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The past year has been one heck of a year.
The pandemic has shaken up pretty much everything to do with work, including the way we interact in the office (or not), our career paths, and the daily routine of our family lives. Everything is uprooted and women have been affected in a multitude of ways.
While many things feel like they're 'on hold', it's an opportunity to understand what the world of work currently holds for women, and how we can shape it for the better as we aim towards the post-pandemic world. Some big changes have happened recently, and some of these trends might surprise you a little. Here are some women in the workplace statistics for 2021 and beyond.
The COVID-19 pandemic hasn't made working life easy for pretty much anyone. Women in particular have felt the effects of a precarious job market, shifting responsibilities at home, and increased pressure at work, leading to a negative outlook for an uncomfortably high proportion of them.
Check out these surprising women in the workplace statistics:
1. 1 in 4 women are considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers because of COVID-19. (1)
2. 3 in 4 of those women considering leaving the workforce (or working at reduced capacity) cite burnout as the main reason. (1)
3. During the pandemic, childcare and housework responsibilities have mostly fallen to mothers. (1)
4. 45% of women business leaders say it’s difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings. (14)
The #MeToo movement is a social campaign against sexual abuse and harassment specifically aimed at alleged male perpetrators in positions of power. Starting in Hollywood in 2017, it spread across the world encouraging victims to speak out about their experiences.
5. 34% of women believe things have improved for them in the workplace since the #MeToo movement began. (3)
6. Only 8% of women surveyed report that new policies have been implemented in their workplace to address issues related to #MeToo. (4)
7. 3/4 executives say they're satisfied with their companies' efforts to address women's harassment issues in the workplace. (5)
8. 64% of senior men avoid solo interactions with junior women because they fear rumours about their motives. (6)
It’s not just the recession caused by the pandemic that’s having effects on women’s representation in the workplace. Global economic trends have caused all kinds of shifts in the labor force - for better and for worse, as shown by these women in the workplace statistics
9. Women now hold more jobs than men in the US workforce. (7)
10. There is widespread consensus that gender equality in the community promotes economic growth, lowers fertility, reduces child mortality, and improves nutrition. (8)
11. The greatest challenge preventing the economic gender gap from closing is women’s under-representation in emerging roles. (9)
12. Women make up 75% of the global health workforce, but disproportionately make up the lower ranks of that workforce. (8)
13. Women lead the way in studying medicine, dentistry, agriculture, law, education and communication. (10)
14. Scandinavian nations have more women in the boardroom than anywhere else. (10)
15. The UK's gender pay gap among all employees decreased in 2020, from 17.4% in 2019 to 15.5%. (11)
16. Women in the US workforce are making roughly $0.80 for every dollar earned by their male colleagues. (12)
17. There has been a surge of women in marketing leadership roles in 2020. (13)
18. According to researchers at the University of Castilla la Mancha, Spain, gender diverse R&D teams lead to greater creativity and better decisions. (2)
The clearest way for things to get better will be for us to move to 'post-pandemic' times. It'll probably come with a combination of vaccine rollouts, healthcare developments and governmental intervention, but the rapidly-changing nature of the situation makes any predictions hard to make with much certainty.
Along with the virus being dealt with, economic recovery will be a huge factor in things getting better. We know that there are rocky years ahead - although the global recession can be seen as a temporary drop in productivity, rather than a breakdown of the system, and some believe that a post-vaccine world will recover economically faster than many think. You'd certainly hope so, at least.
In the meantime, various parties have the ability and responsibility to make things better.
One potential upside from the massive swing to working from home is the potential fall in opportunities for sexual harassment. It's temporary, of course, and even though remote work is the new normal for many people, there'll be millions returning to the office when it's safer to do so. That said, now's a good opportunity to think about how to make the workplace more welcoming for women when that happens.
There's a few options highlighted by FairyGodBoss, the women's career platform that performed a survey some of our stats came from above. In answer to the question "What do you think employers / companies can do to prevent incidents of sexual harassment at work?", their options were:
A combination of the above is surely a good place to start.
When looking at career differences and how they play out in the women in the workplace statistics, it’s worth first considering the bigger picture.
Understanding gender differences is a wider societal concern that can be hard to unpack, simply because it involves the collision of historical, cultural trends with complicated mass psychology and the changing nature of western economics.
Many people generalize that men tend to be more interested in things - (material objects) and women tend to be more interested in people and relationships.
A meta-analysis in 2009 found that to be the case after surveying over half a million respondents. This could suggest that vocations like engineering and computer science are statistically more likely to be populated by men because of the nature of people's preferences and interests.
However, this is a dangerous assumption for a business to make because none of this is set in stone. It is extremely difficult to extract gender-related ‘inherent’ preferences from those ingrained by societal norms. The safest bet is to steer clear of stereotyping at all, and embrace that each individual will have their own unique preferences, talents and motivations.
It’s likely these trends will change over time as societal and economic structures shift. There is a long and glorious history of women obtaining some of science's greatest achievements, of which there will be plenty more.
There's also the role model factor: seeing more women in certain industries could make them more attractive to other women. That applies for education, too; a male-dominated engineering classroom might be a little uncomfortable for a young woman, and seeing more of her own gender might be more likely to persuade her to join.
Having more women in top positions in business is undoubtedly a good thing, both for companies themselves and society at large. Not every woman (or person) will want to be in the boardroom, but it is important to make sure the opportunities are there to enter that competitive arena and be treated fairly, and the women who really want it are equipped with the skills - both technical and interpersonal - to make a success of it.
According to the UK's Office of National Statistics, the gender pay gap is calculated as “the difference between average hourly earnings (excluding overtime) of men and women as a proportion of men’s average hourly earnings”. It is a measure across all jobs in the country, and as noted above, has gotten a little better alongside the US.
There’s a complex set of forces acting on these stats, and multiple ways of addressing them.
Rather than looking at the simplified ‘gender pay gap', it might be more helpful to talk about specific pay gaps in certain areas and industries.
Change can be made by highlighting and campaigning on these issues, but efforts do need to be focused on the data. Sometimes change can be achieved through simple programs run by businesses themselves. Sometimes it comes through a complex equation of education, economic equality, political will and cultural forces. Change can happen over the course of days, weeks, months or years.
Making these changes is generally important on a societal level. Companies that follow their values and emphasize diversity tend to be more profitable. If you want to make positive change in a company, one of the best ways to do it is to start speaking their language - numbers.
One good way to start would be looking at structured compensation frameworks that companies have made to address this. Both Buffer and Gitlab publish their compensation philosophy transparently, so you can see how different roles and demographics stack up when it comes to pay. As per their principles, "GitLab will continue to monitor pay equality to ensure underrepresented groups are paid at the same rate as the company."
If your company hasn't thought of at least looking at the representation landscape in your organizational structure, now might be a good chance. With fair opportunities and fair treatment, you'll build a more equitable company that attracts great talent from every group of people.
Creating a workplace that's more comfortable and welcoming for women is not only the right thing to do. It'll make for a more successful company. There's two ways to achieve this: intentional actions and building culture.
When it comes to meetings, whether in-person or remote, creating processes to mindfully include everyone in the conversation is of great importance. If 45% of women feel that it's difficult for them to speak up in meetings, systems should be put in place to avoid that, like clear meeting guidelines, leaders calling people out for interruptions, and women helping each other out when necessary.
As well as this, methods of measuring the causes and magnitude of gender disparity will come in useful, too. Researchers created a 47-item gender bias scale which companies and other organizations can use to "survey their women employees to more accurately and reliably measure their experiences with and perceptions of gender bias". This system can help diagnose specific types of unconscious bias women might experience, such as the 'glass cliff' (women being put in positions of power when things are going poorly) or occasions where women are being held to higher performance standards than men.
Programs like this can fit alongside cultures that are pro-equal-opportunities with open dialogue built into their values. If people are afraid to speak up when there's injustice or feel that their opinion won't be listened to, things won't change for the better. It's up to the owners and leaders within the organization to act in accordance with their values consistently and show that women have an equal spot in their workplace.