5 Facts to Share the Next Time Someone Tells You Women Are Already Equal at Work

group of women sitting in office


AnnaMarie Houlis
AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger

It's 2021, but women still aren't afforded equal opportunities to men in the workplace. In fact, COVID-19 has set women's progress in the workplace back. In June 2021, women’s participation in the workforce had dropped to its lowest level since 1988 — 56%. And since COVID began, 17% of all working women reduced their hours to make more time for unpaid care work. 

Studies by McKinsey & Company suggest it will take until 2024 for women to restore their standing in the workplace to pre-pandemic levels — and then we have to deal with all of the pre-standing issues of gender inequality. The below facts will get you up to speed on the standing status of women in the workplace.

1. Women still earn less than men in the workplace.

The good news is that the gender pay gap is indeed closing. But the unfortunate news is that it still exists. That it's ever existed at all is not okay, let alone that it's still a thing.
In 2021, American women took home just $0.84 for every male dollar. While this is up from the 64 cents to every male dollar that women earned in 1980, it's a gender pay gap, nonetheless. 
There are tons of reasons behind the gender pay gap, which a nuanced issue. Of course, one of the biggest problems is that women don't have the same opportunities to advance in their careers and earn the big bucks like their male counterparts. In fact, according to research from Lean In.org and McKinsey & Company, one in five women are often the only females in meetings or other situations at work. And that statistic nearly doubles for women in senior-level positions, 40% of whom report flying solo amongst all men. That's because women are largely underrepresented in leadership roles — female Fortune 500 CEOs are at the helm of just 25 companies on the list.
Even female entrepreneurs who work for themselves aren't afforded equal opportunities. There's a major gender funding gap, and investors continue to use sexist, gendered language that asks women how they plan not to lose, while it asks men how they plan to win.

2. Women are less likely to take their given vacation time than men.

For more women than men, high stress, guilt and workload concerns keep them from using their paid time off (PTO), according to research from Project Time Off.  Women report experiencing more stress than men at work (74 percent to 67 percent), and they are more likely to say that guilt (25 percent to 20 percent) and the mountain of work to which they'd return (46 percent to 40 percent) hold them back from taking a vacation. In fact, women also worry more than men about how taking a vacation may make them seem less committed to their jobs (28 percent to 25 percent).
That's because women in the workplace too often feel like they must prove their value. If they leave work, even for just a few days or a week of vacation, they face more social penalization than men, who don't necessarily have to prove themselves quite as much.
Even when companies offer unlimited PTO, research suggests that women don't take it. In fact, unlimited PTO may be creating an even bigger gender divide in the office, as unclear guidelines seem to affect women more than they do men. If women are not explicitly told that taking time off is okay, and the company doesn't boast a culture that suggests that doing so is acceptable, women tend to stick around, worried that they'll risk their jobs.

3. Women do indeed ask for raises just as much as men.

Recent research suggests that, not only do women indeed ask for pay raises, but many of them are also planning to leave their jobs to earn more money elsewhere.
An earlier study also suggests that women do, in fact, ask for raises as often as men, but they're 25% less likely to get them.  In fact, the study found that men and women both asked for raises when it was obvious to them that the pay was negotiable. But 48% of the men surveyed thought their salary was negotiable, while only 32% of women did — and, if the women weren't clear that they could ask for more money, they assumed that a raise wasn't possible. 
The research supports an even earlier finding from 2012 that suggests that, while women are often eager to negotiate for a higher salary, they're much less likely to do it if there isn't "an explicit statement in the job description that payment is negotiable." 

4. Women are still impacted by everything from how they look to how they sound at work.

According to a wealth of research, attractive people are more likely to be invited for job interviews, they earn more money than people who are deemed unattractive and they're considered more competent. That said, women who are considered "too glamorous" are considered "untrustworthy" in the workplace, too.
In short, beauty is a balancing act for women who are damned if they do look a particular way and damned if they don't look a particular way in the workplace.
And it doesn't stop there. Even women's voices can make or break their careers. Studies suggest that the tone of a woman's voice can make her seem worthy of being hired or not. While deeper voices tend to be associated with leadership, if women exhibit any level of vocal fry, they'll be penalized.
Women, therefore, have to be constantly aware of how they look and sound in the workplace, more so than their male counterparts. They walk a thin line that requires them to dress, speak and ultimately behave in specific ways.

5. Women are less likely than men to receive helpful feedback.

Sexist performance reviews are holding women back in the workplace. Recent research published in the Harvard Business Review suggests that women are actually 1.4 times more likely to receive subjective critical feedback (as opposed to constructive critical feedback). This means that, unlike their male counterparts, they're not receiving clear direction on how best to move forward, improve and grow.
A 2016 study from Stanford University’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research’s found that, across three high-tech companies and one professional services firm, feedback to male employees was full of detail and actionable advice, while feedback to women was uselessly vague. The feedback also recognized men’s independence, while it tended to tout women’s team work and collaboration skills, which the researchers say encourages men and women to follow different paths and positions male employees as more-likely leaders.
That women’s performances are also more likely attributed to characteristics rather than skills and abilities is an issue, as well. In 2014, linguist Kieran Snyder collected 248 performance reviews from women and men across 28 companies in the tech industry. She discovered that women were significantly more likely to receive feedback based on their personality traits. 
The research also found that people perceive women and men's personality traits differently, which only adds fuel to the fire. For example,  while women were perceived as abrasive, bossy, aggressive, strident, emotional and irrational, men were considered confident and assertive.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.