Both genders alike judge women more harshly for speaking up. This implicit bias determines how women are hired, promoted and paid.
Washington state has a working women problem.
On the one hand, some of the most recognizable companies are ensconced here. On the other, merely 16.5 percent of corporate board directors in this region are female.
Too much of our discourse has focused on fixing women to advance them. Not getting paid enough? Women should negotiate. Not getting the top jobs? Time to “lean in.” Can’t hire women in tech? Women don’t like computer science.
Yet, when women do all of these things men do, they face an uneven playing field. Inherent ideas about what constitutes feminine behavior have shown women are penalized when they are assertive. Women with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees quickly leave companies with a culture that favors young, single, white men. Only one in four employees in Washington’s STEM industry is female — troubling when these constitute many of the fastest-growing, highest-paying jobs today.
At every educational level, women are paid less than men for equal work. According to 2013 data from the Women’s Funding Alliance, a woman working full time in King County earned an estimated $16,000 less than her male counterpart.
Hollywood actress Jennifer Lawrence recently wrote about being paid less than male actors stating: “I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early.” I disagreed with Lawrence that the gap was her fault. It was more revealing that she feared being considered a “spoiled brat” by asking for more.
Both genders alike judge women more harshly for speaking up. This implicit bias determines how women are hired, promoted and paid. Upon researching how organizations could fix gender-wage gaps, I learned that most don’t intend to pay women less. Biases, a culture that rewards male negotiators and a lack of transparency on pay perpetuates these gaps.
With the available technology today, there’s no reasonable explanation why most companies do not track salary data by gender and ethnicity.
The wage gap becomes even more acute for mothers who work full time. Women in King County who work full time and have school-age children earn 58 percent of what fathers of school-age children earn, the Women’s Funding Alliance found.
Moreover, many women find their careers stifled by a lack of child-care options. America is the only developed nation that does not guarantee paid maternity leave to its working women. We’re joined by Papua New Guinea in this unenviable position. Sure, there’s room for our government to take charge at a federal and state level. But solving the puzzle also lies in the hands of corporations.
Washington state law requires companies to offer 12 weeks of leave but not a day of that has to be paid.
If you’re a new mom working at Amazon, you’re eligible for eight weeks of paid maternity leave. That’s still more than most other corporations. New Amazon fathers get zilch. Consider the impact of this on a woman’s career over time: A dangerous precedent is set where household duties are relegated to women, putting unimaginable pressure on them to balance work and family.
Women fall into a deeper abyss devoid of advancement opportunities. Being pushed off the leadership track leads to more women being underemployed and paid less than men with the same experience. It’s no surprise that 43 percent of American women with children leave their jobs.
Organizations can reverse this trend. Start by offering a comprehensive paid parental leave policy, where employees of both genders can adequately care for their newborns. Train managers on how to best on- and offramp employees during their leave. Commit to ensuring that high-potential women are still in the running for plum assignments when they return.
I’m not making the case for a social change by advancing women as merely a “nice to have.” According to the McKinsey Global Institute, the global economy could see a boost of $12 trillion in the next decade by advancing women. Society, companies, the state, our country and all others benefit from making this a priority.
Our state is abundant with organizations that have disrupted most of our everyday lives — by putting computers in our homes, by changing how we shop, read and even find solutions to complex problems, such as global childhood malnutrition. Isn’t it time some of that innovation was used to re-imagine the workplace for our women?