Gender in the Workplace: Dissecting the Case for Equality and What It Means for Organisations

Women and Orbium July 5, 2018

Gender in the Workplace: Dissecting the Case for Equality and What It Means for Organisations

Long before the #MeToo movement (the hashtag used on social media to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace), there has been growing momentum for change within the work environment. Much has been achieved in recent years however, there is still progress to be made, especially in organisations advocating bias-free and equitable environments.

How do we push for gender equality?

Gender equality has always been a hot topic. To get an understanding of the problems facing women in the workplace , we should look at how prejudices have been formed and if society has entrenched these viewpoints.

Decades of psychological research demonstrate widespread prejudice against females. For example, the study  “Investors prefer entrepreneurial ventures pitched by attractive men”, found that participants respond better to pitches if narrated by a male voice. Specifically, 68% of participants thought the venture was worth funding when presented by a male voice compared to 32% when delivered by a female voice.

Another study, “Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests”, shows this prejudice exists at a young age. When children were asked to guess the gender of the “really really smart” protagonist, even girls were less likely to think that the person was female. There is enough scientific evidence to prove that people have gender biases and that gender inequality persists in modern societies although there have been great strides in changing this.

Women at Work Today

Many organisations today understand that addressing gender imbalances can be beneficial for them in the long run. In fact, Mari Kiviniemi, OECD Deputy Secretary-General, says that the issue of gender equality is tied to economic performance. She claims in her article that: “There can be no robust growth economy without gender equality, a critical ingredient of any strategy for durable, resilient and more inclusive growth.”

Investing in women can boost the economy including job creation, competitiveness, and even the GDP.

Experts predict that if the labour gap participation in OECD regions can be reduced to 50%, then it will lead to additional GDP gains by much as 6% by 2030. Add to this the 6% gain (possibly 12% in total) provided there will be complete convergence.

Gender Equality Blog Stats OECD regions
Gender Equality Blog Stats Asia Pacific countries

Kiviniemi added: “Frankly, I don’t think that our economies can afford to ignore such huge potential”.

This is also supported by McKinsey’s ‘Power of Parity’ report  that argues if we advance women’s equality across Asia Pacific countries, then there can be a collective gain of $4.5 trillion to these nations’ annual GDP by 2025. This can also lead to 12 percent increase regarding business-as-usual trajectory.

Additionally, MSCI – a financial research firm – studied more than 4,200 companies to discover  organisations see 2.7% higher return on equity for firms with strong female leadership. When teams give way for women’s voices, there is an increase in emotional commitment which also encourages people to push harder for success.

We have progressed from the days when women were told that they are only getting paid with “pin money”. We have also moved on from a time when women were told to be ashamed of stealing work – supposedly  from men with families to feed.

In fact, PWC found that women are “more confident and ambitious than ever”. The firm’s study suggests that 82% of the participants are confident enough that they can achieve their career goals. Around 77% are sure they can lead while another 73% continue to seek career advancement opportunities actively. There are a lot of things to be positive about but translating these into the organisational setting will still take some time and effort.

Gender Equality vs. Equity

We can also argue that men and women have inherent differences therefore, absolute gender equality will never really exist. Some argue that equality may even be the wrong term to use since males and females cannot be truly equal if they have different attributes. The argument in gender equality is not about men and women liking the same things, acting the same way or becoming completely identical.  Gender differences will not disappear, in the same way that there won’t be equal gender representation for all fields.

Even without gender discrimination, there are fields of work where there can be more men than females mostly because of physical requirements or nature of the job. For example, more men may be able to lift a 72kg body for more than 40 meters than women, making firefighting a predominantly male discipline.

Males and females also pursue different types of jobs

“Males and females also pursue different types of jobs within the same industry”. This was supported by Bloomberg’s analysis of American Community Survey data on income, occupation and educational attainment. There are definite trends that persist across professions and regardless of what stage people are in their career. The patterns also remain true even for traditionally pre-professional fields like science, economics, and business. For example, the data suggest that male psychology graduates are more likely to become managers and psychologists, while female psychology graduates will likely become counsellors or social workers. Male sociology graduates also commonly become lawyers and managers while female sociology graduates veer towards becoming counsellors and social workers.

When conditions fall under the premise that women are not excluded solely because they are women, then it can be reasonable. However, there are no simple universal answers to why some occupations remain male-dominated or preferred more by a specific gender. We must tackle gender discrimination, social pressures and even sexual harassment to gain a better understanding

Nonetheless, we can argue that the true meaning of gender equality is not about having 50:50 balance of men and women to have equal representation.

We can strive for equitable treatment in place of equal treatment. This means we recognise differences in ability –  males and females will always be different starting with their biological sex differences- fairness is about treating people differently depending on their capabilities so that they can have a shot at the same outcome or opportunity. Gender equality is about upholding everyone to the same standards. This is where policies and leadership will play an important role.

One Orbium Culture

At Orbium, we have worked continuously with a diverse culture. We operate on 4 continents across 11 countries. This means exposure to differences that go beyond gender – race, religion, and background. The company has always treated people as its most significant assets without differentiating their gender.

However, we also understand that we’re in the IT field, our line of business remains heavily male-dominated. This has not hindered Orbium from finding and promoting women to some of its leadership positions. Orbium continues to strive to provide equal treatment to all its employees. Human resources have continuously emphasised that opportunities are given equally to people based on earned merit. The company invests significantly in its people. Once you become an Orbium employee, you have access to training, international and professional opportunities for advancement.

While most of our applicants are usually comprised of men, Orbium offers equal opportunities for applicants – they go through the same process depending on the region where they are, for other roles, it may depend on their function.

In the age when the push for greater gender equality continues to plague some organisations, there are also those like Orbium that understand the potential of achieving gender parity. Companies must realise that failure to promote safe, equitable and bias-free environments for all employees can be detrimental to the organisation. We cannot still entirely say that gender equality has been achieved, but it’s promising to see the movements shedding light on the matter.

As heavily ingrained these biases may be, culture does not make a person. People define a culture, and we like to think that we all want to be empowered.