Easy ways to help counter gender inequality in the workplace

women in the workplace, gender inequality

Whatever our age or gender, we all have a responsibility to challenge gender inequality. Yet, despite women comprising 50 per cent of the population, gender inequality remains a systemic problem, infiltrating every aspect of our society.

In 2021, this is unacceptable, but according to researchers at the University of South Australia’s Centre for Workplace Excellence and UniSA Online, we can each challenge gender inequality, and it begins with simple changes to everyday actions.

Workplace and gender diversity experts, UniSA’s Professor Carol Kulik and UniSA Online’s Dr Jill Gould say addressing gender inequality starts with understanding the issue and where the bias lies.

“Gender inequality is a problem that affects us all – as a community, we should be harnessing talent from our whole population, not just half of it, and to this end, everyone should be interested in what we can do to improve it,” Dr Gould says.

“Curiously while there’s a lot of focus on organisational change – particularly at board level – it’s the everyday behaviours, assumptions, actions and responses from individuals that can instigate real change.

“Gender inequality exists across so many elements of what we see and do each day. For example, people often make assumptions that a man holds a higher position of authority when standing alongside a female. This is not necessarily the case, but it consistently happens both in school and workplace environments.

“Women are also undermined by language, because they are more likely to be described by their personality rather than their competence. We spontaneously describe women as hardworking team players, missing the opportunity to highlight their individual accomplishments or the specific contributions they made.

“We must be mindful of these gender biases. Once people are aware of them and start practicing the small adjustments or ‘hacks’, we can build on those small changes to make larger improvements.”

Based on a review of the research literature, Prof Kulik and Dr Gould have produced a list of everyday hacks that can help eliminate gender bias, some of which are:

FactEveryday Hack
Women are regularly assumed to occupy lower positions and status than men.Credentialise all of your colleagues – use their titles when you introduce them and explain the role they play in the group.
Men ask nearly twice as many questions as women.Explicitly invite questions from all the team.
Presentations by women are interrupted by questions more than those by men.Separate presentation time from question time.
Men are described as ‘outstanding’, ‘intellectual’ and ‘adventurous’, whereas women are described as ‘hardworking’, ‘helpful’ and ‘thorough’.Check the adjectives you use in reference letters and written feedback.
Women serve on more internal committees than men. These committees tend to focus on “organisational housekeeping” and are less likely to lead to promotion compared to external service.Alternate service appointments across women and men to share the load.
Recruitment materials often use masculine words such as ‘determined’, ‘dominant’ and ‘boast’ which discourage female applicants.Review descriptions of your organisation as well as recruitment materials to eliminate gender-driven wording; both men and women respond positively to recruitment messages that emphasise organisational values.
When only one woman appears on a shortlist, there’s statistically no chance she’ll be hired.Insist that recruiters and ‘head-hunters’ identify multiple women who meet selection criteria, so that a second woman appears on every shortlist.

Associate Professor Anna Sullivan, Director of UniSA’s Centre for Research in Educational and Social Inclusion, says such hacks are useful for all sectors and ages.

“Building an awareness of the small things we can do to eliminate gender bias can help people across all sectors – but it’s especially Important in education, early childhood centres, schools and universities,” Assoc Prof Sullivan says.

“From how women are introduced, described, and treated, we all have a responsibility to be more aware of our language and behaviours. If we can model this for children at a young age, and throughout their education, we can instil and grow lasting and positive gender change.”