings of women to men without controlling for various compensable factors, has only decreased by $0.07 since 2015. In 2020, women make only $0.81 for every dollar a man makes.

"The controlled gender pay gap, which controls for job title, years of experience, industry, location, and other compensable factors, has also decreased, but only by $0.01 since 2015. Women in the controlled group make $0.98 for every $1 a man makes."

Gender Discrimination Is an Issue in Gender Equality

In the US, 42% of working women say they have faced discrimination on the job because of their gender. These women report personal experiences including earning less money than their male counterparts for doing the same job, being passed over for important assignments, being treated as if they are not competent, receiving repeated small slights at work, and receiving less support from senior managers according to an analysis of Pew Research Center survey data.

Sex-Based Discrimination Is Also an Issue

Sex discrimination is treating a person adversely because of that person's sex. Discrimination against a person because of their gender identity, including transgender status, or because of sexual orientation is discrimination because of sex and is in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Recommended approaches exist that focus on creating gender equality in the workplace. This means that everyone has the same opportunities and equal pay for equal work. Workplaces should be a place where men and women want to work and feel rewarded and cared for with their work. Men and women may take advantage of different perks and opportunities. However, the key factor is that equal opportunity and access to these areas is available to all your employees.

The following are five approaches that will lead you in the direction of gender equality.

Establish Equality With Flexibility

Harvard Economics Professor Claudia Goldin finds in her book, "Understanding the Gender Gap," that one of the reasons women earn less money than men is that women strongly prefer temporal flexibility over salary.  That is, they are willing to turn down higher-paying jobs because those jobs come with more demanding hours or less predictable hours.

Now, some jobs just don't have temporal flexibility. If you're a neurosurgeon, you can't run out of surgery to go to your child's parent-teacher conference. Once you start that surgery, you're there until you finish. If you're a tax accountant, you will work long hours during the tax season. But, that doesn't mean that most jobs can't have some temporal flexibility worked into them.

While women are more willing to make less money in favor of more flexible hours, men like flexibility, too. Implement policies that allow people to work from home—either full time or from time to time. Establish core business hours and then let people pick their schedules around that schedule.

Jane may like to come in at 6 a.m. and leave at 2 p.m., while Helen may prefer to come in at 10 a.m. and leave at 6 p.m. Both women are present for the core business hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Both get their work done and have plenty of time to interact with team members. Why not provide the flexibility that employees cherish when you can?

Set Schedules

This recommendation may seem to fly in the face of the previous suggestion, but different workplaces have different needs. If you run a retail or restaurant business, people can't work from home, and having someone cut out in the middle of a shift for a personal emergency takes a toll on the other employees. So, you need to have people on-site when you need them.

Women are often the primary parent—which means they are the ones who handle childcare, dentist appointments, and meetings with teachers more often than men. They need to know their schedules in advance to plan their schedule. Otherwise, they have to either shuffle childcare or call out with short notice.

Having a set schedule (or at least a predictable one—Steve always works Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and Jane always works Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday), can help give everyone in your business a chance to succeed without sacrificing home and family to do so.

Salary Openness

What would happen if you posted everyone's salaries in the break room? Would you experience widespread complaining or would people shrug and go, “yeah, that sounds about right?”

The United States (and many other countries) have traditional cultural restrictions on discussing pay. Companies consider that pay is confidential information—even though the National Labor Relations Act preserves the right of employees to discuss workplace conditions, including pay. Most workers consider it rude to discuss pay. So, the end result is, almost no one talks about salary.

In an equal workplace, employees should discuss salary, though. No one is cheated by an unfair salary when the employers are open about what positions pay. Think about it. What if you received a job offer and it didn't just say, “your salary: $50,000 per year, paid bi-monthly” but gave you a list of your coworkers' salaries along with their titles?

You would lose all claims of gender pay discrimination because the only way gender pay inequality can happen is when the information is kept behind closed doors. If you knew, before taking the job that Bob, Steve, and Carol each earned $60,000 for the same job that the company is offering to you for $50,000 you'd say, “How about $60,000?” and you'd walk away if they said no.

Management Training

So often, people are promoted to management jobs based on their stellar performance as an individual contributor. That's fine. It's pretty standard. But, managing people isn't like doing the work—although most management jobs have an awful lot of doing in addition to managing. In order to make your workplace comfortable for men and women, make sure your managers are trained in how to manage.

A manager can make or break a company. Your managers need to know relevant employment laws. For instance, you can't punish someone for taking FMLA time—whether it's for a broken leg or a new baby—and you can't treat people differently or based on gender or gender identity.  You need to reward employee performance, not time in the seat, and you need to offer feedback to everyone.

Most bad managers aren't bad people; they are just poorly trained. Get every manager trained and hold regular refresher courses so that your company is a great company to work for, in every department. Great companies attract great people, male and female.

Address Issues Equally, Not Necessarily, the Same

Sometimes managers think that they have to treat everyone in an identical manner. If Jane gets five M&Ms, then John better get five M&Ms as well. While this philosophy works in preschool, it's not the way to approach management. When Jane asks for a more flexible schedule, don't deny it because John doesn't have one.

Consider whether her request is reasonable and say yes or no based on the facts. If John comes and asks for a flexible schedule, consider his request, and say yes or no based on the facts of his situation.

If you're ever in doubt about whether or not you can legally take action, double-check with your employment law attorney. Remember, it's cheaper to ask a question before than it is to pay the same lawyer to help you out with a lawsuit.

The Bottom Line

Men and women want to work for great companies. Make yours great for all employees, and you won't have to worry about gender equality problems in your workplace.