Here’s the thing: It’s been proven over and over again that when women are added to organizations, they are more successful.
So why do we still face a gender gap?
That’s the question Joanne Lipman tried to answer in her book, That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know and What Women Need to Tell them About Working Together. She talked about her findings during a presentation at the 2018 PromaxBDA Conference in New York on Wednesday.
“Women have been talking about the issues that we face at work for years. I’m not talking just about things that are the extremes – the #MeToo movement – but the things that happen to all women every day. That feeling of being marginalized, overlooked, interrupted, of not being given the same level of respect as the man sitting next to her,” she said.
Looking out over the crowd, she welcomed both men and women to her session. “If we ever want to get to a solution we need men to join us,” she said.
We’re currently still a long way off from a solution. Even though more than half of graduating college seniors are women, very few of those end up in corporate leadership ranks, Lipman said. In the entertainment industry alone, women directed only seven percent of the top 250 movies of the past year, while women created less than 25 percent of primetime TV shows. In newsrooms, less than one-third of journalists are women.
The cause of all of this inequity is not as obvious as one might think. In fact, unconscious bias that starts getting baked into all of us at an early age is one of the biggest reasons it’s hard for women to break in and climb their way to the top.
“All of us have biases that are buried so deeply inside of us that we don’t even realize they exist. That has a massively outsized effect,” she said.
This unconscious bias starts early. Mothers routinely overestimate the crawling ability of their baby sons but underestimate that ability among their baby daughters, Lipman said.
A study of elementary schoolers revealed that when kids took a test but didn’t put their names on their papers, the girls far outscored the boys. When the boys put their names on the same test, they did much better.
By the time these same kids get to college, a female student needs to have an A average to be seen as the equal of a male student with a B average, Lipman went on. By the time these students enter the workforce, they have long ago internalized that boys are worth more.
And although inequality resulting in a large wage gap is a problem for white woman, it’s even worse for women of color. White women earn about 70 cents on the dollar compared to white men, but black women earn 63 cents on the dollar and Latinas earn 54 cents on the dollar, said Lipman.
The term for that is intersectionality, and it’s something “younger workers are highly focused on and older managers don’t even know exists,” said Lipman. “But for those of you in the latter category, it’s time to get focused. This is an issue we all need to address.”
The good news, according to Lipman, is that we can change all of this. “We can fix it and we can be part of the solution. There are things we can do both within our organizations and within ourselves.”
First among those things is to take stock of what’s happening inside your organization: “we cannot fix what we do not measure,” Lipman said, and that requires paying attention to every little thing – who interrupts whom, who gets what job, who hires someone in their own image without concern for improving work place diversity.
“We here can all be part of the change,” she finished, “and leadership must own the change.”