Gender Equality | Workplace Equality | Difficult Conversations

How To Bravely Challenge Workplace Inequality

Recently, one of our Weekly Bold Moves on workplace inequality generated lots of comments and feedback, so much so that I’ve decided to explore in more detail how to handle those difficult discussions with co-workers on this topic.

The Insightful Question on Workplace Equality Was…

Here’s the Bold Move that’s been generating all the buzz:

Do you walk the walk – or just talk the talk? Virtually anyone can say “I’m committed to equality in the workplace” – but words are nothing without action. Are you willing to speak up, stand out, and go against the grain when the right situation presents itself?

This prompted one insightful reader to ask me for examples of how to “tactfully” address the issue of workplace gender equality in a more positive, productive way—with a focus on supporting working moms who are blamed for using non-traditional hours to balance work and family.

Walking The Talk When it Comes to Equality in the Workplace

While there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer to this issue, I do have some tips on what you can say and do when you encounter difficult situations to foster a more supportive environment for women and others in the workplace.

  • Be a role model of peace and acceptance. Work on centering yourself around who you are, what values are important to you – and why. As you become more willing to live in alignment with your authentic self, others may be more open and receptive to you. Likewise, a deeper understanding of yourself may help you to better understand others.
  • Use a low-key tone. How often has the wrong tone of voice shut down your listening to what someone says? Whenever possible, keep your tone soft and inviting – not sharp, aggressive, or loud. This is really important if you tend to get “overly enthusiastic” about a topic. And whether you’re listening or speaking, never underestimate the power of body language.
  • Gently challenge assumptions. This one can be a little scary. If you’re comfortable with it, try to help people see that they’re making assumptions that might not be true because they don’t know the whole situation. It’s a brave way to “walk the talk.” You might start the conversation with something like, “I can see how given your experience you might feel that way. I’m just wondering if you might be open to looking at this from a different perspective…”
  • Think dialogue, not debate. Create an open-ended conversation where you’re listening as well as talking. By understanding the other person’s viewpoint, you can help them to start considering yours. Doesn’t everyone appreciate being heard? If you often find yourself saying things like “I can’t believe I said that” or “I wish I would have approached her differently,” try gently practicing self-awareness in your interactions to respond more effectively.
  • Develop conversation starters. What you say will depend on your specific workplace relationship with the person you want to influence, but here are some examples to build on.


    • From a place of centeredness and peace, you could calmly say something like: If we truly are serious about diversity in the workplace/flexible hours, then we also need to honor X’s right to have flexible hours, which for her might mean taking time out to enjoy her daughter’s soccer game or being able to hold and bond with her baby. Or,


    • If other people taking time off is getting under your skin, maybe you need a little time for yourself, too? All of us benefit from that at least once in a while. [This one is to be used with caution – it’s mostly to help shed light on why people can sometimes be judgmental.]


    • Transparency can be key: Instead of jumping at the other person to prove your point or show them how “wrong” they are, consider sharing some of your own vulnerabilities. If it seems appropriate, you might start with something like, “I remember a time when I felt that way too…” then lead into how your own beliefs have since changed.

The Rewards of Courage

Ellyn Shook, the chief human resources officer of Accenture, is one female leader who is leading the charge for “courageous conversations” about gender inequality and sexism in the workplace.

As a recent Catalyst publication points out, having these courageous conversations will “keep the issue on the front burner and educate those around us.” Leaders in particular should continue to challenge the status-quo of workplace gender issues to move it forward, setting an example for others to follow.

Changes in this area won’t happen overnight, but by bravely speaking out we can begin with shifting perceptions—one person at a time. Today, I encourage you to look for opportunities right within your own workplace (and rest assured, they are there!) where you might transform an unproductive conversation into one that fosters deeper understanding and more positive growth for all.

Looking for ways to be a courageous leader who speaks up when necessary to foster workplace equality? Sign up here to access my free Weekly Bold Move.

Equality in the Workplace ,The Pay Gap Still Exists

Leaders, How Committed Are You to Equality in the Workplace?

When it comes to leadership topics, one of the perennial “hot buttons” remains equality in the workplace. A while back I wrote about the challenges women face in acquiring leadership positions, and I was again inspired to revisit this subject after reading some newly published data by Glassdoor, LeanIn.Org and McKinsey focusing on the topic of pay inequality.

I’ll cover briefly the “facts” – then encourage you to ask deep questions to find out how you may be contributing to inequality in the workplace.

How Gender Pay Equality Looks Today

Glassdoor is one of the few surveys that focuses solely on the issue of the gender pay gap, with data based on 505,000 salaries shared with them by full-time U.S. workers. It’s worth reading the entire survey, but here are a few important takeaways on the pay gap:

  • Based on raw data, base pay for men in the U.S. is about 24% higher than for women. However, adjusting the data based on factors like age, education, experience, job title, employer, and location brings the gap down to about 5.4%. Even still, an obvious gap exists.
  • The occupation with the highest gender pay gap? Computer programmer. C-Suite occupations also ranked highly, and other occupations with a high gender pay gap include chef, dentist, psychologist and pharmacist.
  • Although male-female pay differences have significantly lessened since the 1960’s, the closure has begun to stagnate. For an excellent visual representation of the gender pay gap, check out Org’s data on equal pay here.

Though the survey above had a focus on U.S. workers, a Harvard University piece on equal pay aptly states, “Such inequality is hardly unique to the United States.”

What Causes the Gender Pay Gap?Equality in the Workplace ,The Pay Gap Still Exists

While the causes of the gender pay gap have long been debated, most would agree that there is no single culprit. Just some of the potential reasons include:

  • Conflicting views on diversity: A McKinsey report found that 90% of companies surveyed believed making gender diversity a priority leads to improved business outcomes – but just 37% of employees agreed.
  • Gaps in commitment: Saying gender equality matters – and then being willing to address it – are very different. The largest gap was seen in young women (most committed) and young men (least committed).
  • Same questions, different results: Women may be asking for promotions and raises like their male counterparts, but the study found that men often achieve more without even asking and face less backlash when doing so.

Instead of debating what causes inequality in the workplace, we’d prefer to focus on what can be done about it.

Equality in the Workplace: Ask the Right Questions

A deeper exploration of pay inequality seems necessary. Many of us really believe that we’re being “fair” – and hardly notice how  surprisingly easy it is to find oneself subtly buying into a system without realizing it and then not having the courage to do something about it or to bring about change at a deeper level.

Google is teeming with resources related to “gender inequality” or “how to fix gender inequality in the workplace.” Change starts from within. If we want to correct gender inequality, we need to ask some tough questions:

  1. What are my biases? Biases – particularly unconscious ones – can be sneaky, sabotaging you and causing unintended consequences to others when you least expect it. If as you read this you’re saying “I don’t have any biases,” I encourage you to take a more honest look within. Start with mindful awareness; pay attention to your subtle reactions throughout the day. You may be surprised – in more ways than one.
  2. How far am I willing to go to address inequality? Truth be told, few of us would say that the issue of inequality doesn’t matter – but simply making a statement isn’t the same as taking concrete action. For instance, how proactive is your organization when it comes to hiring women? Are you limiting your talent pool? Have you taken a look at your interview process lately? Look for hidden factors that might be leading to inequality.
  3. Do I really value a work/life balance? Many of us have heard that phrase so often that we’ve become indifferent to it. Yet, Mary Brinton of Harvard University asserts that as young adults attempt to balance work and life responsibilities, women often face additional burdens associated with caregiving. This leads to a disadvantage in the workplace, where many organizations have become accustomed to nearly 24/7 availability.

As we all work together to understand and ultimately address gender inequality in the workplace and beyond, let us remember the words of the great Socrates, “He who aspires to govern the city must learn to govern himself.

Looking for ways to be a bold leader that others turn to for mentoring and positive change within your organization? Sign up here to access my free Weekly Bold Move.


Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at