Gender inequality at work: What we know and how we overcome it

Gender inequality at work – what we know and how we overcome it

In creating “3 Ways to Improve Gender Equality at Work” we came across some powerful research that underpinned the advice we give to improve gender equality at work, every day.

There are twice as many John CEO’s as there are female bosses

One striking example of skewed gender representation is not just the prevalence of men in power, but the prevalence of men with particular names outnumbering women as a whole. Women represent 50.8% of the population. Men called John represent 3.3%. Yet from statues to CEO’s women are often outnumbered by Johns!
Research has shown that there are more statues in Britain of men named John than there are of women and there are twice as many men named John who are CEO’s or chairmen of FTSE 100 companies as there are female bosses.

Only 22% of board presidents and 14% of media CEOs were women

Education trends show us that more women than men are studying for media-related careers and are being employed in increasing numbers. However, a Europe wide 2013 study by the European Institute for Gender Inequality found that there were an insufficient number of women in decision making roles across media organisations and that without substantial structural changes, the progress of gender equality would be slow. In 2017 the EIGI’s more general annual Gender Equality Index noted a couple of improvements, with the percentage of women holding board seats up to 35%. However, only 22% of board presidents and 14% of media CEOs were women.

For every £1 a man earns, a woman on average earns £0.826

Unequal pay has been illegal for 47 years in the UK. Under the Equal Pay Act 1970, and more recently, the Equality Act 2010, it is against the law to pay people performing the same role differently because of their gender. This applies to all employers regardless of size. According to the ONS, the mean gender pay gap between what UK male and females earn is 14.1% and has stuck at the same level for three years. When all workers, full and part-time are included, the gap increases to 18.4% for median earnings and 17.4% for mean earnings.

Men talk more than women

From studies which record conversations and take a tally of who is speaking and for how long, we know that: Men talk more than women, Women are interrupted (by both genders) more than men and men speak significantly more in meetings than women do (one study found they account for 75% of conversation). Even when women speak less they are perceived to have spoken more;
Male execs who talk more than their peers are viewed to be more competent, while female execs are viewed as less competent.

Men think that women are overwhelming

A Harvard study that surveyed 200,000 people found that when women take up 17% of a room, men firmly believe that there’s an equal presence of the sexes. And when 33% of the people in a room are women, men think that women are the overwhelming majority.

Just and Sorry are the two big culprits

“Sorry” is one of the first words we learn as young children, and it keeps getting hammered into us as adults. These days, women, and particularly British women overdo it. We now use it so frequently, we are apologising for what we’re about to say before we’ve even said it. Worse still, we are apologising for existing and for saying anything at all.
Why are we putting ourselves down? Should we always be so contrite? This has become such a thing that Google even have their own Plug-in that you can use on Chrome – called JUST NOT SORRY. It underlines ‘qualifiers’ and words that might diminish what you are saying.One recent study has concluded that men and women apologise an equal amount to one another. But whilst women apologise the same amount to other women, men don’t apologise as much to other men. So, to redress gender imbalance and allow women to get ahead, should women apologise less?Now let’s look at the way we use our words… and how these can be paramount to our confidence. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realised how seldom they do.” Confidence is key to success in many areas of our lives. Confident people have a higher status and stand out at work, in social situations, and in group settings. Studies have shown that women are less self-assured than men and as the men overestimate their abilities, the women underestimate, despite the performance qualities being the same.

Body language and tone of voice are so important

When these elements combine in harmony, your listeners feel a sense of confidence and authority. A higher voice tone lacks authority, which is a real challenge for many women in leadership roles. Try lowering the tone of your voice (especially at the start of a presentation); remember to breathe; slow down; and speak calmly.
Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy says simple body-language tweaks can affect your testosterone and cortisol levels, thus lowering stress and instantly boosting confidence. She advocates strong open power poses and to move with purpose. If you find it tricky at first, her philosophy is – “fake it till you make it”. Her work has since been questioned but it’s obvious that if you have more confident body language, you will feel more confident and people will treat you more differently.

Women improve the Collective Intelligence of any team

Collective intelligence research at MIT identified three factors that correlate with collective intelligence (the ability of a team to come up with better ideas than the most intelligent individual in that team):

    • Conversational turn takers: having people in the workshop who are good at listening and speaking in turn, making sure everyone is able to be heard and all views are considered.
    • Digesters: having people who are able to digest, understand and empathise with other people’s ideas rather than only think about
      their own.
    • Women: a good balance of women in the group helps because they tend to be more likely to take it, in turn, to speak and listen to others. The more women in a team, the higher the collective intelligence output.

So what can we do about gender inequality at work?

Some businesses are working on getting more women into senior roles and paying women fairly.  But we also need to step up so that we can make the most of our own potential at work.

Small shifts and everyday changes – from the words we use and how we use them – to how we talk about ourselves – can help us start addressing this imbalance. Let’s get more women in decision-making roles; more women talking in meetings, and more women being paid fairly for the work they do.

There 3 things that we can all do to accelerate gender equality every day

  1. Stop Saying Sorry!
    We say sorry too much.   Just stop. There’s a fine line between being modest and talking ourselves down.   Try replacing sorry with “thank you”.  We need to reframe what we say about ourselves.
  2. Work on Impact
    Girls are more conscientious at school than boys, but at work, this can hold women back. Think about what your end goal is.  You may not need to answer all your emails or tick off your to-do list – look for where you can really create impact instead.
  3. Amplify yourself and others
    Don’t hold back from speaking in meetings.  Speak up and speak first!  And when other women talk, repeat, support and amplify what they say.

 References available on request to