The Working Woman’s Dilemma: A Look into Women in Corporate America

by Janis Arrojado, G&A Institute Analyst-Intern

Note: This is the second post in the blog series by Janis.  Click here to read the first post.

Although corporate America has made strides in promoting gender diversity in the workplace, there is still significant progress to be made. In the United States, a gender wage gap still exists, with on average women making 84 per cent of what men make. 85.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are white men, showing a clear underrepresentation of women in corporate leadership positions.

The underrepresentation of women not only hurts women but also impacts corporate performance. Research has shown that companies with well-represented gender diversity in leadership are 50% more likely to perform better than their peers.

More inclusion of women can bring varied approaches to problems, increase employee satisfaction, and foster collaboration. Women in leadership positions benefit company culture as they are more likely to incorporate employee friendly practices and speak out about the importance of gender and racial diversity than senior-level men.

Causes of Underrepresentation

Unconscious gender bias can impact the perception of women in the workforce. Traditional notions of women being warm and nurturing can prevent women from moving up the corporate ladder, and on the flip side if women take charge and are assertive they are often perceived as overly angry or aggressive. These gender-role expectations can negatively impact hiring and promotion opportunities, which can impede a woman’s career progression.

Women also face the challenge of being more likely to have more demands at home, as mothers are three times more likely than fathers to do most of the housework and caregiving in their home. Research has also shown that women are significantly more likely to reduce their hours for child care compared to men. Women with these increased demands at home have increased risk of burnout and negative biases, also impacting career progression to a higher role in a company.

COVID-19’s Impact

COVID-19 has only exacerbated the increased demands at home for women. 50% of mothers who quit their job due to the pandemic said that one of the reasons was closure of their children’s school and/or daycare. Women are also more likely to care for elderly family members due to an overloaded health care system. Time spent doing unpaid labor of watching children, assisting with schooling, and taking care of family members can cause women to take time away from work or quit their jobs.

What Companies Can Do

Corporations have an important role to play in increasing the inclusion of women in the workforce. Opting in for gender-based unconscious bias training and shifting performance reviews to be more measurable and attainable is a start.

Transparency
Another step towards equity is for companies to disclose their gendered wage gap. Research has shown that the gender pay gap shrinks when companies are transparent about wage discrepancy between men and women. Choosing to communicate the difference between men and women’s earnings can spark the momentum for initiatives and policies to close the wage gap.

Clear Boundaries and Flexibility
The move toward remote working during the pandemic can cause women to always feel the need to be responsive and available. Companies communicating clear boundaries and establishing set times for work and meetings is a way to decrease burnout and exhaustion. Additionally, having flexible work and scheduling options can promote wellbeing amongst working women.

Accommodations
Providing accommodations for working mothers is integral to supporting women at work. Initiatives such as having a designated space for new mothers to breastfeed or pump, providing financial assistance with childcare or on-site childcare facilities can foster an inclusive environment for working mothers.

Paid Parental Leave
Offering paid parental leave for men and women is another important component of supporting women in corporate America. Mothers are more likely to return to their employer when they have paid maternity leave, and offering paid paternity causes a more even distribution of childcare and household responsibilities among mothers and fathers.

Paid maternity leave amongst members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) averages around 14 weeks, excluding the United States. The United States is one of few countries that does not have a nationally mandated paid parental leave law, despite clear benefits. Establishing paid parental leave is a way for companies to promote gender equity, contribute to infant and maternal health, and foster familial economic security.

Mentorship
Creating a formalized women’s mentorship program provides a safe environment to discuss the challenges of navigating the workplace for working women. Mentorship is a way for mentors to serve as role models and representation, while fostering connections and career advancement. By recruiting women from all positions and having intentional pairings, mentorship gives women relationships and spaces that contribute to a positive working environment.

External Initiatives
Companies dedicated to advancing gender equality can sign the UN Women Empowerment Principles, which “are a set of Principles offering guidance to business on how to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community.” Corporations can signal to stakeholders and the public their commitment to empower women through business practices that promote gender equality.

Companies can also get involved with organizations that are taking initiative to increase representation of women in corporate leadership such as 30% Club, 50/50 Women on Boards, and Women Business Collaborative. Supporting NGOs that are striving to improve working conditions for women around the world like WIEGO and Care International is another way for businesses to empower and support working women.

Conclusion

Women make up nearly half of entry level roles in organizations across the nation, but the percentage of women decreases significantly moving up the corporate ladder. Companies need to address this underrepresentation and take initiative to cultivate a supportive and inclusive culture for women in the workforce.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janis Arrojado is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studying Environmental Science and Geography.  Her interests include corporate sustainability, environmental justice, and sustainable development. She currently is an analyst-intern at G&A Institute.

 

Sources & References For More Information

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