Gender inequality at work is nothing new. For well over a century, women have been fighting for equal opportunities in the workplace, from being seriously considered for the same promotions to receiving equal pay for performing the same job. And it would seem the United States is making strides when it comes to bridging the gender gap. But is that enough? 


While women represent 47% of the U.S. workforce, only 35% hold senior leadership positions. South Carolina is one of the states least likely to have females in senior management positions, with 41% of those positions filled by women, whereas Nevada has 58% of its senior management filled by women, and was named the state most likely to have females in senior management positions. 



Data retrieved from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 


Even when women are promoted to leadership positions, they are frequently treated unfairly or held to higher and often unreasonable standards. In fact, 42% of women say they have faced gender discrimination at work.  




Data retrieved from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 


To get a better understanding of the challenges women in management face—and the steps to overcome them—we spoke with a businesswoman with over 25 years of experience in the corporate world and author of Be Brown Brave: Guide to Supporting Women of All Color in the Workplace, Michelle Starr.  



Why do gender inequality problems arise?  


There are many reasons for gender discrimination in the workplace, from conscious and unconscious biases to ingrained systems that favor men over women. Starr says, “Many workplaces are still dominated by men, and this can lead to a lack of understanding and empathy for the unique challenges faced by women. Many companies have policies and practices that are not inclusive or supportive of women, such as rigid work hours, limited family leave, or unequal pay.” 


What challenges do women face? 


Women in the workplace face innumerable challenges, from being overlooked for promotions to receiving unequal pay. “Despite having a proven track record of success, I have often found myself passed over for promotions or overlooked for recognition,” says Starr. “I faced sexual harassment and unequal pay. I have also experienced microaggressions and condescending remarks from male colleagues and superiors, which have made me feel marginalized and disrespected.” 


Even women who reach leadership roles can’t always escape unfair biases. “Women in management positions often face a double bind: they are expected to be assertive and confident, but if they exhibit these traits too strongly, they are often labeled as “bossy” or “difficult”. This can make it difficult for women to take charge and to be recognized for their contributions, even when they are performing at the same level as their male colleagues.” 


How can women overcome these challenges? 


Although these challenges can be difficult to overcome, Starr emphasizes being confident and assertive in the workplace. “I encourage women to speak up and to make their voices heard, even in the face of resistance or pushback. I also stress the importance of building a supportive network, whether it is through mentorship, professional organizations, or online communities.” 



What can we do to address these issues? 


Effectively shifting workplace norms to level the playing field for women requires businesses to make changes at the ground level. Starr suggests three steps to get the ball rolling: 


  1. Advocating for companies to make real changes to their policies and practices 
  2. Calling for more flexible work arrangements, parental leave for both parents, and equal pay for equal work 
  3. Emphasizing the importance of creating a supportive and inclusive work culture where all employees feel valued and respected regardless of their gender, race, or other characteristics.  


By following these steps and instituting change at a foundational level, not only can we continue to close the gender gap, but we can ensure that women feel comfortable and respected in the workplace and empowered to be as successful as possible. 

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