Gender Differences in the Workplace

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As of 2017, companies that ensured equitable hiring practices and working conditions made 21% greater profits than companies which did not attempt to equalize gender differences in the workplace. Therefore, not only is it in your moral interest to eliminate gender bias, but it is in your bottom line's favor. The first step to banishing gender bias is to first identify where in your company it may be manifesting.

Stereotypes and Unconscious Gender Bias

Workers of both genders find themselves subjected to stereotypes and unconscious bias. Breaking through these embedded beliefs requires more than mere anecdotal support for whether gender bias of any kind exists.

In a much-touted test published back in 2012, an identical application and resume for a laboratory manager position had either a male or female name on it. The male-named applicant received more job offers at a higher initial rate of pay, despite using identical CVs. In contrast, a more recent experiment revealed a two to one preference for hiring women into tenure-track assistant professorships, partially due to an increased push to recruit more women into occupations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Regulating Workplace Decisions Based on Gender Differences

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to base any hiring decisions on gender when that affects staff eligibility for promotions or selection for participation in special projects. Separate payment and retention strategies for male and female employees also violate the letter and the spirit of this act.

One year prior, the 1963 Equal Pay Act established that employers had to provide the same pay for substantially equal duties. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 reaffirmed that employers had to pay men and women the same wages for similar work. The act also forbade using bonuses to equalize differences in hourly pay between male and female employees.

Closing the Pay Gap: The Breadwinner Defense

Gender inequality results whenever an employer bases hiring decisions on perceived gender differences at work. For example, using the argument that men need higher pay rates due to being the family breadwinner.

This breadwinner defense of unequal pay rates does not bear scrutiny. Accounting for all facts, 40% of all married households in the United States have a female as the primary family wage earner. Additionally, 75% of all single female households with children support their families with their income.

Gender Differences Used to Justify Workplace Discrimination

Providing higher initial pay offers and more abundant promotion opportunities to men instead of women rests in multiple myths about gender differences in the workplace. For instance, one of the most damaging myths states that men supposedly work longer hours, negotiate for higher pay, and take fewer, shorter leaves for family reasons.

Another myth insists that women choose lower-paying jobs with part-time hours. To the contrary, the reality demonstrates that as women's participation in male-dominated, higher-paying fields increases, overall average pay in the field decreases.

Eliminate Steering Practices

Steering occurs so frequently in workplaces that it often goes without any acknowledgment as a form of gender-based disparity. While men experience steering as often as women, it typically results in fewer opportunities to compete for any position at all rather than in lower pay. For example, in 2016, the defense contractor AmeriQual Group kept steering men into loader and utility positions, resulting in 237 applicants being turned away from employment.

In practice, many employers view themselves as benevolent for guiding men and women into separate career paths. In consequence, women regularly find themselves steered into support positions. These supporting roles result in taking on unpaid responsibilities, such as on-the-job event planning and minute taking, along with making coffee and cleaning.

In self-defense against a discrimination lawsuit, create strategies to avoid steering employees of either sex by forwarding resumes and job applications with the names removed. As positions open, select applicants in the order they applied instead of by name, and state that policy clearly during the interview phase.

Bathroom Break Disparity

In most instances, women wait in line to use the restroom significantly longer than men and take up to twice as long to use the toilet once they make their way inside the door. Bathrooms for men and women typically have the same square footage, but the women's restrooms have stalls, which take up a lot more space than urinals. Consequently, men require little more than a zipping and unzipping of the fly to get the job done.

In contrast, women must open the door of the bathroom stall, clean and paper the seat and pull down their undergarments, including pantyhose and underwear. Sometimes, women must also take care of menstrual needs. Then, they must pull undergarments back into place after checking that no toilet paper, skirt or dress hems wound up tucked into their underwear. The women then wash their hands and find paper towels or an air dryer to dry them.

Disparity and Hiring Bias

Worksite bathroom policies that do not take these realities into account fall afoul of Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules and regulations. Moreover, this "potty disparity" often reveals a bias toward hiring more men than women, especially in larger businesses such as some of Amazon's corporate offices.

Even in the halls of Congress, women's bathroom needs remained ignored until July 2011. The House of Representatives finally made four toilets and two sinks available to its 76 female legislators. Built close enough to the House floor, this new restroom meant that female legislators no longer had to risk missing key votes to relieve themselves.

Gender Differences in Communication

Whether or not you attribute it to upbringing or biological imperatives, men and women exhibit gender differences in communication. When women raise their voices, interrupt or give directives, bystanders view them as aggressive and rude rather than as showing leadership. To combat this stereotype, educate staff to respect gender differences in communication styles. Offset the effects of gender differences in communication by promoting more women into leadership positions, especially into the succession plan team and the current C-suite.

Best Practice Recommendations

Encourage male staff to participate in event planning and serving refreshments, along with taking minutes during meetings and cleaning the break room. Hire men for support positions rather than only for leadership or substantial labor roles. Give women the gavel in board meetings. Additionally, ensure that everyone has the floor in brainstorming huddles and breakout sessions, not just those who speak first while speaking loudest and longest.

References

About the Author

After earning a B.S. Ed. from Kent State University in 1995, Smith provided educational support in multiple Ohio school districts. Smith has managed nine employees and 86 independent adult care providers at a time. In addition, Smith has assisted two charities with successful 501 (C) 3 applications, serving on the board of one for three years. Currently, Smith serves as an independent Avon representative at Avon Beauty by Laura. Her writing chops include one published novel and close to 1500 articles in various online and offline publications.