Gender inequality is by definition any form of discrimination or inequality on the basis of sex or gender. It manifests through gender-biased stereotypes and preconceived ideas that assign men and women certain roles determined by their gender.
What is gender inequality?
Gender inequality happens in all spheres of society – legal, social, economic and cultural – and causes disparities between men and women when it comes to opportunities and relationships. It is largely expressed through language.
Gender-biased language relies on terminology that helps reinforce inequality and discrimination. Terms like strong, ambitious, charismatic and hardworking typically define cisgender male stereotypical traits. Terms like helpful, compassionate, caring and nurturing are generally attributed to cisgender female stereotypes.
This is defined as masculine-coded and feminine-coded language, which routinely causes one sex or gender to be privileged over the other.
How does gender inequalities take shape in the workplace?
Gender inequalities in the workplace can take many different forms. Unequal pay, fewer opportunities for women, sexual harassment, promotion gaps and racism all factor into what is called occupational segregation, where men and women perform different jobs based on their gender.
Over time, gender inequality has a direct impact on earning disparities and leads to the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles.
But the problem isn’t limited to women having fewer career opportunities. Systematic aggressions toward women, through offensive or insensitive language related to ethnicity, gender or sexual identity, makes it even harder for certain groups of women to thrive in the workplace.
The opposite of gender inequality is gender diversity. In the workplace, gender diversity means that individuals, regardless of their gender, are hired at a similar rate, paid equally and given the same career opportunities.
A gender-diverse workplace is a place where your desires and aspirations aren’t determined by your sex or gender.
Examples of gender inequalities in the workplace
There’s nuance in how gender inequality in the workplace manifests. Overall, it leads to fewer opportunities for women through sexism, ageism, racism and ableism.
The pay gap
Equal pay for men and women continues to be a utopia in many parts of the world. The gender pay gap still persists, even though statistics show it has diminished over the years.
Traditional social norms and stereotypes keep women from applying to high-paying jobs in male-dominated industries. Women also have to grapple with the fear of negotiating a pay raise and the negative consequences of doing so. Additionally, women who do ask for a raise, only get it 15 percent of the time compared to men who get a pay increase 20 percent of the time.
Bias against women who become mothers
Women of child-bearing age (and women who already are mothers) are less likely to get a callback from a recruitment manager, even when their qualifications are identical to that of a male applicant or a younger female candidate.
This stems from the work/family stereotype that views women as caregivers. The false conclusion is that a woman’s devotion to her family and children makes her less committed to her job, especially when it comes to high-level management positions.
Fewer women get promoted
This rings especially true at higher levels of leadership. Over 60 percent of C-suite positions are held by white cisgender men, compared to 20 percent women in similar roles.
And if one were to look at women from minority groups, the numbers are even more dreary. Only 4 percent of C-suite jobs are held by women of color.
The link between sexual harassment and sexism is clear, and yet sexism is often overlooked in the workplace.
Gender harassment is often a direct side effect of inequities in pay and career opportunities for women. It often manifests in the form of unwelcome sexual advances, inappropriate remarks and comments, requests for sexual favors and other forms of sexual misconduct.
Harassment in the workplace can cause stress, anxiety and long-term clinical depression. This can lead to chronic health problems and emotional health issues that creates power imbalances and further deepens the gender gap.
Common gender stereotypes
Every society has ideas about how we are supposed to act and speak based on our sex or gender, our gender roles. Gender role expectations are the very basis of gender stereotypes, which can cause unequal treatment or sexism.
Here are some common gender stereotypes:
- Women are more emotional than men
- Men are more aggressive and self-confident
- Men are doctors, women are nurses
- Girls play with dolls, boys play with trucks
- Women can’t handle the stress of leadership
- Boys don´t read
- Men are leaders, women are caregivers
- Men are pilots, women are flight attendants
- Men have short hair, women have long hair
- Women are expected to have children
Why gender stereotypes are a problem
Most stereotypes are the product of us being brought up to think of certain jobs and roles as gender-specific. It starts from the age we pick up our first toy, most likely a doll or a truck.
Think of the way in which toys were given to us, and marketed to us in the toy store. Blue for boys and pink for girls. Cars for boys and play kitchens for girls. Millions of pieces of data that our brains incorporate and interpret unconsciously. This can become a problem.
When gender stereotypes spill into adulthood, and into our workplaces, it fundamentally impacts how we recruit others into our organization, and our expectations of the people we work with. It also affects how we perceive different jobs and the people who hold them.
What about gender bias?
Gender stereotypes are fundamentally fueled by gender bias, the tendency to prefer one gender over another. Gender bias is a form of unconscious bias and more often than not it tends to favor white heterosexual cisgender males.
Another term for gender bias is gender discrimination. This is the opposite of gender bias in that it treats a person or group unequally based on their gender.
One way in which gender discrimination and gender bias manifest is through the glass ceiling metaphor. This refers to the invisible barrier that prevents women from achieving career success beyond a certain position within a company, simply because of their gender.
How stereotypes and gender bias impact the recruitment process
Some stereotypes may seem more harmful than others, but they all contribute in one way or another to gender inequality. Stereotypes have an impact on who gets hired, who gets a raise, who gets promoted ultimately, who gets to run the entire company.
The language you use as an organization can also contribute to reinforcing certain stereotypes. When used in a job advert, certain terms may unintentionally uphold gender-normative stereotypes about who you expect to see in leadership positions. Usually, it’s a cisgender male.
Eliminating gender inequality
Eliminating biased language in the workplace can be an important stepping stone toward fostering greater inclusion.
There are specific ways to achieve this, for example:
- Ensuring gender-neutral language is used across all processes, replacing terms like ‘maternity leave’ with ‘parental leave’ to avoid gender bias.
- Appointing hiring managers from diverse backgrounds. Having longer shortlists. Studies show that a larger pool of candidates creates more gender diversity and pushes managers to think beyond stereotypes.
Creating a more inclusive workspace is a collective effort. It takes time. However, if done correctly, it can help create a more inclusive workplace where everyone feels welcome, regardless of their gender.