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Feb 7, 2014

Editor’s Note: Sheena Sigsworth will be writing from time to time about HR and the workplace as she sees it from the Cayman Islands.

We’ve heard about it, experienced it or read about it – women in the workforce sometimes get a raw deal.

Discrimination is one of those things no one really likes to talk about, but you know it’s there and gender discrimination is one such issue. It rears its head in the workforce where many women still earn less than their male counterparts for the same job.

Although the Cayman Islands have evolved from the days when women were expected to be homemakers while the their men went to sea and provided for the family, inequality still exists in the workplace.

Some progress, but not enough

The 2006 Tower Omnibus survey showed that 20 percent of men in Cayman earn more than $3,000 per month and a mere 9 percent of women fell in the same income bracket, yet more women than men had a college education. A labor force survey conducted three years later told the story again:

The Labour Force Survey (2009), by the Economics and Statistics Office (ESO), shows that males make up 50.5 percent of the labour force and females 49.5 percent, which is near equal participation. At the same time this equality does not translate to income. Females make up the majority of the two lowest salary brackets in this survey. Eighty three point three per cent (83.3 percent) of persons making less than $800 per month were women and 63.5 percent of those making less than $1,600 a month were also women.

Being confined to the poorest of the poor is extremely challenging especially for women who often times are the sole bread-winner of their families and do not receive any or adequate financial assistance from the father of their children. On the opposite end of the spectrum, men comprised 65.5 percent of the persons making $7,200 or more a month, whereas women only represented 34.5 percent of this highest level of income earnings.”

Yes, we have made some progress;  for instance more women are reaching the ranks of senior positions and becoming partners in male dominated fields but often they still earn less and opportunities for further development are limited.

The 2011 Gender Equality Bill offers some hope but there is still room for improvement. Just two weeks ago there was a discussion on this topic on a local radio station and you need only speak with women to confirm.

How to foster a healthy environment

So what can businesses do to foster a healthy competitive environment for women in the Cayman’s workforce?

  • Offer equal salaries for equal jobs and qualifications.
  • Stop moving the goalpost and set attainable goals for ALL employees.
  • Implement a fair system to advertise internal vacancies.
  • Structure promotions so that no one’s career is derailed because they have a young child or other commitments and can’t relocate to your office in Timbuktu.
  • Provide opportunities for staff to rotate between departments or divisions to gain more experience.
  • Stop applying negative labels (bossy, bitchy, butch) to an assertive or ambitious woman.
  • Offer frequent, honest, constructive criticism regarding performance.
  • Offer that assignment which might mean traveling to the best employee regardless of sex or their family situation.
  • Invite qualified women to serve on corporate boards.

Not that inequality is justifiable, but I must add that sometimes women unknowingly act in a manner that aids in their oppression.

For instance, in a 2010 TED talk, Sheryl Sandberg spoke about her observation that women were “leaning back” in the workforce – not making their presence known and seizing opportunities.

Some of the things women can do

  • Be direct. Learn to state exactly what you think or want and accept the risk of being challenged or proven wrong, especially at meetings
  • Don’t just accept whatever a male colleague says. Many expect you to back down — so don’t.
  • Be authentic. People will give you more respect if you remain true to who you are
  • Don’t take things personally.
  • Take calculated risks and don’t shy away from assignments because you think you can’t handle it.
  • Don’t alienate yourself. Develop a network of men and women in and outside the organization who support and your goals.

This was originally published on Sheena Sigsworth’s blog.

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