What Does HR Need to Know about Women at Work?


Human Resources professionals probably recognize that women at work have made gains over the years. However, no one should question the fact that HR has much work to do to help women and other underrepresented groups reach parity.

WATCH: HR Exchange Talks – Women at Work 2023

The pandemic demonstrated that women saddle most of the responsibility at home, regardless of what their work life outside the home looks like. Data about their status at work tells the story of a group that needs help rising up. The gender pay gap and lack of women leaders demonstrate that employers should shift priorities and make changes. In this guide, gain insight with data and discussion relating to the state of women at work today.

The State of Women at Work

Despite the undeniable progress women at work have made, they still face tremendous challenges. They are still paid less, have fewer opportunities to rise in leadership, and feel like they are on the defensive at work on many fronts. Women from other underrepresented groups remain even more marginalized. The pandemic revealed that women take on much of the responsibility at home and when caring for children, the elderly, or ill relatives regardless of whether they are working outside the home, too. With the knowledge that women are doing it all while trying to have it all, HR Exchange Network is assessing that state of women at work by considering the biggest issues women are confronting in their professional lives.

What Is Equality?

Equality is defined, by Oxford Languages, as the state of being equal in status, rights, and opportunities. It refers to individuals gaining access to the resources necessary for achieving results. In the context of Human Resources, equality could include the practice of everyone with certain qualifications – regardless of gender – getting resources for preparing for an examination and then taking the same test. 

READ: HR Guide to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

What Is Equity?

On the other hand, equity is defined, by Oxford Languages, as the quality of being fair and impartial. Some who discuss the difference between equality and equity say that equality points to the idea of providing people with the same resources for arriving at success, whereas equity is about guaranteeing certain outcomes. It’s a nuanced difference that requires thought provoking conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies.

“Equality should be the goal of a workforce while equity is the means to get there,” according to Insight Global.

The Equal Pay Act

For generations now, women have been fighting for equality. More specifically, the biggest challenge they continue to confront is equal pay. This refers to the idea of people getting paid the same for the same or very similar work. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 amended the Fair Labor Standards Act and is meant to protect against wage discrimination based on sex. ADP reports that federal law has established many pay equity standards through the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and other landmark laws. More recently, states are passing transparency laws that force businesses to share salaries for different roles publicly in job ads. 

Still, these standards and laws have not done enough because the reality is far different from what anyone would expect:

  • Women earn $.82 for every $1 men earn, according to the Department of Labor.
  • Black women earn an average of $.63 for each $1 paid to non-Hispanic, white men, according to CNBC.
  • Latinas working full time were paid approximately $.57 for every $1 earned by white, non-Hispanic men, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
  • Women with MBAs earn $.76 for every $1 a man with an MBA, according to CNBC.
  • Women with a law degree earn $.89 for every $1 a man with a law degree earns, according to CNBC.

Some argue that women make less money than men because they choose careers that traditionally pay less. Others think those jobs pay less because as a society so-called “women’s work” has less value. But there are some fields that narrow the gap more than others:

  • Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation – women earn $.96 for every $1 men earn
  • Real Estate and Rental/Leasing – women earn $.94 for every $1 men earn
  • Construction – women earn $.91 for every $1 men earn
  • Technology – $.90 for every $1 men earn
  • Education – $.89 for every $1 men earn

These data points make it clear that the gender pay gap persists. The solution for HR professionals is to conduct pay audits regularly and make adjustments to ensure people are being paid the same for the same work. Salesforce made a commitment to equal pay in 2015 and quickly realized that this process was not a one-and-done deal. The company has offered explanations as to why pay audits and adjustments for equal pay should be part of the annual compensation process.

In 2022, the company completed its seventh fiscal year compensation review of about 70,000 global employees.

The audit revealed that 8.5% of Salesforce’s global employees required adjustments. Of those, 92% were based on gender globally, and 8% were based on race or ethnicity in the United States. As a result, Salesforce spent $5.6 million to address any unexplained differences in pay, a total of more than $22 million spent since 2015, according to the company.

Salesforce provides a road map for HR professionals, who want to do the right thing. Still, everyone needs to figure out why these divisions persist. The Pew Research Center released data in 2023 that shows the gender pay gap has virtually stayed the same for 20 years now and that people attribute unequal pay to the following:

  • 50% say women are being treated differently by employers
  • 42% say women are making different choices to balance work and family life
  • 34% says women are working in jobs that pay less

Women’s Access to Leadership Opportunities

Anyone who looks around typical C-suites can recognize that there are too few women represented. The numbers validate that impression. Lean In and McKinsey & Company released a report, Women in the Workplace 2022, which is a compilation of findings from a study that went on from 2015 to 2022 and included 810 companies and 400,000 people. The findings are more than disappointing:

  • Only one in four C-suite executives is a woman, and only one in 20 is a woman of color.
  • For every 100 men promoted from entry-level to manager, only 87 women are promoted and only 82 women of color are promoted.
  • For every woman at the director level who gets promoted to the next level, two women directors are choosing to leave their company.

When she participated in the debut HR Exchange Talks on Women at Work 2023, Rhonda Hall, Vice President of Human Resources and Organizational Development at University Federal Credit Union, expressed that women earn roles in middle management, but the rise ends there.

Cornelia Gamlem and Barbara Mitchell, the authors of the Big Book of HR, Nichelle Grant, Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Siemens USA, and Stephanie Murphy, People Analytics Professor at University of Texas at Austin, also joined the panel with Hall. The consensus was that HR professionals can make change by creating inclusive cultures that support both mentorship and sponsorship. They explained, through their discussion, that sponsorship is when someone with pull nominates someone for promotions, and mentorship is more about building a relationship in which one of the parties has more experience and can advise the other on his or her career.

Building diverse talent pipelines and succession plans in an organization that provides employees with a sense of belonging is the way out of this underrepresentation. But everyone must be on board and it has to be a continuous process.

Photo by Christina Morillo for Pexels

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