5 Obstacles That Hold Women Back in the Workplace and Destroy Employee Engagement:

The Glass Ceiling is Real, and Everybody Loses

There is no doubt women have made progress, and if you take a look at most corporate pyramids, the bottom levels are very diverse. But, statistically speaking, these pyramids for both women and minorities turn into plateaus. The higher up in the corporate pyramid, the less diverse. And there are very real – not imagined – reasons as to why.

Being aware of what stops progress for women is a great first step toward gender parity in the workplace. Some issues are so entrenched in organizational culture, it can be hard to detect them. It’s time to take out the magnifying glass with a DEI survey and identify what obstacles in your organization are holding women back.

Download the Women in the Workplace report and read this HBR article written by gender inequity scholars for a more in-depth analysis.

These are 5 obstacles that stunt women’s progress at work and, in doing so, hurt employee engagement. “A rising ride lifts all boats,” and we can all be partners to close the gap and offer more equitable, diverse, and productive workplaces to engage our workers and succeed together.

1. The punishment gap. When women and minorities make mistakes at work, they suffer greater consequences. This is not imagined. One way to address this is by having people in decision-making positions learn about and confront the punishment gap and gender bias. Simply put, women are held to higher standards than their male counterparts.

2. The work/family narrative is pervasive in corporate culture. The ideas of having to sacrifice work for family – put in hours that “no mother can do” and, “If she thought it was important, she’d get to the early morning meetings,” are not only erroneous but devastating for employee engagement across the board. The narrative simply doesn’t match the data though it’s so entrenched in the corporate culture, both men and women believe it.

3. The long hours work culture and lack of flexible work schedules continue to be one of the biggest problems for women who want to advance in their careers. Even more problematic is when women do take accommodations, their careers can get derailed. Though accommodations are available to everyone, the women who take them are often stigmatized.

4. Access to opportunities, top assignments, and game-changers – the career-making roles that seemingly drop in men’s laps every day. There are two key questions to ask: 1. What do you need to succeed in this assignment, this job position? 2. How do you get promoted to a better job or assignment? Though women share the technical and soft skills in the first question, they are often overlooked for the second because they haven’t been assigned high-visibility, mission-critical roles. Be deliberate about helping women colleagues advance.

5. Sexual harassment continues to be a pervasive problem in the workforce. A lot has come to light, especially in the last few years, and organizations have reacted. But there continues to be a lag between workplace policies and implementing them and coming up with safe reporting mechanisms. It is every organization’s moral and legal responsibility to provide a safe, healthy workplace free of sexual harassment.

It’s time to get serious about women and the workplace and chip away at archaic ideas and practices that not only hold back women but the organization as a whole. Be a leader and partner in gender parity in your organization.




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