The Gender Pay Gap and Issues Women Still Face in the Workplace

Taryn Davies
Published: August 2, 2019

Unhelpful Stereotypes About Women

How would you describe an articulate, passionate, and successful businessman? Most people are likely to see him as confident, respectable, and influential. The adjectives of choice are more likely to be positive and seemingly gender-neutral. However, if you compare this to the language that people would tend to use to describe a businesswoman behaving in the same manner, then the inequality becomes obvious. A survey of small business owners found that women in management positions are more likely to be seen as "bossy" at 40%, compared to less than 25% of men. Women find it harder to gain a successful reputation at work because they are seen as "emotional" or even "bitchy" compared to their male counterparts. Even more than 40% of men agree with almost three-quarters of women that these negative stereotypes about women are common in their workplace culture, making it more difficult for women to advance than men.

Ambition vs Likability

Similarly, ambition in women is seen as a negative thing, even though it is stereotypically an admirable quality in men. Hard-working women who are assertive are considered "aggressive" and "unfeminine" according to Forbes. Although it is incredibly reductive, people still widely see leadership qualities as being masculine and therefore unattractive when displayed by women. So-called bossy women are more widely disliked throughout the workplace. Colleagues are more likely to find a woman likeable if she is stereotypically kind, gentle, and agreeable. However, this is a double-edged sword, because "soft" women are usually not considered suitable for leadership. By comparison, men usually don't have to worry about sacrificing ambition to be liked, or vice versa. Men are generally liked for being assertive and successful.

Job Satisfaction

Satisfaction with your role at work is a personal thing and can vary from individual to individual. It also varies between genders, as men and women are attracted to different qualities in working life. Men are more likely to value their position and financial rewards, again according to Forbes. Women, meanwhile, take satisfaction from the quality of their working day. This could involve having a fulfilling daily role or having interactions that are rewarding in more ways than just financially. This means that the way that businesses tend to go about attracting staff and retaining them may appeal more to men than to women.

Unconscious Gender Bias

Women have a harder time just getting their foot in the door in the workplace, let alone advancing in their role. Things such as the aforementioned stereotypes about women result in unconscious biases which interviewers, colleagues, and managers may not even realise that they are applying to women. In interview environments, potential employees judge men and women differently. Men are often given the benefit of the doubt and interviewers consider their potential rather than their current status. In contrast, interviewers judge women according to their experience without seeing beyond that. It is illegal to ask in a job interview about children and if they would affect your ability to work. Yet, 39% of mothers aged 18 to 30 years old have been asked about that. Since women are still expected to care for children more than men, employers have biased thinking about whether women can successfully balance work and family.

The Gender Pay Gap

The pay structure is still drastically unequal in the UK, as confirmed by the BBC. As recently as last year, a shocking 78% of companies still had a pay gap in favour of their male employees. Only 8% of companies reportedly pay men and women equally for the same work. Even when a woman has the same experience and qualifications as a man, the man is likely to receive a higher salary. There is no valid reason for this, but employers often get away with it due to discouraging employees from talking about how much they earn. Give your employer evidence about your abilities if you should have the same salary as a co-worker.

Long Working Hours

British employees work some of the longest hours in Europe, with many regularly working more than 10 hours beyond their contracted shifts. This leaves both male and female employees exhausted, reducing their cognitive performance and therefore the quality of their work. However, as mentioned, women are more likely to be primary caregivers than men. They have to provide additional unpaid labour outside of their paid working hours, which men are less likely to do. Flexibility is a desirable perk for almost half of all workers, but lack of flexibility is more likely to have a negative impact on women with young families.

Toxic Company Culture

The wrong kind of atmosphere and behaviour amongst colleagues can hold employees back in their jobs. This is particularly true for women who have to navigate a "boys' club" culture at work. Men will tend to recognise and reward others like them, further enforcing the biases that are already in place. Things like negative stereotyping, hierarchies, and long hours can make the workplace an unpleasant place to be. In fact, 53% of employees report that their ineffective workplace culture and structures are holding them all back. They also said that they were likely to leave their job if things did not change within their company.

Barriers to Career Progression

Due to the unconscious gender biases already discussed, the workplace can be hostile to women. All of the above things contribute to an employment structure that all too often blocks women at every turn. Inherent bias results in women usually only receiving promotions from other women. Men are less likely to promote women into leadership roles, causing a gender disparity in management. Women sometimes unconsciously try to rectify this by promoting other women. But unless people confront biases like these, workplace cultures and structures will never change. They are a constant barrier to women's progression.

Lack of Training and Support

Poor training is a common problem which affects employees of all genders. Employers tend to prioritize communication skills, both oral and written, but often do not provide adequate training in this area. The differences in communication styles between men and women, and also between different generations, can affect perceptions of professional ability. Yet, this can also result in a lack of support for employees. This then contributes to unpleasant workplace culture and employees struggling to progress without the proper training or sufficient opportunities to improve and advance within the company that they work at.

Lack of Female Role Models

Without being given the same support and chances as men, women are less likely to progress. If there are no women in leadership roles, female employees will feel like they don't have a direction to move forward in. If nobody can serve as a role model for women to reach senior positions, the lack of inclusion will only continue. From the top down, policies need to consider flexibility and childcare for men and women. This could enable a more equal and diverse workforce, with roles to aspire to and the pathways to get to them.

How can we advance workplace equality for women?

The founder of Roar Training company, Kirsty Hulse, noted that these findings were just a few highlights. There are many more issues at work, these are just the ones we notice most often. If we can rectify these most common problems, then we can keep going until we resolve all of the little issues which make up the problematic bigger picture. Hulse says that it will take time and effort to address all of these equality concerns, but steps need to be taken. If things don't change, employees will not want to stay with their employer. Hulse also specifies that organizational culture needs to change to be more accommodating for women, and that men need to be allies for this to happen. This is where companies like Roar Training can assist, offering businesses an understanding of imbalances in equality and how to address and fix them.