Bias, discrimination and harassment: The hurdles women at work still face
Image: © alexmia/Stock.adobe.com

Bias, discrimination and harassment: The hurdles women at work still face

18 Apr 2019873 Views

Balancing out the state of play for women at work has been a hot topic for a long time. Sadly, the barriers they face are still major problems, writes Jenny Darmody.

When it comes to the sci-tech industry, it’s important to showcase women’s achievements. It’s essential to highlight the companies that are doing good things to ensure their workplace is a safe, inclusive place. It’s necessary to listen to thought leaders and advocates about what more can be done to balance the scales.

However, it’s also important to stress that there are still problems that women at work still face. Because when we only show the good sides, it can be easy for leaders to dust their hands off and think the job is done, or at least almost done.

Unfortunately, with bias, discrimination and harassment still rampant for women at work – and that can stretch far beyond the tech industry – we still have a very long way to go.

As Careers editor, I take in a lot of studies and research about the world of work, so figures related to women at work come across my desk frequently.

In much the same way that I believe we must continue to show the problems that still exist with mental health and burnout at work, it’s paramount to the cause that we put a spotlight on the challenges that women at work still face, both in and outside of tech.

Bias and discrimination

Women at work are still paid less than men. The gender pay gap means that women are paid approximately 21pc less than men – and this gap gets far wider for women of colour. But bias and discrimination goes far beyond what’s in their pay packet.

A recent study from the University of Arizona found that women who are witty at work are often taken less seriously and could even miss out on opportunities for promotion.

The survey of more than 300 people found that a funny woman is more likely to be perceived as less effective and lacking leadership skills than a funny man.

There is also discrimination to take into account when it comes to motherhood. According to The New York Times, motherhood seems to incur a penalty for women’s careers, while fatherhood seems to garner a bonus.

‘For every 100 men promoted to manager, 79 women are’
– MCKINSEY REPORT

The Women in the Workplace 2018 study from McKinsey in partnership with LeanIn.Org has drawn on data from almost 300 companies employing more than 13m people as well as a survey of more than 64,000 employees.

The report stated that “for the fourth year in a row, attrition does not explain the under-representation of women”. It showed that despite women earning more bachelor’s degrees than men for decades, they are less likely to be hired into entry-level jobs and the problem gets worse the further up the ladder they try to climb.

“For every 100 men promoted to manager, 79 women are. Largely because of these gender gaps, men end up holding 62pc of manager positions, while women hold only 38pc,” the report stated. It also showed that women are more likely to be mistaken for junior employees than men.

With so few women in senior positions, they often end up being the only woman in the room, which comes with its own problems. The study found that one in five women is an ‘only’, which leads to significantly worse experiences than women who work with more women. “They are more likely to deal with micro-aggressions. They often feel on guard, pressure to perform, and left out. And they are almost twice as likely to have been sexually harassed during the course of their career.”

The gender gap gets worse for women of colour, as the report showed that women of colour represented only 4pc of C-level positions in 2018, less than white women’s 19pc and far below white men’s representation at nearly 70pc.

Sexual harassment of women at work

Bias and discrimination is bad enough, but women at work are still experiencing sexual harassment without feeling able to report it.

A UK survey for the Young Women’s Trust found that 23pc of women aged between 16 and 30 have been sexually harassed at work but only 8pc have reported it for reasons such as fear of losing their jobs or being given fewer hours.

This appears to match data from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which states that at least one in four women experience sexual harassment at work. Perhaps more startling though, is the 75pc of harassment victims who experienced retaliation when they reported it.

Earlier this year, Dr Kat Smith spoke at Workhuman about harassment in the workplace and focused on this retaliation, drawing on her own experience. “I was fired on the spot by my female supervisor after I told her about a date rape,” she said. She also spoke about the additional consequences that victims of harassment face, such as PTSD, sleep disorders and depression.

‘One in four women have experienced sexual harassment at a tech conference’
– ENSONO STUDY

When we talk about the EEOC, it’s also worth noting that earlier this month, it reported that sexual harassment charges in 2018 increased by more than 13pc compared to the previous year. While this might be seen as the problem of sexual harassment getting worse, it can also be seen as a positive as more charges mean more reporting of sexual harassment.

When we turn to tech conferences, the problem only gets worse. A study from Ensono earlier this year interviewed 500 women in tech in the US and the UK, revealing the stigma women still face at tech conferences, which are still largely dominated by men. The report found that one in four women have experienced sexual harassment at a tech conference. In the wider tech sector, numerous harassment scandals have hit the headlines and a 2017 report from Women Who Tech found that more than half of women in tech report experiencing harassment at work.

While both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, it is overwhelmingly more likely to affect women. Returning to McKinsey’s report, women are more likely to face everyday discrimination or micro-aggressions.

The study found that for 64pc of women and 71pc of lesbian women, micro-aggressions are a workplace reality and, in this report, the number of women who have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their career goes up to 35pc.

All of these statistics are nothing short of harrowing, but they’re presented to the world in the hopes that leaders, recruiters, employers and other C-level employees can take note. We’ve come a long way for women in the workplace, but we still have a very long way to go.

By Jenny Darmody

Jenny was the Careers Editor at Siliconrepublic.com up to June 2019. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

Loading now, one moment please! Loading