There are numerous reasons to celebrate women everyday, not just today, as we mark International Women’s Day. And there is also much to lament, both on what still needs to be done and where we risk going backwards.
When we see female leaders in Hong Kong shattering major glass ceilings it’s undeniably inspiring – but we still have a long way to go. Women still face rampant discrimination and harassment in the workplace, from being kept out of senior roles or certain fields entirely, to not being appropriately accommodated or compensated while pregnant or after giving birth.
So, as we celebrate the important wins women have had in the past, we also relook areas where the struggle for equality persists. We examined three common, yet still unresolved gender biases women encounter in the workplace and what should be done to prevent those.
Wage gapsThis one being the most obvious is a challenge to solve! Globally, but also across Southeast Asia, where men continue to earn more than women. And the difference is more pronounced in male dominated fields like IT and engineering. Why? Firstly, the number of women graduates is particularly bleak when you look specifically at the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. Many women do not pursue these fields because of sheer lack of encouragement. How many times were they told that they have potential to do well in nontraditional fields?
To tackle this, we need to consciously promote putting more women in STEM and build ladders to better paying jobs for women by eliminating barriers to entry into male-dominated turf.
Interview questionsThis is another common yet subtle bias, women fall prey while in an interview. Recruiters may not ask the same set of questions to men and women, when interviewing for the same role. Questions like "Do you have children?" or "Do you plan on having children?" are not only illegal to ask in most countries, but the answers - no matter what they are - have no bearing on how qualified someone is for the role.
Regardless of whether a woman has, or plans to have, children does not affect her performance any more than it does a man's. Once hired, if the subject of childbirth comes up, it should be dealt with at that moment. Employers need to stop predicating the hiring or firing of prospective employees on the assumption that they may require maternity leave.
Office stereotypes and notionsWhy should a receptionist or secretary’s job description be one that only suits a woman? Why shouldn't a man fill that position? Similarly, why can’t we have more women in the military or security services? This type of gender bias is rampant in all types of businesses. Employers need to grow out of gender stereotypes, or else they actually risk missing out on hiring the most suited applicant for the job. After all, if you exclude 50% of the population from applying, how can you be sure you’re getting the best candidate?
If you get a male and female applying for the same position, be it secretary or security services hire based on who you trust can perform best based on skills and experience, not gender. Be open to men working in roles conventionally filled by women, and women placed in roles typically held by men.