What To Do When There’s No Energy Left To Fight Inequity
Welcome to my weekly Q&A feature. (Scroll down to find the Q&A.)
If this is your first time here, welcome. I spend a fair amount of time speaking at events and conferences. At the end of my presentations, I leave space for audience members to ask questions—tough questions, brave questions, you name it. The level of candor and curiosity always inspires me, and I want to share that sentiment with you. Each week I pick one question that I believe others would find most instructive and publish my response to it here.
The purpose of this weekly tradition is transparency and inclusion.
Transparency: a behind-the-scenes look at my day-to-day.
Inclusion: bringing others along on the journey.
“I Can’t Be Another Token Female Leader Hired To Fight Inequity”
When women experience gender oppression at work (e.g. not being recognized for contributions, passed over opportunities, doing invisible labor of mitigation instead of leading with charge), what should she do when she’s had enough? I just don’t have the energy to be another token female leader hired to fight anti-inclusion.
Curious about something? Ask your question here for a chance to have it answered in an upcoming edition of Brave Souls®.
I hear you, and I guarantee you’re not the only woman exhausted by insidious expectations that they be the torchbearer of workplace inclusion. Many women, regardless of if they carry the Chief Diversity Officer title or not, assume the responsibilities related to the role. Women leaders are nearly twice as likely as men to spend “substantial,” off-the-clock time on DEI work.
This de facto arrangement not only depletes women of energy (as you’ve expressed), it also distracts them from their de jure jobs—the jobs they were hired to do. In fact, women spend more time on invisible, non-promotable tasks than men.
Whereas “women’s empowerment” says we need to help women surmount barriers to economic participation, I say we must remove the barriers altogether.
These are tasks such as completing office housework, sitting on low-rank committees, and performing repetitive assignments. And it's not necessarily because women want these non-promotable tasks. It’s because they are asked to do them 44% more frequently than men.
So here’s the truth, and it’s not going to sound optimistic (but stay with me because we’ll get there):
In an invidious system, there’s only so much an individual can do when they experience inequity.
Despite what the strong jobs market might suggest, women still face formidable barriers that prevent their full participation in the labor force. (Which leads me to wonder: do we really have a labor shortage problem, or do we have a barriers-to-participation-problem? That’s a topic for another day.)
Barriers To Women’s Economic Participation
1. Information asymmetries
How are promotions awarded? How is pay determined? (Fewer than 20% of private companies practice pay transparency.) How is employee conduct handled? What about disciplinary action? How is performance assessed?
Many companies keep these decisions opaque. Information asymmetry breeds bias, and bias leads to equity gaps in the employee lifecycle. But workers have a hard time proving inequitable treatment because they lack access to company data. It’s a vicious cycle.
2. Forced arbitration
The use of arbitration in employee contracts increased by 17% between 2019 and 2020. Today, nearly 40% of US employees are covered by binding arbitration clauses in their employment agreements, and almost 80 of the 100 largest employers require it.
Although we reached a milestone in February 2022 when Congress passed the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, we now need to end the use of binding arbitration for all forms of workplace inequity.
The risk of retaliation also silences workers from speaking up in the face of inequity. Up to 99.8% of all sexual harassment survivors don’t report their cases out of fear of retaliation. The data corroborates the fear: 68% of sexual harassment cases included a retaliation charge, and 64% of people who filed sexual harassment charges lost their jobs after filing the complaint. The fear of retaliation reinforces survivorship bias.
Companies may think they have safe and equitable workplaces because few people come forth to file complaints. However, the absence of complaints can often reflect the fear and inequity of the culture, not the safety of it.
4. Occupational inequity
The average pay within an occupational category is inversely related to the percentage of women in that occupation. This relationship holds even after controlling for factors such as education and experience. Economists call this the “devaluation effect” and evidence for it abounds.
In California, for instance, officials overtly lowered the salaries of women-dominated jobs during initial salary structuring in 1931. And yet, 60 years later, the devaluation effect continued to rob (mostly) women of wages. From 1973 to 1993, workers in these jobs were underpaid $1.6 billion.
And just last month, the US Department of Labor released a report showing that in 2019, Black women missed out on a whopping $39.3 billion in potential wages due to occupational and industry differences relative to White men.
5. Reporting laws
The responsibility to report inequity falls on the shoulders of workers. In other words, the subjects of inequity are responsible for fixing a system they didn’t break. Not only is this wrong, but information asymmetry and fear of retaliation complicate the process of reporting inequity.
Employees must risk their economic security if they choose to speak up. And if they choose to speak up, they will have a difficult time proving inequity because evidence rests with those in power.
Now here’s the optimistic part: the tide is turning, and companies are building structures to embed inclusion and equity into the workplace.
Companies Are Embedding Inclusion & Equity Into The Workplace
We are seeing more companies taking steps to integrate inclusion and equity into their workplaces. For example:
65% of companies say they measure promotion rates by gender (although only 35% measure promotion through the intersectional lens—the gold standard)
69% of companies hold senior leaders accountable for DEI progress
60% of companies set and track numerical goals for employee representation
Something you’ll hear me say often is that we shouldn’t make the subjects of inequity fix a system they didn’t break.
Whereas “women’s empowerment” says we need to help women surmount barriers to economic participation, I say we must remove the barriers altogether. It’s less about fighting against a broken system and more about repairing the system to prevent inequity in the first place.
Curious about something? Ask your question here for a chance to have it answered in an upcoming edition of this newsletter.
© 2022 Katica Roy™, Inc.