Human Workplace Index: Women in the Workplace


The month of March is designated as Women’s History Month – a time to reflect, support, and celebrate all women and the progress being made toward equality. And while there is much to celebrate, there is also much to learn. How has the pandemic affected women at work? What do women need to do their best work? How do day-to-day micro-aggressions affect morale and workplace culture? This month’s Human Workplace Index sets out to answer those questions and more. Keep reading for key insights from this month’s survey.

1. A day in the life of a woman at work

It was a sunny day in June 1963 when President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act – the law prohibiting sex-based wage discrimination between men and women performing the same job in the same workplace. Fifty-nine years later and… we are still fighting for gender equity in the workplace. And while strides have been made and will most certainly continue, it hasn’t been an easy fight.

For one, the pandemic has set women back in the workplace yet again: Economists predict women will be paid 76 cents to every dollar their male counterpart make on average, down from 84% before the pandemic. Some of this discrepancy can be explained by education level, occupation segregation, and work experience, meaning women are more likely to be in lower paying roles than men – a gap that is narrowing thanks to organizations like Women in Stem and Girls Who Code. And if this wasn’t enough, here’s what was found when we asked respondents about the frequency in which the follow occur in the workplace.

So, what is the workplace really like for women? Well, it depends on who you ask. The majority of workers surveyed (54%) do not feel that women are treated differently in the workplace. Almost one-third of respondents (28%), on the other hand, do believe women are treated differently.

And while the gender breakdown of those who believe women are treated differently is approximately even (45% women, 55% men), the reasons why are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Of the men who believe women are treated differently, 48% believe women are given more opportunities, followed by acknowledged more (35%). Women believe they are acknowledged less (46%) and promoted less (31%). Men were also more likely than women to believe women and men are paid equally, 68% and 49%, respectively.

This disconnect is a concern when it comes to gender equity. Women hold only 25% of the five main c-suite positions – meaning 75% of leaders responsible for bettering the workplace for all are men. Until more than one-quarter of leaders truly understand the struggles women experience in the workplace, those struggles aren’t likely to go away anytime soon.

2. Workplace support

Two years into the pandemic and the negative effects for women have been made clear. Yet there are things that organizations can do right now to begin building a better workplace for women. And it starts with listening to the unique needs, wants, and opinions of your employees.

When asked how supportive employers are of women during different stages of their lives, the consensus is there is much room for improvement.

Employees want to be appreciated and respected, above all. For organizations looking to attract and retain top talent, these responses need to be taken seriously. Considering a woman could go through any, or all, of these aspects of life while also working for your organization means workplace support must extend past productivity levels and business goals. Until organizations are 100% supportive of the above situations and beyond, women will continue to be at a disadvantage in the workplace.

3. Workplace discrimination: It’s time to do and expect more

Workplace discrimination comes in all shapes and sizes, and certainly doesn’t only apply to women in the workplace. When asked about any type of discrimination, only 42% reported either witnessing or experiencing workplace discrimination or harassment. Keep in mind, however, workplace discrimination is often subtle and may not directly affect anyone but the target, making it difficult to identify when it’s happening.

Unfortunately, when asked about reporting incidents of workplace discrimination, only 34% reported having done so, and 28% stated their organization did not respond to the report. Considering 55% of workers surveyed support organizations that speak out in favor of combatting gender inequities in the workplace, organizations must take workplace discrimination more seriously, or else risk employees leaving for more psychologically safe workplaces.

4. Working parents and caregivers

As mentioned above, women are not the only group of workers to experience discrimination, nor are they the only group to experience the struggles of being a working parent/caregiver. Fifty-eight percent of respondents in this month’s survey are working parents, and of those, 36% feel they have been treated differently in the workplace as a parent.

Of those respondents who are not currently parents or caregivers, 19% of workers reported holding off on having children because of their careers.

Whether it’s worries about reentering the workforce or concerns about work-life balance, these responses should give employers pause. Reevaluate your benefits and paid leave for parents and caregivers. As parental leave becomes increasingly more important to employees, organizations will need to offer the very best in order to retain their talent.

If organizations want employees to do their best work, employers must do their best work for them too. Now is the time for employers to authentically support working parents and women in the workplace. If not now, when?

By Erin Wheeler
Erin Wheeler Career Consultant