Gender Equality | Is Your Workplace Walking the Walk?

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Many of us in the social impact space are motivated by the potential to create a fairer world with equal opportunities for all. But have you ever felt like some of the principles you’re working toward further afield aren’t being applied when it comes to gender equality in your own office?

If so, you’ve got research on your side. While women make up 73% of the nonprofit workforce, there is still a lack of diversity and equality among nonprofit leadership and staff. Women hold 57% of CEO positions at organizations with budgets of less than $1 million, but female leadership declines steeply in “high-budget” nonprofits—at organizations with budgets of $25 million or more, women hold just 21% of leadership roles. And female nonprofit leaders consistently earn less than their male counterparts, with pay gaps of up to 20% recorded at larger organizations.

In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, we’ve put together some tips to help you identify and address possible gender gaps in your workplace.

Taking stock

It’s important to keep in mind that discrimination can be hard to prove, and that those who perpetuate gender biases in hiring or payment practices are often unaware of their own bias.

To make positive changes, you first need to know if you’ve got a problem—but gender gaps aren’t always so easy to spot. Here are some signs to look out for:

  • The leadership is mostly male. This one should be relatively easy to identify. If most of the executives and division leaders are men while women make up the majority of the junior-level staff, you might have a problem.
  • Women are pigeonholed into “soft-skill” roles. Skills like interpersonal communication and time management are critical for any organization—but women are often disproportionately pushed into “soft-skill” roles in human resources, communications, and program administration. It’s true that women are more likely to apply to these sorts of jobs, partly due to the persisting gender imbalances in university enrollment in “hard-skill” jobs (e.g. science, technology, engineering, and math [STEM] fields). But even women who are firmly positioned in technical roles may be expected to carry out administrative duties and other “office housework” more often than their male counterparts. If this sounds like a familiar workplace dynamic, it could indicate a gender gap worth looking into.
  • Women are paid less. Nearly all of us have heard workplace grumblings about salary at one point or another, but sometimes they are a sign of wider imbalances. Confidentiality agreements and a lack of transparency at many organizations make it difficult to have clarity on gender-related salary differences. If your organization uses salary bands or a hierarchical system of titles, though, this could be a good place to find clues. Do women consistently seem to have lower band or title rankings than men despite having the same responsibilities and qualifications? This could indicate inequalities in the way employees are compensated and evaluated.

Taking action

It can feel discouraging to recognize a gender gap in your own office, but it may help to view this realization as the first step toward making lasting changes in your organization. It’s important to keep in mind that discrimination can be hard to prove, and that those who perpetuate gender biases in hiring or payment practices are often unaware of their own bias.

But there are many things you can do to shed light on existing inequalities, and to help change your organization’s culture for the better:

  • Reach out to female supervisors. Women in supervisory roles may already be aware of gender gaps at work, but it’s good to let them know that you see them too. Hopefully you can count on them to serve as mentors—and allies for future gender equality and diversity initiatives you might launch. Start by requesting a private meeting to discuss growth opportunities within your organization. When the meeting day arrives, you can start by asking your colleague about her career path into a management position, and express your interest in pursuing a similar track. To bring up your concerns about gender imbalances, you might say, “I’ve noticed we don’t have so many women in management positions. Do you think there’s anything we can do to get more women on the management track?”
  • Have a chat with HR. If you’re worried about imbalances in pay or upward mobility, talking to your human resources department is a good first step. You can discuss the way salary bands and office hierarchies work, and ensure that career and promotion paths are clear. You might also consider making the case for a potential update of your organization’s annual review or job evaluation criteria. Because men and women tend to have different leadership styles, your organization should recognize and reward a variety of skills and accomplishments. In an HR meeting, you can be more direct about your expectations for salary and promotion opportunities. If you’re interested in taking on new responsibilities, you might ask, “What is the recommended path for transitioning into a [MANAGEMENT/TEAM/LEADER/TECHNICAL OFFICER] role?” To better judge whether your current work is being properly valued, you could ask for a specific breakdown of the skills and duties expected of someone in your position. If you have clear evidence that you’re going above and beyond, you can point this out and ask about the path to a title promotion or raise.
  • Join forces with colleagues. If you’ve noticed signs of gender inequality at work, you’re probably not alone. Engaging your coworkers can help bring underlying issues into the spotlight. You could host a quarterly brown bag lunch or form a focus group where your colleagues can bring up concerns and discuss potential solutions.

Every workplace has a different dynamic, and what works in one setting might not be so successful in another. But with the right mix of awareness, dedication, and collaboration, you can spot inequalities—and come up with successful strategies to fight them.

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Have you encountered gender inequality at work? What strategies have you used to raise awareness of the problem among your colleagues? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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