n the final months of 2016, the vision for 2017 looked quite different – many anticipating it would be the year of the woman, as would-be President Hillary Clinton would shatter the ultimate glass ceiling into a million pieces, and those pieces would sprinkle down like revolution-causing magical dust that would bring gender parity and allow women to soar to new heights of equality and success.
Indeed, we may have witnessed the start of that anticipated shift in gender dynamics and disparity, but under different circumstances.
As we look toward the future (perhaps 2018 will be the official year of the woman), it is critically important to track the changes, rely on the research and listen to the amplified voices of women in the workplace. Fairygodboss, a women’s career and community site, has access to that unique perspective. Through various touch points, including job reviews, panel surveys, discussion board posts and in-person events, Fairygodboss collects data to discover trends, summarize and share through an annual report. With a reach of 750,000 women every month, their second annual report, published earlier this month and titled “The State of Gender Equality In The Workplace,” uncovers new truths about what it means to be a woman working in today’s world.
This year’s report reflects a changing landscape, with three new sections that explore sexual harassment, intersectionality, and employee resource groups. Some of the findings are surprising, while others are confirming.
1. Women’s Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are still powerful and effective.
In July, Deloitte announced that they are phasing out workplace affinity groups for women and minorities, and replacing this long-standing approach with “inclusion councils” that bring white men into the conversation. With an aim to bring more voices into the conversation, cultivate and harness allies and drive change, Deloitte dismantled their 24-year old women’s initiative called WIN, and other groups built around race and sexual orientation are facing a similar fate in the upcoming months. This shift away from the traditional was partially driven by new research findings that highlighted that millennials, who make-up the majority (57%) of Deloitte’s employee base, don’t like being clustered or grouped by demographics.
Deloitte’s statement and move away from a decades-old approach to diversity, sparked a much broader debate about the role and effectiveness of ERGs. The amount of attention this announcement garnered and continues to receive isn’t surprising – affinity and network groups are foundational to the corporate diversity and inclusion efforts that have spanned decades, starting in 1970 when Xerox launched the first ERG. Other large corporations have since followed suit with ERGs established for women, employees of color, LGBTQ employees, etc. The original goals are focused on engagement, inclusion, confidence-building and support in corporate cultures commonly dominated by straight white men, but some view ERGs as relics of the past. However, with Deloitte’s announcement, the focal question became: Are ERGs still relevant in the ever-evolving and amplifying efforts to drive diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
While the Fairygodboss report findings don’t explore the effectiveness of all ERGs, the research clearly indicates that women’s ERGs are still successful. They are prevalent, highly subscribed, and effective at advancing careers and changing policy and workplace culture.
While the jury is still out on the effectiveness of inclusion councils, only time will tell if this new approach is more effective than the current model. The Fairygodboss report shows that women’s ERGs are making a difference in the workplace and helping move the dial toward gender parity.
2. The majority of sexual harassment perpetrators are colleagues, rather than bosses.
Fairygodboss reports that nearly 43% of women have experienced some type of harassment in the workplace. Similarly high numbers have been reported for years, but the report also captures new details that are more surprising. This year’s headlines and front-page stories have showcased powerful, older men being removed from power and post on a near daily basis. Mary Pharris, Director of Business Development and Partnerships at Fairygodboss shares:
“We would have been remiss to not discuss sexual harassment in the workplace given everything that happened this year. We really wanted to engage with our community to see what they are experiencing, especially what is happening to women in the workplace who aren’t dealing with high profile people.”
The toxic power-gender dynamic dominates the public discourse, but as Fairygodboss data highlights, the majority of workplace sexual harassment is perpetrated by a colleague (57%), rather than a boss (36%) or manager (25%).
While older, more senior male figures — the giants of industry — are being removed from their positions, Fairygodboss found that the majority of women (72%) reported that their harasser was 40 or under. This paints a very different picture than the one in the headlines, and also highlights the vast scope of workplace sexual harassment and assault in this country. Contrary to one line of pervasive thought, this epidemic will not be phased out of the workplace as the next generations retire, and it is clear that stronger, immediate policies and methods of reporting, education and awareness are necessary.
3. Women of color have a drastically different experience in the workplace than Caucasian women.
Fairygodboss found that appearance-based bias impacted hiring decisions, and that women of color were less likely to be hired by Caucasian hiring managers and recruiters than by other hiring managers and recruiters of color. Moreover, hiring managers are more likely to associate leadership potential among women of their same race.
As the research shows, one woman’s experience isn’t the same as another’s. Preventing discrimination and mitigating costly and damaging bias requires a holistic approach. Intersectional practices result in a better workplace for all, and the inclusion of intersectionality in this year’s Fairygodboss report is an important contribution to the ever-expanding work in this area.
Progress has been made, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
To advance workplace gender diversity, we must first capture, track, share and discuss our experiences. Our collective knowledge and wisdom can then be harnessed to implement policies that push toward a more equitable workplace. Here’s looking to 2018 – the year of the woman.
Amanda Greenberg is the Co-Founder and CEO of Baloonr.
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