The most compelling argument for gender equality in the workplace evokes the “what if” of societal growth and human potential if the intellectual capital of female workers were to be fully explored, fostered, mentored and acknowledged. Until women command parity, there is no telling what discoveries the world could forfeit.
Consider this: “If the cure for cancer is in the mind of a girl on the Navajo Reservation, we may never find it” because that youngster’s talent may never be known or nurtured. This is the eye-opening consequence of gender inequality described by Melanie Wilson, director of the Women’s and Diversity Center at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU).
That symbolic Navajo girl’s disadvantage will be repeated time and again among U.S. women, who make up more than half of the population and still are relegated to less-than status.
“The amount of talent our country wastes by limiting and discriminating against women is staggering,” Wilson declared, quoting a $2 trillion loss in U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The Rev. Becky Gunn, a retired Unitarian Universalist minister and former 30-year manager who left corporate America as senior director, characterizes gender inequity in the workforce as “a waste of talent, of intellect, of values.”
Disparity by gender “costs this country not only in dollars, but also in innovation, in creativity, in community,” Gunn continued. “We could be a much richer nation if we were all treated as equals. We each have qualities that are valuable, and by diminishing others, we diminish ourselves. We could do so much more together.”
Gender Equity Research
Research from McKinsey & Company captures insights from 222 surveyed companies employing 12 million people and 70,000 employees within 83 companies. The latest report, Women in the Workplace 2017, identifies trends among workers: 1) Women experience a workplace skewed in favor of men; 2) Women of color face even greater challenges, especially if they are black; and 3) “Men have a more positive assessment that often clashes with reality,” regarding the status of women and success of gender equality efforts.
From the corporate viewpoint, the McKinsey study notes that: “1) Women on average continue to be hired and promoted at lower rates than men, with even more pronounced gaps for black women at senior levels; and 2) On average, women and men are leaving their organizations at the same rate, and very few plan to leave the workforce to focus on family.”
The McKinsey research also concludes that:
- Getting to gender equality starts with realizing how far women have to go.
- Women fall behind early and continue to lose ground with every step.
- Different industries have different talent pipelines.
- Women are progressing more slowly than men, and it’s not for lack of asking.
- When it comes to raises and promotions, men are more likely to say they get what they want without having to ask.
It is a fact that women remain underrepresented, underpaid and undervalued, despite comprising 50.8 percent of the U.S. population, earning 60 percent of both undergraduate and master’s degrees, and encompassing 47 percent of the labor force.
Wilson described ongoing inequities for women: “One is salary, as women still do not have the earning power of men, and women of color are particularly at risk for this. A second is occupational segregation, in which women are still steered toward ‘stereotypical’ roles and often guided away from, or have limited access to, traditionally ‘male’ jobs, which are often higher paying and entail greater responsibility. A third area is sexual harassment at work. It has always been a huge problem, but now women are increasingly speaking up and demanding that it cease, and in some cases, that offenders be sanctioned.”
Women in Arizona earned 81.8 cents for every dollar paid to men, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy in 2015. That report, cited by Wilson, also scored the state low on the percentage of women in the overall workforce and in managerial/professional jobs. In total, Arizona was graded C-minus for gender employment issues. Arizona women do, however, “generally lead the nation in legislative leadership and representation.”
Because Prescott wages rank below the national average, Wilson stated, women and people of color are disproportionately affected. As of 2012, women had started and owned more than 1,700 Arizona businesses, compared with 2,200 by men. Few of the reputed “best companies for women” are headquartered in Arizona, Wilson noted, but Costco, Starbucks and Petco maintain a Prescott presence and “we would hope that the local versions are as good for women as the corporations as a whole.”
In addition to Gunn and Wilson, other business experts explored gender neutral inclusion and ways to achieve it. Law enforcement, utility and real estate professionals participated.
The Prescott Police Department is represented at upper levels by two female leaders: Chief of Police Debora Black and Deputy Chief of Police Amy Bonney.
“There are many benefits to gender equality in the workforce,” Bonney affirmed. “Specifically, I can address the benefits of having both men and women represented within the profession of law enforcement. Because we all have many differences, including gender, experience, [and] viewpoints, the more diverse we are, the better equipped we are to effectively address issues within our community. Diversity helps us remain innovative in our approach to working with our community and internally as well.
“The public safety profession is clearly a male-dominated field, and while there have been rare instances in my personal experience where someone, either internally or externally, clearly did not support gender equality, a vast majority of people that I have worked with and served believe that gender equality in the area of public service makes us all better. As I said, diversity of all types within the workforce makes us better and it is certainly something we should continue to strive for and embrace.”
Every employee at Arizona Public Service (APS) carries the company’s vision, mission and core values on the same clip as his or her identification badge, according to Darla DeVille, community affairs manager Northwest Division, which just welcomed its first female chief and offers multiple training and career enhancement programs.
“I am honored to work for a company that fosters core values that we can adhere to,” DeVille said. “It gives us a foundation to build all of our relationships, both internal and external.”
The real estate industry, with a 62 percent female workforce, involves independent contractors who run their own companies, supported by brokerages such as Realty Executives Northern Arizona (RENA).
“The staff and management help the executives [agents] be successful by providing services to their businesses,” explained Cynthia Yannitelli, RENA’s managing broker, and Donald Bonnell, broker/owner. “So, you can see how this is a balancing act that, if everyone did not work together, could fall apart quickly.”
The two clarified that employees and independent contractors operate under “the same set of values toward the same vision. We put together task forces, planning sessions and meetings involving management, staff and the independent contractors, so everyone has a chance to speak and be heard. It is amazing what new and innovative ideas come from these sessions. And because we work as a team, all are supportive and cooperative in the implementation.”
Bonnell and Yannitelli also explained that the company “celebrates equality for all races, creeds, colors and genders. It is more than gender equality. We need to have respect for all ages and all people, diversification of views and better understanding of all viewpoints.”
What can be done to ensure equality regardless of gender “has haunted me ever since I received my MBA,” Gunn confided. “I was an ardent feminist in my MBA program and was roundly chided by the male students. In our graduating class, there were only three women.”
Gunn explained that “there needs to be a culture shift in this country away from male dominance in order for there to be equity in the workplace. It requires education and advocacy on the part of women, and the willingness to be public and vocal about the inequities suffered. It is possible, as other countries have much more equitable business and political systems than we have. But, it will require sacrifice. It will require time. It will require the conversion of some powerful men who can also educate and advocate.”
From Bonney’s standpoint, equality in the workplace “certainly may feel different for some people. While I am sure that there are some professions and certainly some regions in particular that struggle with creating true equality, I believe more and more people and leaders are very deliberately working towards creating cultures which support equality in all forms.”
Wilson identified areas for improvement, including equitable wages, transparent pay, family leave policies, affordable child care, comprehensive and enforced sexual harassment and discrimination policies, the elimination of societal sexism, providing individual opportunity and role models for the future, work-life balance and mentoring.
“We need our state and local education systems to not only improve [through] better funding and teacher pay, but to support the dreams of our young women and encourage them to pursue their passions rather than discouraging them from math and science,” Wilson emphasized. “We need higher education to model women faculty in sciences, and women leaders across the board.”
Seventy-six percent of the world’s constitutions specifically guarantee women’s equality, with the U.S. among those that do not mention gender specifically or have no protections at all, Wilson noted. Conversely, Iceland just passed a law requiring employers with 25 or more workers to prove that they compensate men and women equally for equal work.
Wilson professed that “the lack of an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is a shameful statement about our country. Women deserve constitutional equality. Most people think we already have equal rights. Not so. This has real consequences for women in law, court and society. The excuses for not doing this, [such as] other laws in place and federal overreach, cover for a society that doesn’t like women very much, judging from how we are paid, treated, respected, included. So, demonstrating constitutional protection would send a very strong message.”
Gunn expressed doubt that present efforts to implement an ERA will succeed in the U.S.
“Frankly, I believe that in the current political environment, the ERA will not gain much traction,” she explained. “I don’t feel as if there is sufficient energy for this when there are so many other issues that appear to have more relevance. That said, if the ERA were to become a more visible issue with powerful allies involved, the ERA could focus more on the actual realities of gender inequities and then provide the forum for more education and a culture change.”
Bonney forecasts that “the more we look at the issue of promoting and ensuring equal compensation and upward mobility in the workplace, the more any disparities will be revealed. The first step is awareness and the need for everyone to look objectively at the issue. It is essential that leaders within any organization continually study the issue within the organization as a whole to make sure equal pay for equal work is recognized.”
So how will the U.S. look when gender equality has been achieved? A lot like Norway or the other 14 countries ranking better for women, Wilson predicts. What is lacking, she suggests, is the political will to proceed.
“When we have reached gender equality,” Gunn envisioned, “we will have employment in every field that is representative of the population, not only by gender, but also ethnicity. We won’t even mention gender as a qualifying attribute. And it won’t be the first time a woman is president.” QCBN
By Sue Marceau, QCBN
Darla Deville (left), community affairs manager for APS Northwest Division, discusses the utility company’s commitment to core values, including respect and inclusion with Prescott Chamber President and CEO Sheri Heiney.
Photo by Sue Marceau