Discrimination at work remains rife.
Monster’s workplace discrimination poll found that only 9% of workers have not faced some kind of workplace discrimination, while new data from the UK-based Young Women’s Trust, half of young women have experienced discrimination at work.
A third of HR decision makers also surveyed by the Young Women’s Trust said they were aware of discrimination and sexist behavior going on at work.
The UK survey also found that, despite it being illegal, 23% of young women are still earning less than their male counterparts; 45% of young women don’t think their employer is doing enough to tackle the problem.
Plus women are struggling to access the same progression opportunities (49%) – 53% said they didn’t have support they needed to progress in their careers, compared to 62% of young men.
HR leaders are well aware of the problem with progression.
One in three agreed that it was harder for women to progress in their organization than men, and 10% said they were aware of a woman being overlooked for a promotion that she deserved.
It is a “travesty” in 2023 that discrimination and sexism are still rife in the workplace, the Young Women’s Trust’s chief executive Claire Reindorp comments.
A major issue that is HR teams – the department responsible for diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging (DEIB) – are actually perpetuating these outdated, misogynist attitudes.
A survey of 1,000 HR leaders in the UK found that a whopping 15% believe that men are better suited to senior leadership roles, plus 19% expressed reluctance to hire a woman who might go on to start a family – the figure was just 13% when hiring young men.
Monster’s data backs this up – its report found that discrimination starts in the hiring process when recruiters’ biases coming into play – plus just one in three employees felt comfortable reporting discriminatory behavior to HR.
Reindorp declared it is time to “stop living in the dark ages”. Let’s lean into empowering everyone to thrive in the workplace.
Diverse, inclusive, equitable workplaces are not just nicer to places to work, but they are more profitable.
Understanding HR’s archaic attitudes
Worryingly, the world has gotten used to reading stories about discrimination at work, and how it is still rife. But there is an assumption that HR teams are working hard to fix these problems.
The Young Women’s Trust data shows that the situation is more complex – and HR leaders are not always as progressive and diversity and inclusion-focused as one might hope.
Reindorp tells UNLEASH: “After hearing from so many young women since I started at Young Women’s Trust I wasn’t surprised to hear about their experiences.
“What does shock me is that HR decision makers know this is happening and so many still hold archaic attitudes.
“You’d think views like this died with the dinosaurs, but they’re still alive and having a very real and lasting effect on young women’s experiences in the workplace.”
In an attempt to understand why HR teams may hold outdated attitudes, Josh Bersin, UNLEASH World keynote, HR industry analyst and CEO of The Josh Bersin Company, tells UNLEASH: “As HR leaders are often both very pragmatic and keen observers of corporate culture, they may just be reflecting what they see – men are most often in management positions, and therefore HR professionals may see men as being “better suited” for such roles as that’s what they observe in their day-to-day.
“However, I know from my own experience that HR executives who work in more gender-diverse companies absolutely see the world differently.”
Sheryl Miller, diversity expert, founder and director of Reboot Global, agrees. “We are, to some extent a product of what we are fed” – it is important to remember that women can be as sexist as men.
It is possible that HR, like other leaders, may be “wedded to traditional gender roles” where men are the breadwinners and providers, and women are “the nurturing, caring homemaker”.
Linked to this, “for a variety of reasons they may have seen a handful of women struggle in the top jobs and therefore assume there is actually an innate superiority and suitability”, adds Miller.
The reasons could be “toxic environment, being undermined, or the individual could be not ready or not capable. All of these may or may not be associated with their gender”.
Plus Miller shares it could be bias against a different style of leadership, one that is more collaborative, empathetic, is sometimes described as more ‘feminine’.
But this is no excuse, HR needs to do better and lead by example; HR “set the tone for the entire organization. If the messaging around diversity rings hollow, it removes accountability”, notes Ten10 IT consultant Liv Quickenden.
Bersin continues: “We need HR leaders to be more actively sponsoring gender inclusivity and women in leadership roles in business.
“They should be working hard to eliminate harmful stereotypes and opening up their organizations to the more diverse talent mix that secures longer-term survival and growth.”
How to nip discrimination at work in the bud
It is time for HR to go become virtual signaling around diversity, and actually understand that “it’s just good business to have an inclusive team from top to bottom”, as Kyle Samuels, CEO of Creative Talent Endeavors tells UNLEASH.
“HR leaders who truly believe men can do a better job need to understand not just the culture reasons for inclusivity, but also the business outcomes that come from inclusivity.”
This begs the question, where should organizations begin?
For Samuels, it needs to start from the top. “The C-suite and executives need to look at their company and evaluate how a more inclusive team can change the bottom line, and then they need to pass that message down to their HR and hiring teams.”
Beyond this, education and training are key – Quickenden adds mentorship programs are a “great, tangible way to help women in the workplace”, as McKinsey data provides.
There is also a need for “stronger processes for reporting discrimination at work” (and employees need to be consulted on what this will look like), as well as “fairer recruitment and promotion practices should be implemented so that getting a pay rise doesn’t require having an old boys’ network,” notes Reindorp.
Plus it needs to become normalized for all job adverts to have salaries, for transparent salary bands to exist across the business (alongside clear careers plans for progression and pay rises), and for job applications to never ask for current salaries – why should employees continue to be underpaid in a future job, just because they were in their current role?
Ten10’s Quickenden concludes: “Ultimately, we just need to start having frank conversations on this.
“That means calling out discriminatory language, or actively listening when women describe difficult experiences rather than dismissing them as overreactions.
“We all hold biases…but if we interrogate our own assumptions we can work on them – its washing away that open secret.”
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