When Laws Aren’t Enough: How Corporate Culture Solidifies Gender Inequality at Work

470002783More than ever, women and girls have role models in high profile leadership positions. Women like Hillary Clinton, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Michelle Obama are redefining what it means to be female in a male-dominated world and putting women’s equality on the forefront of the public agenda.

But no matter how many laws or articles are written for gender equality, nothing can reach directly into a single business and change their operations. Company culture is resistant to change and as a result, is still plagued by gender discrimination.

As CEO of Palo Alto Software, I have made a commitment to making my workplace one that encourages equality for all employees, men and women as well as parents and non-parents. After I had children, I realized how necessary it was to support those who didn’t want to choose between being a parent and being a quality employee or who struggled to succeed in the male mold of what a successful leader looks like.

We wanted to know how much gender discrimination still colors the daily reality of today’s professional workforce. By surveying more than = 1,000 men and women of all professional levels, we learned how gender and parental responsibilities factor into their working lives.

What did we find? Women are treated differently in the workplace. Yes, still.

According to our study, more than fives times as many women have felt discriminated against in the workplace than have men, a shocking 52 to 9 percent comparison.

The problem continues and only worsens once women become mothers. Parents may split their childrearing responsibilities within the home, but corporate norms and American policies make it difficult for equal division of parental effort to expand into the professional setting. The United States is the only developed nation in the world that does not mandate paid maternity leave, and we saw how dramatically it affects women’s ability to thrive in a professional setting.

With few other options, many women leave the workforce to take care of their kids. Our survey found that 43 percent of women have taken extensive time off to care for children compared to only 15 percent of men. When you consider this in light of data from a 2011 Harvard study that found women with an MBA who take off time for childcare earn 41 percent less than men with an MBA,  it makes sense that so many abandon an environment that does not support female success. When even the brightest women can’t compete at work, what’s the point in staying?

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It could be easy to look at this from a staffing perspective and assume that the people surveyed work in old-fashioned offices and consequently write off the implications on your work. But, the bottom line is that half of the workforce is being held back in a setting where they should be encouraged to thrive.

There are staffing efforts that can combat gender discrimination. As staffing professionals, you select candidates that are good fits for the hiring company, but you can also ensure that the candidates feel comfortable with a potential employer. Find qualified candidates, male or female, that are open-minded and willing to work with others. Choose to work with employers that offer flexible work policies and encourage qualified women to stay in the workforce. These employers will demand the best talent and also attract it, a win-win for all. Our survey found that over half of company owners and CEOs would consider allowing children to come into the office when necessary and appropriate. Clearly leaders are ready to adjust.

Gender discrimination has to change from the inside for it to leave the workplace for good.  When you ensure that all employees from the C-suite to the interns reflect a company culture that supports everyone regardless of gender, you can make strides toward a more welcoming and successful workplace.





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