Inequity: Take Control of Your Destiny at Work


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Guest contributed by Dr. Patti Fletcher

How can you make sure you’re valued and rewarded equitably with your male counterparts as you work your way up to the C-Suite?

Gender inequity in the workplace often begins subtly: women account for the majority of college graduates yet are hired at a slightly lower rate (48% for women versus 52% for men). But the pace of career and pay progression between men and women differs significantly after just a few years in the workforce. Men are 30% more likely to move into management, occupying 63% of manager level positions. As men move up the ladder, women’s progress stagnates—leading to an imbalance of power at the higher levels of business, with men holding 79% of C-suite positions. The pay gap follows a similar path; 63% of early career men earn more than their female peers. As women proceed to higher-level positions, the pay gap between them and their male peers grows at a significant rate with each rung in the corporate ladder.

The research paints a grim picture; but with an understanding about what’s at stake for women and the implications for companies that fail to recognize and reward their talent, women can use their personal power and grit to pave a path for themselves—and for the women who follow.

Beware the “Motherhood Penalty”

Lifetime salary and career progression are often determined during the woman’s thirties. This is when individual contributors start to enter the management ranks. Men receive the majority of promotions, giving them higher pay and greater access to new experiences, stretch projects, and people in positions of power and influence. Why? The common perception is that a woman’s priorities shift during this time—they go on maternity leave and then must balance raising a family and running the home with a full-time work schedule. Many people profess that women leave the workforce in significant numbers because it’s impossible for them to have it all at the same time. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Research shows is that only 11% of women who go on maternity leave do not return to work, or that women face demotion, few raises, and low performance ratings when they do return to work.

Often this is referred to as the motherhood penalty; women (with and without children) are punished for simply being in childbearing years. “There are long-term consequences to the Motherhood Penalty; pay increases are often based on salary history and opportunities for upward mobility require relationships with people in power and on strong track records,” says Dr. Gabby Burlacu, Human Capital Management Research and Solution Manager at SAP SuccessFactors.

Why business leaders are starting to pay attention to gender equity

With an unemployment rate of 4.1% and over six million open jobs yet to be filled, everyone from CEOs to hiring managers are struggling to acquire and retain top talent. It’s an applicant’s market—and leaders know it. “There is a recognition that workforce diversity is no longer a humanitarian or anti-white men topic. Without finding ways to attract and retain minority populations, business outcomes are at risk,” says Burlacu.

In addition, the economic imperative of promoting gender equity is a no-brainer. Women are 47% of the workforce, control 51% of personal wealth, make 90% of consumer purchase decisions, and reinvest 90% of their income back into the community in which they live. Further, if the women in the workforce today were paid on par with their male counterparts, $12 trillion dollars would be added to the global economy. Over the last 18 months, women have come together in a way not seen since the early days of the women’s movement. Through the scale and connectivity of social media, women can use their collective economic power to ban brands and avoid employers that have a bad record on gender equity.

How women can take charge of their own destiny

While the challenges women face throughout their careers are systemic and wrought by imbalances of power, many successful female executives have been able to achieve success on their own terms. You can transform barriers into strategies that lead to career advancement. Here are some key tips:

  1. Lead every sensitive conversation with the data that tells a story about the impact you’re making in achieving corporate objectives, making it easier for your boss to see the unconscious bias that may be clouding her/his decisions on your upward mobility versus your male peers.
  2. Don’t limit your skill building and career development to the programs your company offers. Enhance these opportunities by upskilling on technology and seeking out women who have gone before you who can share their insights with you.
  3. Be open and honest about your career aspirations with your manager and HR department so that they can help you navigate barriers obstructing your way.
  4. Keep advocating for yourself and be confident in the knowledge that you are in an applicant’s market. Take the advice Pat Milligan, who spearheads Mercer’s When Women Thrive research, sits on WEF steering committees, and has been recognized by the Kennedy Institute as one of the top 25 consultants in the U.S. As she says in DISRUPTERS: Success Strategies from Women Who Break the Mold “Trust me: the corporations need your talent way more than you need them. If you don’t get specific details on how you will be paid equally to men, on how your career will be supported with access to opportunities and people in power, move on to a company who will provide it.”

Dr. Patti Fletcher is a technology executive, gender equity advocate, and author of DISRUPTERS: Success Strategies from Women Who Break the Mold.

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