By Elmer Dixon with Deanna Shoss for Executive Diversity Services
On International Women’s Day on March 8, 2021, President Biden announced the creation of the White House Gender Policy Council, to focus on uplifting the rights of women and girls in the United States and around the world. The council will coordinate federal efforts to combat gender-based discrimination, systemic biases, and structural barriers, among other issues. It comes nearly 100 years after woman began to fight for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1923. And that was 75 years after the first Women’s Rights Convention in the US in 1848.
Women’s issues continue to be at the forefront in the news. However, the ERA continues to languish. It finally passed the House of Representatives and the Senate in 1971 and ‘72 respectively. It then went out for ratification by the states. It needed three quarters (38) states approval to be added as the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 35 states ratified it within the original seven-year deadline. Then, after four decades of inactivity, Nevada unexpectedly voted to ratify in 2017, followed by Illinois in 2018. Virginia became the 38th State to pass it in January 2020, finally achieving the necessary three-quarter state approval. But it’s future is still not secured. The statute of limitations is long gone—the extension expired in 1982. Following Virginia’s passage, three state attorneys general sued to waive the previously set expiration date and enact the amendment. A federal judge ruled against the states, saying in early March of this year that it was “just too late.” And in the meantime, five states have rescinded their approval.
Over the years, however, many other laws have passed that aim to protect women’s (and other protected classes) rights under the law and in the workplace. Six to be specific:
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act, 1974; The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (yes, that’s been a law since 1963); The Fair Housing Act, 1968; The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which amended Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
SO, IT’S ALL FIXED, RIGHT? (IS THE EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT STILL NEEDED?)
In terms of protection, until there is a national ERA, states still can interpret laws differently, which can lead to different outcomes for women depending on where they live.
As relates to women in the work force, according to Catalyst, a global nonprofit that helps organizations accelerate progress for women at work, in 2018, women made up 44.7 % of all employees at S&P500 companies. But they only accounted for 21.2% of board seats, 11% of highest earners and 5% of CEO’s. 29% of senior management roles were held by women in 2019, the highest number ever on record.
Many know the term “glass ceiling”, referring to an invisible barrier against promoting women to high positions in corporations. A newer term is the glass cliff. It’s the phenomenon of women in leadership roles being likelier than men to achieve those roles during periods of crisis or downturn, when the chance of failure is highest. Clearly there is more to understand and more work to do.
In the meantime, there’s plenty that individuals and companies can do to keep the momentum moving forward.
THREE IDEAS FOR PROMOTING EQUITY FOR WOMEN IN THE WORKPLACE
GO BEYOND THE LAW
Samantha Bee, host of the late-night show Full Frontal on TBS announced in January of 2020, 20 Weeks of Paid Leave for ‘Full Frontal’ Staff. And she challenged other late-night hosts to do the same. “Full Frontal is now offering our employees the best-paid family leave policy in all of late night,” Samantha said in a video posted to Twitter and Instagram. “This kind of policy isn’t mandated by the government, but it should be! Having a baby without going broke should be possible for all workers.”
Flexible schedules that value work completed, as opposed to specific hours at a desk, can also boost employee morale and expand your talent pool. And it’s not just for parents. In a global market, employees might use flexible schedules to drop off or pick-up children. Or they may use it to schedule a 9 p.m. call with the team in China, where it’s morning.
What policies can you adopt that recognize the value that your employees bring to your company while acknowledging and respecting their desire for work-life balance?
EXPAND REWARD BANDS
According to a 2005 study of the US workplace, perceptions of women’s leadership are influenced by common stereotypes held by both men AND women. This is despite analytical reviews of over 40 studies on gender differences which indicate there are more similarities than difference in women and men leaders in an organizational setting. According to the Catalyst study “Women ‘Take Care,’ Men ‘Take Charge:’ Stereotyping of U.S. Business Leaders Exposed,” women are associated with feminine, less-essential, skills such as supporting, rewarding, team building, and consulting, whereas men are associated with more masculine skills such as problem solving, influencing upward, and delegating.
Many company’s reward bands, how they reward employees with raises, bonuses or other recognition favor the “male-associated” skills. Studies, however, show that EQ, Emotional Intelligence which sounds a lot like the “less-essential” skills above, is exactly what is needed to for the most effective leaders (Korn Ferry, 2016). Rather than providing rewards only for output and task achievements, companies can be more inclusive by measuring things like how managers include mentoring and professional development in their management plans.
BE TRANSPARENT: KNOW YOUR COMPANY
Equal pay has been the law since 1963. And yet in 2019 woman made 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. Events like Equal Pay Day, started in 1996 (and coming up again on March 31) as well as state laws that add to the federal mandate, are making a difference. Note that Glassdoor cites that after applying statistical controls for worker and job characteristics to ensure an apples-to-apples comparison, the difference drops to 95 cents, or women earning 5% less for comparable jobs in the US (Glassdoor, 2019).
How is your company doing? Salary audits can reveal any unintended inequality in pay. It’s also important to do an audit of job titles. Different job titles, if they entail similar responsibilities, cannot be compensated at different levels.
WHEN EMPLOYEES FEEL VALUED, THEY CAN PERFORM AT THEIR FULLEST POTENTIAL AND HIGHEST PRODUCTIVITY.
The US workplace was designed by men, for men, in a different era. Today women account for more than 50% of the US population, and nearly that for the workforce. This is not about how to fit women into the mold as it exists. It’s about creating a new work model that engages and promotes men and women, on an equal playing field. For true change to happen it must start at the top, with the leadership team, and with a new vision and design of what a truly inclusive workplace can look like.