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Being a woman at work- is there still a gender inequality?

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March is Women’s History Month. Every year we take this opportunity to celebrate women and their contributions in history and contemporary society. Every year we preach gender equality but, although over the years a lot has improved for women in a professional work environment, there is still a significant wage gap and an unconscious bias against women in higher positions within companies. And these aren’t the only challenges faced by women in today’s workplace.

Can you guess what countries are closer to achieving a gender equality? And where is being a female the most challenging? According to Statista, the Nordic countries make 4 out of 5 top countries in the world in terms of gender gap index, with Iceland in the lead at 0.91. Afghanistan is the least gender equal country with a score of 0.4. Not to bore you with statistics and formulas, the easiest way to look at it is this: if the index equals one- the perfect balance is achieved- men and women are equal. Anything below 1 indicates advantages for men, anything above 1 would mean that women have a privileged life. And what factors are taken into consideration when calculating the country’s index? There are 6 core domains: work, money, knowledge, time, power and health. Each domain breaks into more details such as: percentage of men vs women in key positions in parliament/ key positions in board of central bank/ time spent doing housework/ participating in cultural events as well as net income, full-time employment rate etc. There are two additional domains: intersecting inequalities and violence, currently not accounted for. Care to guess the gender gap index for the UK? Drumroll, please. Calculated for 2023, the GGI was 0.79. Interestingly, this put us above the United States with a score of 0.74.

But one thing remains unchanged- nobody has recorded a gender gap index above 1. So, no matter where in the world you choose to live and work- if you’re female, you are bound to face challenges just as a result of your gender. What are they? Just to name a few:

  • Pay gap is the first one that comes to mind when discussing a work environment. On average, women still earn less than their male counterparts for performing the same or similar roles.
  • Women often find themselves facing an invisible barrier, commonly known as the glass ceiling, which obstructs their climb to leadership positions. The underrepresentation of women in executive and board roles is a reminder of the barriers that hinder their professional growth.
  • Unconscious biases persist in the workplace, influencing hiring decisions, promotions, and performance evaluations. These biases contribute to the perpetuation of gender stereotypes, limiting opportunities for women and reinforcing traditional gender roles.
  • Balancing professional responsibilities with personal and caregiving duties remains a significant challenge for women. The work- life balance is particularly difficult to achieve for women, as the common expectation remains- women are supposed to look after the household and the family. If these duties were shared equally, women would stand a much better chance of focusing on their careers and getting promoted.
  • Harassment and discrimination, whether obvious or subtle, create hostile work environments for many women. Addressing these issues is crucial for fostering inclusive workplaces where all employees can thrive without fear of prejudice or mistreatment.
  • Other, less obvious challenges can be as simple as hormonal. It’s only recently been acknowledged that periods and menopause can hinder work performance. But women have always had menstruations which often affect the mood, physical health, as well as the bank balance.

International Women’s Day, observed annually on March 8th, serves as a global platform to raise awareness about these challenges and advocate for gender equality. The theme for International Women’s Day 2024, “Breaking the Bias,” resonates with the need to challenge and overcome the biases. March isn’t just about one day. It’s Women’s History Month, a whole month dedicated to celebrating women’s achievements. A month filled with events and talks, all pushing for equality- it’s a chance for everyone to join in and make a difference. And let’s not just stop to reflect one day (or one month) in a year.

What should we focus on to bring that gender gap index closer to 1?

  • Companies can actively promote diversity and inclusion by implementing policies that ensure equal opportunities for all employees, regardless of gender. Creating a culture that values diverse perspectives and experiences contributes to a more inclusive and supportive workplace.
  • Addressing unconscious biases starts with self-reflexion. But organisations can conduct training programs to raise awareness about those biases and their impact on decision-making processes.
  • Implementing flexible work policies, including remote work options and flexible hours, helps address the challenges of work-life balance. This approach enables employees, particularly women, to manage their professional and personal responsibilities more effectively.
  • Establishing mentorship and sponsorship programs can provide women with valuable guidance and support in their career development. Having mentors and sponsors who advocate for women’s advancement can help break down barriers and open doors to opportunities.
  • Making reasonable adjustments for hormonal issues faced by women can come a long way- providing sanitary products at work will be greatly appreciated, too.

It turns out that the road to a top paying position at work is particularly steep if you’re a woman. Let’s use this month’s celebrations of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month to be the spotlight moments, urging us to take action. By highlighting the issues women face in work environment, together we can find reasonable solutions and bring the gender gap index in the UK closer to 1.