women

Making the workplace a better, more productive place for Colorado women

First, the good news.

Women have made great strides in the workplace over the last several decades. Since WWII, women’s participation in the U.S. labor force has climbed from just 32.7 percent to more than 56 percent today. Overall, 47 percent of all U.S. workers are women.

What’s more, they’ve been earning more bachelor’s degrees than men since the 1970s; today more than 40 percent of women in the labor force holds a college degree, compared to just 11 percent four decades ago.

As of 2016, one in three lawyers was a woman. A generation ago, that number was less than one in 10.

In Colorado over the last 15 years, the gender wage gap has narrowed, a higher percentage of women have earned bachelor’s degrees, and the state is now ranked in the top third nationwide for both earnings and opportunities for women, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. All positive news for our state.

Unfortunately, this progress has largely stalled, according to the 2018 Women in the Workplace study, conducted by McKinsey in partnership with LeanIn.org. Although women account for 48 percent of all entry-level workers nationally, just 22 percent of executive and management roles go to women. And, all too often, women in the workplace qualify as “the only” — the only female in the room at work.

Those figures are nationwide, but things aren’t much better here in Colorado.

Women make up about 46 percent of the statewide workforce, and yet only earn on average about 0.86 cents on the dollar when compared to their male peers. In fact, according to some estimates, at the rate things are going women will not reach equal pay here in Colorado until 2057.

What can businesses in the region do to help address these shortcomings and make the workplace better for Colorado’s women? McKinsey and LeanIn.org have some ideas.

Make gender a priority

Workplace equality doesn’t just happen, it needs to be driven from the top of the organization and woven into everything that the business does. Right now, that isn’t happening. Per the report: Only 38% of companies set targets for gender representation, even though setting goals is the first step toward achieving any business priority. Only 12% share a majority of gender diversity metrics with their employees, even though transparency is a helpful way to signal a company’s commitment to change. Only 42% hold senior leaders accountable for making progress toward gender parity, and even fewer hold managers and directors accountable.” Leaders need to step up and make solving these shortcomings a priority.

Focus on hiring and promoting talented women

It’s telling that, even though more women than men are getting bachelor’s degrees, the workplace is still so tilted toward men. More men are hired into entry-level jobs, and, for every 100 men promoted to a management-level role, only 79 women are. That leaves a workplace where women hold only 38 percent of all manager positions. McKinsey calls this problem with the talent pipeline the “hollow middle”: “Starting at the manager level, there are significantly fewer women to promote from within and significantly fewer women at the right experience level to hire in from the outside. So even though hiring and promotion rates improve at more senior levels, women can never catch up.”

This is a solvable problem, though. By simply hiring and promoting women and men at equal rates, the market can get pretty close to parity in as little as 10 years, according to the report. Colorado companies can help address this by hiring more women and making sure those women move up the ladder over the course of their careers. After all, you can’t promote the person you don’t hire in the first place.

Address “casual discrimination”

So-called “microagressions,” those everday sexists and otherwise offensive comments, are a common occurrence for many working women. Maybe a new coworker mistakenly assumes they’re in a more junior role than they really are, or maybe it’s more overt, like demeaning language or bullying behavior. Whatever form it takes, 64 percent of women say that they have experienced these kinds of microagressions in the workplace (and that’s on top of the 35 percent of women who have experienced sexual harassment at work at some point in their career). Businesses can improve the working conditions for women by addressing this kind of behavior and making sure that everyone in the office feels valued and respected at all times.

Just do more

Right now, only 40 percent of workers, male and female, say that disrespectful behavior in the workplace is quickly addressed and resolved, and just 27 percent says that managers “regularly challenge biased language and behavior when they observe it.” When faced with sexual harassment claims, just 32 percent of employees are pleased with their company’s resolution process. Clearly, more needs to be done to create a safe and productive workplace. The good news is there’s plenty of room for improvement and a roadmap for change.

Women are the future of our workforce, both here in Colorado and nationwide. The time is now to create an environment that works for all of us.

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