Amid pervasive gender bias, how HR and benefits leaders can make a difference

Midway through Women’s History Month—and despite significant increases in commitments to DE&I by employers—a new survey has found pervasive barriers could be holding women back in the workplace.

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Among the findings of Workhuman’s Human Workplace Index (HWI) survey, which polled 1,000 employees split evenly between women and men, is that 46% of women report having experienced gender bias at work—15% more than men.

Drilling that down, nearly 40% of women have felt dismissed at some point in their careers due to their gender; more than one-quarter of women of color felt dismissed “very often to almost always.” And nearly 48% of all respondents said they had seen women be rewarded unequally or even penalized for exhibiting “masculine defaults”—such as being confident or assertive.

Niamh Graham, Workhuman
Niamh Graham, Workhuman

“While we have certainly made progress in ensuring that bias is not as common in the workplace, our latest research found that women still face significant barriers in the workplace,” says Niamh Graham, senior vice president, Global Human Experience at Workhuman, a multinational cloud-based, HCM solutions provider. “These stats are staggering and serve as a critical reminder of the issues that women in the workplace are still facing.”

The survey suggests employers are not doing enough to confront those issues. Just 25% of respondents said they’d be comfortable speaking with a manager about bias incidents, and only 15% would discuss bias in the workplace with someone from HR. Nearly one-fifth don’t feel comfortable talking to anyone at their employer about biases they face at work.

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To turn those stats around, Graham says, HR must take deliberate steps to foster inclusivity in the workplace. This involves ongoing, equitable and balanced recognition, along with frequent “check-ins” between managers and workers to ensure that worker needs are being met.

“Creating a more open dialogue founded in trust provides another avenue for workers to communicate their experiences with bias in the workplace,” Graham says.

Further, employers should take a look at how their benefits make (or do not make) women “feel seen and heard.”

See also: Will a new Biden move prompt employers to step up on childcare?

The study found that 45% of workers are holding off on asking for raises due to bias in the workplace, and more than 20% are afraid of taking parental leave due to fears about what that would mean for their careers.

“All these needs must be addressed and fixed expeditiously,” Graham says. “The onus falls on leaders to make sure these benefits are readily offered and authentically delivered, so women feel they are being compensated and cared for equally.”

Learn leading benefits strategy for advancing gender equity at the upcoming Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, May 3-5 in Las Vegas. Click here to register.

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Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at [email protected]