Megan Hudson Reports on Gender Parity and Women’s Empowerment
Gender equality is a contentious issue. Not in the sense that the concept is debatable, but because the disparity between men and women is still so commonplace and pervasive, especially in the workplace.
While there is a growing awareness of the issue, change is slow and largely unsatisfactory. In the US tech industry, research still shows that for every one dollar a man-made, a woman only made 82 cents (even less for women of colour).
Gender Inequality In Tech
Women are notoriously underrepresented in tech. Data taken from a range of important technology conferences in the USA between 2016 and 2018 painted a depressing picture of inequality. 27% of the main speakers were female—although women make up almost half the workforce in the USA. There’s a lot of chatter about “equality” and “diversity”, but as yet, it is unclear whether there’s any substance to back up the promises of change. Statistics show that there has been little real progress when it comes to empowering women in the workplace.
Disappointingly, research has shown that the proportion of women to men in the tech industry has fallen in the past 35 years. While the number of women in the field has grown, it has not made a dent in the age-old issue of inequality.
Even before entering the workforce, women are underrepresented. Out of all tech graduates, only one quarter are female.
Stereotypes Perpetuate Inequality
Part of the inequality between genders stems from archaic gender roles. A good wife should have her husband’s dinner waiting for him when he returns from a hard day’s work. These days this exact attitude is not as commonplace. But going by statistics it’s clear that women are still expected to do unpaid work in the house.
Childcare, cleaning and other household chores inevitably become women’s responsibilities. If they want to return to their career soon after having children they are often seen as selfish—putting their own ambitions above the welfare of their babies. By contrast, men are not forced to take time off work, and when they go back they get congratulated for their new addition to the family.
Education can be the gateway to equality. Education for all on feminism and its importance, as well as the ability for women to access education in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Empowering girls and women needs to start from an early age, even before they arrive at college and start specializing in whichever career path they choose.
“Male” subjects vs “female” subjects
The underrepresentation of women in STEM careers (and within them, underrepresentation in leadership and management roles) begins with the gender stereotypes enforced from early childhood. The binary view of male and female gets superimposed on careers and fields of learning, with STEM subjects seen as masculine—leading to a classroom environment that supports boys at the expense of girls. The end result is few women role models in STEM careers and a pay gap that sees women in tech earning thousands of dollars less than their male counterparts.
It’s abundantly clear that the status quo when it comes to gender equality has to change. We cannot continue to live in a world where women earn less than men for doing the same job, face greater challenges in periods of economic hardship or recovery, or are subject to stereotyping due to their gender.
Women’s empowerment is one of the key ways of addressing this issue. Although making lasting change will also require other adjustments to society in general. The World Economic Forum classifies gender equality as a basic human right, and it’s considered vital for economic health and stability.
Companies that have a more diverse workforce are more productive and innovative. In various countries, research has shown that increasing equal representation in the workplace and correcting the pay imbalance could result in an increase in GDP and reduction in unemployment.
Obstacles To Gender Parity In The Workplace
Some of the fundamental issues in question when trying to achieve gender parity are:
- Company culture
- Talent development
Gender bias, conscious or unconscious, is at the root of much of the gender disparity seen at work and especially in STEM careers. Men do in fact experience gender bias too, but for them, it doesn’t extend to financial inequality. This bias occurs in every part of society. The world is designed with the male “body” in mind. Crash test dummies are designed with male anatomy and physique, as is PPE. Additionally, children are primed to think better of their male peers in terms of intelligence and capabilities.
Empowering women in the STEM field and in general needs to start at the beginning for real change to happen. At the same time, the gender gap in various industries, from entry-level jobs to senior management, must be addressed. It is relatively straightforward to rectify the problems of unequal pay and unequal representation (not easy, but something that can be clearly defined and quantified). Workplace culture—not so much.
Research has shown that 37% of women who left roles in the STEM industry did so as a result of workplace culture. In a male-dominated environment, it is unsurprising that women are excluded to some extent. This is disappointing but predictable.
There are many practical steps companies can take to achieve gender parity as well as to foster a culture of female empowerment. Affirmative action is an important tool to increase representation for women at all levels in companies.
While change happens in the workplace, gender biases at school must get challenged so that girls have the support necessary to pursue STEM careers. As women are supported, men must get educated and pushed to educate themselves on the systemic bias against women that pervade society.
Achieving gender parity is an ongoing campaign, but one that we need to pursue for the equal treatment of women to take full effect.