Weekly Wrap: International Women’s Day Highlights Continuing Inequality at Work

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Mar 6, 2020
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

March 8th is International Women’s Day and while Sunday is the traditional day of rest in some cultures and religions, there’s still plenty left to accomplish at work. If there’s good news, it’s that the work environment is generally improving across a broad set of measures. The bad news? There are still expansive gaps that certainly seem like they could be closed much quicker.

In the U.S. for example, working mothers have a very different experience than in many other developed countries. This month in the Harvard Business Review, the publication covered two journeys of two mothers — one in Stockholm, one in Seattle. Their experiences couldn’t be more different and the differences are about more than just being a generous employer:

In the absence of legislative change, some U.S. businesses have stepped up to offer work-family policies to their employees. That’s great news — that is, if you have a secure, salaried role in one of these firms. In reality, the workers most in need of support are those least likely to have access to it in our privatized system. The onus shouldn’t be on individual employers — except to put pressure on government officials to develop a more holistic solution to the problem. We need a national system to support all working families. Creating one won’t be simple, but every other wealthy industrialized nation has found a way to provide paid parental leave and subsidized healthcare and childcare to all their residents. Surely Americans can solve this puzzle, too.

The moral case is simple. The business case is clear. What are our policy makers waiting for?

Of course, how the government, organizations, and society as a whole support working mothers is only one part of the equality equation. In a country where women will have to wait at least another four years before breaking the ultimate glass ceiling of the presidency, the issues of pay inequality, development opportunities, board positions, and venture funding affect all working women.

Our quick hits this week will be focused on highlighting these many challenges. As we move into a new decade, HR and people leaders have to push harder to close these gaps to ensure an equitable workplace.

Quick hits

  • Mastercard recently revealed a 7.8% pay gap between women and men. The effort spearheaded by activist investors Arjuna Capital shows that even Wall Street can be used for a greater good. [Bloomberg]
  • In tech, the pay and benefits gap is often more substantial. For example, female data architects make $13,000 less than men in the same role. The benefits women value is also significant, with remote and flex options most important. [Dice]
  • The number of female breadwinners continues to grow, with 29% of families anchored by a woman’s higher salary (up from 16% in 1981). [Advisor Channel]
  • While 81% of organizations claim that improving diversity and inclusion is important, less than half have a strategy to do so. There are some improvements in leadership but organizations can do more than pay lip service. [Mercer]
  • Just 15% of top-level board positions in the S&P100 are held by women, while the number of overall board positions held by women has increased to nearly a third. The U.K. and Australia do better. [Kearney]
  • New mothers want to take off time but don’t. The biggest reason is money, with 84% saying that ranked first. They also still feared losing their job (35%) or not being able to move up in their career (15%). [LinkedIn]
  • Asked about what issues they cared most about on International Women’s Day, Americans overwhelmingly chose “I don’t know.” Second choice? Eliminating the gender pay gap. Progress, I guess. [beqom]
  • Across the pond in the U.K., more men are allowed to work from home than women even though more women desire this benefit. Part of the problem? Working from home comes with some stigma, like creating more work for others. [Mason Frank]
  • Some good news: MEST and GIZ launched a new accelerator called Tech by Her, designed for early-stage female founders in Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria. [Ventureburn]

Does politics drive changes to business language?

HR leaders probably want to avoid politics whenever possible at work. It’s understandable, even if I don’t think it’s realistic. What is harder to disagree with is that some elements of politics will always seep into work, and that likely includes language.

Kieran Snyder, co-founder and CEO of Textio, an augmented writing tool for recruiting, posted a breakdown of how political changes may have influenced shifts in business language. The analysis looked specifically at the change in language in job posts by companies in the Fortune 100 between 2015 and 2020. She writes on Medium:

If the language we use reveals what we value as a society, our collective corporate language over the last five years tells a pretty clear story.

Certainly, not every company in the Fortune 100 is on the exact same journey; even as CVS is ramping up on “meaningful” and “groundbreaking,” Walmart is retiring them in favor of old-school corporate tropes like “stakeholders” and “best practices.”

In today’s market, companies have the chance to distinguish themselves from the competition by the values they set and the language they use to represent themselves. Companies use their language to both signify and shape their values, and thus their business prospects for the future.

Snyder brings in some compelling graphics that you can see if you head over to her post. How much of this change is driven by the 2016 election versus the copycat language changes that everyone seems to pile on at all once? Finding a root cause for something like language change is a challenge but there are some compelling changes that could be very much connected to political change. The reduction in words like “expert” and “proven track record” seem almost too perfect for the times. And Snyder, who I should point out has a Ph.D. in linguistics, writes, “Corporate language may reflect the priorities of the world around it, but it also establishes those priorities.”

The language of business is both a reaction to and an influence on the world around us. Which is a great, and yet somewhat terrifying, responsibility. Good luck to all of you with that.

The weekly wrap is where TLNT shares the stories that didn’t quite make it into a full post this week. We’ll also share links to some of our favorite things we read this week about HR, people development, the future of work, and more.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.