Sexism in the Workplace — The Issues, The Facts, and How It’s More Than #MeToo
The longstanding issue of sexism in the workplace is still prevalent despite the year being 2018. While these discussions can be emotional for many, we’re focusing on the data and the facts of the state of women in corporate America. There are things you can do to put a stop to sexism in the workplace, whether you’re a victim or a witness, so we’ll cover those too. Bottom line: the facts might focus on women, but the information is important to everyone.
What Is Sexism?
Merriam-Webster defines sexism as prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially: discrimination against women. Another definition states it’s behavior, conditions, or attitude that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex. To be clear, sexism in the workplace isn’t exclusive to women. In women-dominated industries, men can fall victim to prejudice as well. Today, we’re focusing on women in the U.S. corporate world, but that doesn’t discount or overlook the fact that men experience sexism too.
How the ‘Me Too’ Movement Impacts Sexism in the Workplace
The #MeToo movement started in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke, but the social cause went viral in October 2017. The result: the severity of sexism and sexual harassment issues came to the forefront of conversations across the United States. That includes within the walls of corporate offices (like the revolt lead by women at Nike), but one company, in particular, is leading by example.
How to Right One Wrong
Salesforce is one of the most highly valued American cloud computing companies with a market capitalization above $90 billion. The corporate company is also addressing sexism in the workplace head-on. Salesforce was just ranked by Fortune as the #1 best place to work among big companies, which is why its CEO, Marc Benioff, couldn’t believe Salesforce had an unequal pay problem. But in 2015, Cindy Robbins, Salesforce Personnel Chief, approached Benioff and told the CEO she suspected some level of disparity between what men are paid and what women are paid. Both agreed to investigate the issue.
Benioff already made promoting and retaining women a priority at Salesforce, but those commitments alone weren’t enough. The audit showed Salesforce had a persistent pay gap between women and men doing the same job. Benioff said in an interview with 60 Minutes, “It was through the whole company, every division, every department, every geography.” The CEO agreed to remedy any gender equality issues identified in the initial audit, which cost Salesforce about $3 million in adjustments in the first year. That was just the start – Audits need to be done continuously to stay on top of the issue.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a woman made 60 cents for every dollar made by a man in 1960. In 2000, 40 years later, that gap decreased by only a dime. It has still taken almost two decades to narrow the pay gap by another 10 cents. Today, in the year 2018, women still make 20% less than their male counterparts, on average.
Salesforce made a stand in its pay adjustments, but it doesn’t stop there. Benioff added, “…the World Economic Forum says it’ll take more than 100 years for us to pay men and women equally. So we better get going now.”
Where Are the Women in Corporate America Today
Unequal pay isn’t the only issue for women when facing sexism in the workplace. Equal opportunities for jobs, promotions, and seniority are also great concerns. Equal advancement within a company is also a struggle women face, even though studies show they remain at companies at the same rate as men.
Despite earning more college degrees than men, women remain underrepresented at every level in corporate America. This is according to the 2017 Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey&Company. Thankfully, many organizations recognize this as an issue, and company commitment to gender diversity is at an all-time high for the third year in a row. But we still have a long way to go to completely eliminate sexism in the workplace, including how women are represented and how they’re treated.
The following information is based on employee pipeline data from 222 companies employing more than 12 million people, provided in the study.
It’s important to note that men and women of color are the most underrepresented groups in the corporate pipeline. However, that issue deserves coverage of its own, so please look for that topic in a future blog.
Entry Level Positions
Men account for 52% of entry-level employees. Women account for 48%.
Men are in 63% of manager positions, while only 37% of women are in manager positions.
Senior Manager/Director Positions
Men hold ~67% of positions at this level of the corporate ladder. Women hold ~34% of the same level positions.
~72% of VP-level positions are occupied by men. Women only occupy ~29%.
Senior VP Positions
At this level, men also hold ~79% of positions. Women occupy ~22%.
C-Suite Executive Positions
Still, men hold 79% of positions at this level. Women only hold 21%, in comparison.
To really drive this point home, there are more male CEOs named John running large companies than there are women CEOs. Period.
How Those Numbers Translate Into Action
Ellen Kullman, the former CEO of DuPont, is now the co-chair of Paradigm for Parity, an organization of high-powered business women pushing for equality in the corporate world. She advocates that CEOs “should have gender parity at senior leadership in the company. That means 50% of your most senior leaders are women.” In the interview with 60 Minutes, Kullman continues that sexism in the workplace in the form of unequal pay is “an outcome of an unlevel playing field. Until you level that playing field, you’re gonna get that same outcome.”
Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, addressed unequal pay directly, but he’s also committed to increasing the number of women in senior and leadership roles. He would walk into leadership meetings, look around the room, and only see men in attendance. The CEO thought to himself, “This meeting is just men. Something is not right.” So Benioff made the commitment saying, “I am not gonna have any more meetings that aren’t at least a third women.” From there, Salesforce identified high-potential women and invited them to leadership meetings. A door opened.
What’s Still Holding Women Back?
Unconscious bias is a major factor when it comes to advancements in gender equality. It is “often defined as a prejudice or unsupported judgment in favor of or against a thing, individual, or group as compared to another in a way that is typically considered unfair. Many researchers suggest that unconscious bias occurs automatically as the brain makes quick judgments based on past experiences, stereotypes, and personal background.” (Vanderbilt, Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion).
Women getting promoted is hindered by unconscious bias, as Kullman highlights that companies are promoting women every 30 to 36 months in the same kind of jobs where men are promoted every 18 to 24 months. In career lifetimes, that’s a significant difference in career advancements and pay. Kullman adds, “The assumption is they’re not committed. The assumption that they won’t be there when you need them…Some companies are now offering their employees unconscious bias training sessions in which facilitators try to help people identify attitudes they many not even know they have.”
Lifestyle choices can also negatively impact women’s careers as a result of unconscious bias. The assumption is women will leave their jobs to focus on family, but 80% of women who plan to leave their company in the next two years intend to stay in the workforce. Interestingly enough, just as many men as women say they will leave the workforce to focus on family, and the percentage that do is remarkably low at 2% or less. Yet, statistics show that when men have children to grow their families, their earnings increase 6%. When women bear children, their earnings decrease 4% with each child.
The good news is, whether you’re an executive or an entry-level employee, it’s possible to rewire your brain and challenge yourself to combat unconscious bias. The first step? Admitting it’s a problem.
What You Can Do to Address Sexism in the Workplace
It Starts at the Top
CEOs have a huge amount of responsibility when it comes to fixing this problem. Marc Benioff stated that Salesforce will have to do continuous audits to address the pay gaps between men and women, especially with acquisitions. But he added, “You’re gonna have to constantly monitor and keep track of that, but that’s easy today. We run our company the same way every company is run: with computers and technology and software.”
The data is available for CEOs to address sexism issues, but there’s still resistance. Benioff claims, “Many CEOs will just simply say, “I’m not interested.” I’ve had CEOs call me and say, “This is not true. This is not real.” And I’ll say to them, “This IS true. Look at the numbers.””
It’s easy to publicly embrace the concept of equal pay, but it’s also easy to resist and complain about how hard it is to address it. Sexism in the workplace is a problem. The data doesn’t lie. Now, it’s time to commit to fixing it, regardless of how challenging that is.
However, Benioff makes it clear, “…there’s never been an easier time to make this change. CEOs with one button on one computer can pay every man and every woman equally. We have the data. We know what everyone makes. There’s no excuse. Everybody can easily do this now.” And as far as CEOs are concerned, he’s right. They have the power. But what if you’re not at the C-suite or even management level?
Everyone Should Do Their Part
From entry-level workers to managers, directors, and CEOs, we all have a responsibility to shut down sexism in the workplace. These gestures aren’t always as drastic $3 million in back-pay for women or refusing leadership meetings until there are more women present. But they’re still important. Here’s what every person in any workspace can do, starting today:
Recognize your own unconscious bias
- Even though it’s an automatic response, it’s important to challenge your mindset. Do you treat women and men equally and fairly? Are you living by the golden rule? Do you make sexist comments (or are you even aware if you are)? This step isn’t easy, but it’s so necessary to become part of the solution.
Realize other people’s unconscious bias and call it out
- Once you tap into your own thinking, you will probably become hypersensitive to other people’s unconscious bias. If you feel comfortable talking to them directly, explain to the person why their statement was inappropriate. If you’re not in a position to be direct, report it to someone else, like an HR manager.
Trust your “gut feeling”
- If you think you’ve witnessed or been subjected to sexism in the workplace, chances are you’re right. Take action. It’s the only way to ignite change.
- Cultural changes won’t happen overnight, and there can be new challenges with every person and workplace. Commit to recognizing sexism and doing something about it.
Our offices have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. Starting today, you can do your part to end sexism in the workplace. Make the decision to speak up instead of staying silent and being an accomplice to the thoughts and actions you hate. Choose to be a catalyst for change.
It won’t take 100 years if we all start now.
Change Starts with Us
DemandZEN doesn’t just talk the talk. As a company, it walks the walk. Our organization was co-founded and is 50% owned by a powerhouse woman, business owner, and mom. Amanda Moore may look like your average soccer mom, but she secretly spends her time plotting world domination — with one well-respected, badass female at a time.
Our company actually has more women on payroll than men, and one of our core values is being “family-oriented”. DemandZEN doesn’t compromise on great results or our great values. Take a look at what we stand for and how you can stand with us.
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