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Harvard Business Review study confirms that bias, not behavior, is to blame for gender inequality in the workplace

There is no question that full gender equality in the workplace is not a reality, but remains an aspiration. Women continue to be paid less than their male counterparts, and they are underrepresented in the ranks of upper management. The more controversial question remains: why? Is women’s behavior to blame? The many books telling women to “lean in,” be less “nice,” and otherwise adjust their behavior suggests so.

But an article first published in October 2017 in the Harvard Business Review confirms that the problem is not employee behavior, but management bias. Over a four-month period, the company Humanyze analyzed e-mails, speech and work patterns, movement, employee interactions, and performance evaluations, and other data points relating to employees at a multi-national company. At this company, women make up more than one-third of entry-level employees but just one-fifth of senior leadership. The data was collected, anonymized, and analyzed in a way that allowed Humanyze to know “who talks with whom, where people communicate, and who dominates conversations,” but not the content or substance of the communications.

The study’s findings are remarkable. The researchers “found almost no perceptible differences in the behavior of men and women” across all levels of seniority. Instead, the unequal treatment of women in this company, according to this study, was attributable to bias on the part of management: “Our analysis suggests that the difference in promotion rates between men and women in this company was due not to their behavior but to how they were treated. This indicates that arguments about changing women’s behavior – to “lean in,” for example – might miss the bigger picture: Gender inequality is due to bias, not differences in behavior.”

The difference in promotion rates between men and women in this company was due not to their behavior but to how they were treated. This indicates that arguments about changing women’s behavior – to “lean in,” for example – might miss the bigger picture: Gender inequality is due to bias, not differences in behavior.

 

The Humanyze analysts make two suggestions about how companies can address the ongoing bias against women in the workplace. First, in addition to implementing bias-reduction programs, companies should mandate that a diverse slate of candidates be considered in conjunction with hiring and promotion decisions. A separate study showed that when candidates were analyzed as a group, managers were able to effectively compare them based on job performance. However, “when managers evaluated candidates individually they fell back on gendered heuristics. The result was poorer hiring decisions and more gendered choices (for example, more men were chosen for heavily quantitative roles).” A second proposed solution would have companies “consider how to modify expectations and better support working parents so that they don’t force women to make a ‘family or work’ decision.”

Gender discrimination in employment has been a violation of federal law since the 1964 enactment of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. But while some progress has unquestionably been made since the 1960s, a myriad of problems persist. Women have yet to achieve equal pay within the workforce, and studies have confirmed that women remain underrepresented not just in c-suite positions, but in fact at every level in the corporate pipeline.

When companies are accused of discrimination, they inevitably issue statements about taking the accusations seriously and conducting a thorough investigation. But if a strong defense was once the best offense, that is no longer the case. Employers must be proactive about acknowledging the existence of conscious and unconscious biases and taking steps to level the playing field between men and women in the workplace. Customers are beginning to demand that employers get ahead of these issues, and most importantly, employees deserve the equal treatment that has been mandated by law for more than 40 years now.

If a strong defense was once the best offense, that is no longer the case. Employers must be proactive about acknowledging the existence of conscious and unconscious biases and taking steps to level the playing field between men and women in the workplace.

 

For more than 30 years, the Georgia women’s rights attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert have been fighting to protect the rights of women who have experienced employment discrimination or retaliation, sexual harassment, and sexual assault or abuse. Jenn Coalson is a partner whose practice specializes in women’s rights issues. Contact us today for a free consultation about your legal rights.

The Humanyze study discussed in this post is the subject of the article “A Study Used Sensors to Show That Men and Women Are Treated Differently at Work,” by Stephen Turban, Laura Freeman, and Ben Waber, first published in the Harvard Business Review in October 2017, available at https://hbr.org/2017/10/a-study-used-sensors-to-show-that-men-and-women-are-treated-differently-at-work.

Sexual Harassment: Blurred Lines

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes workplace sexual harassment illegal. Sexual harassment includes sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other sexual conduct that “explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment”. This includes “quid pro quo” behavior, and any conduct that works to create a hostile work environment. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is tasked with enforcing Title VII. An investigation will consider the wider picture of the workplace by asking questions like: What is the nature of the sexual advances? What is the context of the workplace?

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Employment Rights: Minimum Wage for Fast Food Employees

The person that handed you your last greasy hamburger, plate of fries, or coffee cup could very well be making less an hour than your entire order costs.

The Fair Labor Standards Act was implemented in 1938 to set employee payment regulations. Minimum wage, the forty-hour work week, and overtime are just a few of the items covered under the FLSA. Although employers are required by law to meet at least the minimum requirement nationwide, the federal minimum wage is still only $7.25 an hour, and this doesn’t reach the living wage in even the poorest areas in the United States. It doesn’t even pay for a coffee and sandwich at Starbucks.

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Bitcoin Payments: Are the Risks Worth the Rewards?

You may have heard the term Bitcoin and wondered what it means. Bitcoin is the most well-known form of digital currency. It came about in 2009 seemingly as backlash to the financial crisis created by big banks and their unscrupulous lending practices. “Satoshi Nakamoto” created it. However, it is unknown who Nakamoto is (or if he or she is a person). For example, Nakamoto could potentially represent a group of people.

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Can Employers Spy on Workers?

Can employers spy on their employees? It is legal? Today, almost all employees use some type of electronic device as a part of their work. Whether its a time clock, company car, mobile phone, tabet or a computer? Whether we know it or not, our personal information and travel informatoin is being captured and in some cases stored. Can your employer collect data about how you live your life, who you call, when you see people, what you do online, and what goes on in your house (if you work from home)?

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Overtime Rule Changes: What Does the FLSA Say?

On May 18, 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor updated their rules on overtime pay. This could end up affecting more than four million workers nationwide. The rule changes the standard for determining which workers are eligible for overtime pay under the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA governs both public and private workers.

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China and the US: Their Legal Influence on One Another

The laws that govern employment in one nation have an impact on other nations, too. This is perhaps most true when it comes to China and US. In this era of globalized trade, the way that a nation creates jobs and governs employment will inevitably affect commerce. Many products that sell in the United States are made in China. Many American workers, particularly professionals, leave the United States to work in China. Though Chinese employment laws aren’t necessarily of concern to American law firms and businesses alike, these laws and regulations affect people, and they affect trade. Chinese laws’ affect on the United States is inescapable.

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The Use of Medical Marijuana and Employment Law

Progress has been made in Georgia as people suffering from certain medical conditions are now able to use medical marijuana products to alleviate their symptoms. However, since Georgia is a conservative state—the use of marijuana for medical reasons is currently the only type of marijuana use permitted. In addition, these products are often oil based and contain cannabidiol, but are designed to contain very low amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (this chemical provides the sensation that smokers of cannabis achieve when they smoke the drug).

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In the News: The Gender Wage Gap

April 12, 2016 was Equal Pay Day. In 2015, Equal Pay Day was on April 14th. In 2013, it was on April 9th. Why? The date moves not with the day of the week or the calendar, but based on what the gender pay gap is for the previous year. In 2015, a woman would have had to continue working until April 12, 2016 to make the same salary a man did in the year 2015.

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LGBTQ Anti-Discrimination Laws Around the US

Georgia, North Carolina, and Mississippi have all made the news recently because of legislation that allows discrimination towards LGBT people. However, so far each state’s legislation has resulted in very different outcomes. North Carolina continues to face significant pressure from businesses, artists, and public figures regarding the HB2 “bathroom” bill. This bill requires transgender people to use the gender that was assigned to them at birth when determining where to use the restroom. HB2 prohibits local governments from passing LGBT anti-discrimination ordinances.

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