Equal Pay Day marks the number of extra days women would have to work to earn the same average wage as men in a year. This year, it falls on April 12. Nearly four months, that’s a lot of extra work! It’s been 17 years since the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act was introduced, but Gender Equality is still a huge issue across the globe.
My brush with the ‘pushy penalty’
Gender stereotypes and unconscious bias are of particular interest to me. I first encountered these personally in 2004 when I decided I had to double my salary so that I could start paying off crippling credit card debt.
In order to get there, I had to rehabilitate my self-belief and start asking for more. I sharpened my CV, focused on my exceptional experience and skills, and started to go for six-figure roles. I encountered more than 12 rejections before I succeeded. I remember one particular role I went for that felt like it was made for me. The recruiter agreed it was an ideal fit in terms of experience and personality.
When I missed out, I was devastated. It had felt so right. I’ll never forget meeting with the recruiter in the Hilton in Sydney after I was turned down. Over coffee, she said:
“Well, you’re a bit, how shall I say it … strong?” I asked what she meant. “You have a very strong presence and personality, and that can be off-putting for an employer. You might want to try and tone yourself down a bit.”
I was in shock. How could a strong presence be considered a liability in a Program Management role that required strong leadership skills? I didn’t challenge her at the time because I was still processing what she said and doing my best to be open to all feedback. It was only afterwards that I wondered if this feedback would ever be given to a male candidate.
In hindsight, this was a clear-cut case of the ‘pushy penalty’ – a product of unconscious bias that both women and men can have towards a woman demonstrating the same strength and directness as a man in the workplace. It was also very unspecific and unhelpful because it wasn’t clear on exactly what I could have done differently. Now this recruiter wouldn’t have been aware that she was projecting a gender stereotype. She wasn’t a bad person, she just had an unconscious bias. Virtually all of us have one towards some idea, group or individual.
Some alarming facts:
In Australia the pay gap sits at 24%
Women earn an average of 17.9% less than men
Women make up nearly half the workforce, yet occupy fewer than 30% of key management positions and only 15% of CEOs are women
Female graduates earn on average $5,000 less per annum than male graduates
On average, women receive just 33.6% of men’s superannuation payout on retirement
Of the ASX 200 companies, only 20% have female directors. Of these, 6% have female chairs and 6% have female CEO
There is no single cause of the wage gap and no simple solution.
Some contributing factors:
Women’s work is still undervalued
Women often face the ‘glass ceiling’ when they try to move into more senior roles, despite having the same qualifications as men
Gender stereotypes are still prevalent in our workforce, which can also limit women’s access to opportunities.
My experience with the recruiter reflects an influential study from Yale university, which found that the majority of high-performing female subjects received negative feedback about their personality traits and working styles in instances men did not. They were described as ‘brassy’, ‘pushy’ and ‘abrasive’. Adjectives not applied to any of the male subjects.
We can all do our best to bring awareness to these invisible barriers and challenge our own hidden biases. Bringing unconscious bias to the surface won’t be the end to the issue but it does help us on the journey to broaden our perspective and help us break down the gender stereotypes in the workforce.
5 steps you can take immediately:
- If you identify a bias of your own, make a conscious effort to learn more about the individual or group you feel resistance towards and consider why it makes you uncomfortable
- Invite others into your decision-making at work so you can broaden your perspective and take a more balanced view
- Ask different people from diverse backgrounds about their perspectives on certain issues, and listen to their feedback
- If you encounter someone who may be operating with bias, have a constructive conversation with them about what biases might be at play
- Do your part to encourage and endorse women to have greater representation in decision-making, and actively support their ideas and contributions
Unconscious beliefs distort our perceptions of self and others, and this is what underpins our behaviour when it comes to diversity. Improving our awareness and understanding goes some way to helping us change how we think and how we approach these issues. It’s not as easy as that, but it’s a start.
Be sure to check in with yourself about what biases might be at play, challenge your ideas, consider how your actions and decisions might impact others and ask yourself, “What can I do about this?”
There’s no overnight solution, but we can start to educate ourselves and others to bring awareness to the workplace and make gender parity at work a reality. What better time to start than Equal Pay Day?
Let’s all help where we can this week,