Improving gender equality in the workplace: What you need to know

What you need to know about improving gender equality in the workplace

Though society has come a long way toward achieving gender equality, the workplace is not yet the even playing field that it could be. If your company wants to enjoy the wealth of benefits afforded by a diverse workforce, you may need to reexamine its business practices and take decisive steps to create an environment that welcomes and supports workers of all genders. Companies that provide equal opportunities based on skills, knowledge, and performance regardless of gender will be poised to thrive in the future.

What is gender equality in the workplace?

Gender equality in the workplace refers to the unbiased treatment of individuals regardless of gender. This is an essential aspect of human rights. Gender equality affects women, men, trans individuals, and gender-diverse people. In the workplace, gender equality most commonly relates to equal access to pay and professional opportunities. Historically, there has been a stark difference between the salaries and opportunities afforded to men and women. In a workplace with gender equality, men, women, transgender individuals, and gender-diverse people have the same salary and opportunities in situations where skill sets and education are otherwise equal. 

The many faces of gender inequality

Women in many markets deal with gender inequality in numerous ways. While this applies to all women, the disparities are even more significant for women of color and LGBTQ+ individuals. Though gender inequality may seem like a thing of the past, professor of psychology emerita at Northwestern University Alice Eagly, Ph.D., noted, "Even in 2023, women still face challenges to their authority and success that are greater than those faced by their male counterparts."

Gender inequality can take many forms, and employers and employees must recognize what inequality looks like to tackle it properly.

"Even in 2023, women still face challenges to their authority and success that are greater than those faced by their male counterparts."


Microaggressions can take the form of insensitive questions or offensive, often belittling comments. Women with disabilities and LGBTQ+ women indicate that they often hear microaggressions like "you should smile more," or "you look mad." Asian women and Latinas are frequently asked where they're "really from." 

When coworkers assume a woman is younger, less experienced, or less capable, this is considered a microaggression. Women often find their judgment comes under question more than that of their equally experienced male counterparts. They may face an overly critical environment with less praise and fewer rewards. All associated verbal and written expressions of these erroneous beliefs are microaggressions. 

Barriers to leadership

In 2020, women accounted for nearly half of all employees in S&P 500 companies but made up only 6% of their CEOs. Only 26% of C-suite leaders are women, and just 5% are women of color. The biggest barrier for women in leadership is found at the bottom of the ladder. Here, they face the "broken rung." For every 100 men promoted from an entry-level position to manager, just 87 women receive the same promotion.

Unequal pay

The gender wage gap in the United States was 17% as of 2022. This means that for every dollar a man makes, a woman earns only 83 cents. Most of this wage gap is due to unequal pay within firms wherein women receive less responsibility than similarly skilled men. Roughly a quarter of the wage gap is due to the high concentration of women in low-paying careers. 

What causes gender equality in the workplace?

Many factors have traditionally contributed to gender inequality in the workplace. In some cases, women may have a harder time securing a higher wage or position of leadership because they tend to approach work differently than men. Historically, women were more likely to stay in the same job, which may have limited their earning potential, as job changes present a prime opportunity for higher earnings. 

Some women also face the phenomenon known as the "motherhood penalty." Women typically take longer leaves of absence after having children and are more likely to work part-time while their children are young, which can create barriers to securing higher earnings and leadership positions. The exorbitant cost of childcare in the U.S. further contributes to the problem. In 2019, dual-income American households spent 21% of their net household income on childcare. Fortunately, this number is falling. In 2020, childcare accounted for just 19% of net household income, and in 2021, this dropped to 11%. 

The importance of gender equality in the workplace

Women play a vital role in the workplace. Companies with diverse senior management teams see a 30% higher profit margin after 12 months and nearly 30% higher cumulative return on equity over five years compared to those with less gender diversity. Companies with women leaders often see greater collaboration and productivity. Women inspire a deeper sense of dedication to the company by emphasizing what's good in the organization. Women tend to promote fairness, making it possible for groups to better utilize the strengths of each individual for greater success as a whole. 

How companies can improve gender equality

Women leaders, rare as they are, are leaving their jobs in greater numbers than ever. To retain your valuable female employees, your company must act accordingly

Shift priorities

Your company can better serve its women employees by placing a stronger emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Women are 1.5 times more likely than men to leave their employer for a company with a greater commitment to DEI.

Women often seek out companies that prioritize employee well-being and offer ample flexibility. Said one Black woman vice president, "For the first time in my career, we're seeing people leaving and going to companies with a more generous work-from-home policy. So I dug into the data, and I realized something about every single person leaving. They were all women." 

In particular, young women emphasize flexibility, unwilling to sacrifice family for a career or vice versa. Remote work opportunities, four-day workweeks, flexible hours, and on-site childcare can all provide the flexibility that women crave. Over two-thirds of women under 30 have their sights set on senior leadership, but businesses may need to shift their priorities to attract and retain them.

Provide diversity and inclusion training

Some individuals are still unaware of their biases and the associated expressions of such. Though microaggressions seem glaring to those on the receiving end, employees exhibiting these offensive behaviors aren't always conscious of how demeaning and hurtful their words are. Providing appropriate training can help your employees at all levels recognize and address their biases. This is important throughout the organization but especially crucial for those in leadership and hiring roles, as these individuals are essentially the gatekeepers to better pay and promotions.

Improving gender equality in the workplace promises to deliver a wealth of benefits to your company, including more satisfied workers and greater productivity throughout the organization. Maintaining a diverse workplace with employees of all genders is the best way to access a broad talent pool. Excelling in this area will ensure your company has the opportunity to draw highly skilled employees of all genders.

More tips on promoting equality in the workplace:

Support career advancement for women at every stage to help them stay on track to join the C-suite.

DEI efforts are great, but make sure you don't overdo it, or you could risk causing diversity fatigue.

Double-check your job description and ensure your writing is geared toward a diverse pool of applicants.

Learn how you can create a safe and comfortable environment for LGBTQIA+ employees.

Keep your eyes on the prize, and remember the benefits of DEI in the workplace.

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