Gender Equality in the Workforce: Acquired or Neglected?

Today, gender inequality stems from societal norms in the past that are unfortunately still in place

Offered by high schools around the country, Model UN is arguably the best way to explore international relations, diplomacy, politics and gain beneficial experience that will be useful no matter what you choose to pursue. 

UN Women is an organization part of the United Nations whose main goal is to advance the social and economic mobility of women around the world. Just the creation of such an organization is a major step taken by the UN to accelerate their goal of bettering gender equality and empowering women. Gender equality is a fundamental human right, essential to achieving peaceful societies with full human potential and sustainable development. Once achieved it has the potential to spur productivity and increase economic growth both domestically and globally. This inherently means that an individual’s rights, responsibilities, and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female. Today, gender inequality stems from societal norms in the past that are unfortunately still in place. 

Occupational inequality is the basis for much of the gender-based workplace inequality experienced by women and gender non-conforming individuals. Women are often unable to move up into higher paid positions as quickly as men who typically hold the higher positions. Furthermore, these injustices are shared with members of the LGBTQ community such as transgender workers who have different experiences transitioning at the workplace. The power they held previously can be lost if transitioned to a woman while workers transitioning to a man may experience a power gain. Therefore, power imbalances are a major barrier to success of women and gender non-conforming individuals. Unfortunately, 1 out of every 4 women experience sexual harassment in the workplace with some occupations more susceptible to workplace sexual harassment (50% of female surgeons, 64% of women in law firms). In the UN, female labor force participation in developing countries is very important to achieving certain sustainable development goals. In theory, women’s labor force participation should correlate with economic development; however, this relationship is not straightforward or consistent in every country. In many developing countries, women earn less than men and are more likely to be engaged in unprotected jobs or domestic work. If they work just as hard, why are they treated as any less?

After over 100 years of progression in women’s rights, is this what it has come to? Sexual harassment in the office, lack of proper education, and early marriage are preventing women and girls from becoming successful with a career and ambition for success? Although America is certainly not leading the global stage of women’s rights in the workplace, we are progressing and working towards a work environment free of racial, gender, or any form of discrimination. Additionally, the three major problems identified as violence in the workplace, lack of education, and early marriage pertain more to developing countries or religiously strict countries such as those in the Middle East or Africa. However, the major problem in the United States is the gender pay gap and women in leadership. Equality in pay has improved in the US since 1979 when women earned about 62% as much as men but in 2010, American women earned 81% of their male counterparts’ earnings. 

Fast forward to today, due to the pandemic, Americans’ lives have become very difficult. The current situation with pandemic is as shown: many employees are struggling to complete their jobs, they are in constant work mode now that home and work have merged, they worry about family’s health and finances, and burnout is a major issue. Women (especially those who are POC) have been negatively impacted - they are more likely to have been laid off during the  COVID-19 crisis, effectively stalling their careers and jeopardizing their financial security. Additionally, the pandemic intensifies challenges that women already face; for example, working mothers have always worked a “double shift” (a full day of work followed by hours spent taking care of children and household labor) but now the support that made it possible (such as school and childcare) have diminished. 

Additionally, inequalities in the workplace do pertain to all women but especially Black women, as stated, “Black women already face more barriers than most employees; they are also coping with the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Black community and the emotional toll of repeated instances of racial violence falls heavily on their shoulders. More than 1 in 4 women are thinking of considering what was the unthinkable six months ago, downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce as a whole. This is an emergency for corporate America: companies risk losing women in leadership in addition to unwinding years of painstaking progress toward gender diversity and inclusion”. If companies make significant investments in building a more flexible and empathetic workplace, they will be able to retain employees most affected by today’s crises and can work towards an environment where women have equal opportunity to achieve their potential over the long term. 

Given the current situation, it is uplifting to see American companies taking steps to support their employees. They are sharing valuable information with employees like updates on business’s financial situation and details about paid-leave policies in addition to providing tools and resources to help employees work remotely. Great strides have been made to combat financial anxiety as well. Companies are putting policies and programs in place to ease employees’ financial stress. More than 50 percent of businesses have increased paid leave, which is important for employees who need time off but can’t afford to miss a paycheck, and about 1/3 of companies have added or expanded stipends to offset costs of working from home. However, some companies that are struggling financially may not be able to address employee issues such as the possibility of being laid off, therefore they may not be able to reassure their employees. 

Realistically, companies really can’t afford to lose women leaders due to financial consequences. At the top, senior-level women are more likely to embrace employee - friendly policies and programs to champion racial and gender diversity. A significant amount of senior-level women say they constantly take a public stand for gender and racial equity at work whereas much less senior-level men have voiced this same value. Additionally, Black women are less likely to feel supported at work. After all, COVID-19 disproportionately affects them and incidents of violence toward them in the US have resulted in a heavy emotional and mental toll. They do not feel supported by managers and coworkers so they are always living in fear. This needs to change.

Here are some ways companies can better support their female Black employees. They can address the distinct challenges of Black women and make their nonblack employees aware of the issue by: 1) Making a public and explicit commitment to advancing and supporting Black women, 2) Communicating commitment to employees and a clear explanation of what is important, and 3) Educating non-black employees. If employees understand that Black women face more systemic barriers, receive less support from managers and experience more acute discrimination, they will be more likely to champion the Black women in their organization. When companies set goals and track outcomes by gender and race combined, they more clearly see how Black women and people of color are progressing. 

Companies can also work to foster a culture that supports and values Black women by: 1) Making it clear that disrespectful behavior won’t be tolerated and taking proactive steps to make sure that Black women feel valued and welcome, 2) Changing guidelines that are unacceptable through articulating what positive behavior looks like with antiracism and allyship training for employees to give them a better understanding of how to fight racial discrimination and how to be allies, and 3) Reflecting on organizational customs, rituals, and norms to make sure they are inclusive and gather input from black women on what is and is not working and allows them to have a voice in shaping new company norms. The bottom line is that the more companies take into account the unique perspectives and experiences of different groups of employees, the more effectively an inclusive culture will result.

It is clear that there is a lot of work to do. Though these steps may seem overwhelming, as long as a company is constantly putting in effort to make their female employees feel safe and treated respectfully, the long term future of every goal listed above to be accomplished will undoubtedly happen. 

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