Women in the Workplace 2023

gender inequality in the workplace presentation

Women in the Workplace

This is the ninth year of the Women in the Workplace report. Conducted in partnership with LeanIn.Org , this effort is the largest study of women in corporate America and Canada. This year, we collected information from 276 participating organizations employing more than ten million people. At these organizations, we surveyed more than 27,000 employees and 270 senior HR leaders, who shared insights on their policies and practices. The report provides an intersectional look at the specific biases and barriers faced by Asian, Black, Latina, and LGBTQ+ women and women with disabilities.

About the authors

This year’s research reveals some hard-fought gains at the top, with women’s representation in the C-suite at the highest it has ever been. However, with lagging progress in the middle of the pipeline—and a persistent underrepresentation of women of color 1 Women of color include women who are Asian, Black, Latina, Middle Eastern, mixed race, Native American/American Indian/Indigenous/Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. Due to small sample sizes for other racial and ethnic groups, reported findings on individual racial and ethnic groups are restricted to Asian women, Black women, and Latinas. —true parity remains painfully out of reach.

The survey debunks four myths about women’s workplace experiences and career advancement. A few of these myths cover old ground, but given the notable lack of progress, they warrant repeating. These include women’s career ambitions, the greatest barrier to their ascent to senior leadership, the effect and extent of microaggressions in the workplace, and women’s appetite for flexible work. We hope highlighting these myths will help companies find a path forward that casts aside outdated thinking once and for all and accelerates progress for women.

The rest of this article summarizes the main findings from the Women in the Workplace 2023 report and provides clear solutions that organizations can implement to make meaningful progress toward gender equality.

State of the pipeline

Over the past nine years, women—and especially women of color—have remained underrepresented across the corporate pipeline (Exhibit 1). However, we see a growing bright spot in senior leadership. Since 2015, the number of women in the C-suite has increased from 17 to 28 percent, and the representation of women at the vice president and senior vice president levels has also improved significantly.

These hard-earned gains are encouraging yet fragile: slow progress for women at the manager and director levels—representation has grown only three and four percentage points, respectively—creates a weak middle in the pipeline for employees who represent the vast majority of women in corporate America. And the “Great Breakup” trend we discovered in last year’s survey  continues for women at the director level, the group next in line for senior-leadership positions. That is, director-level women are leaving at a higher rate than in past years—and at a notably higher rate than men at the same level. As a result of these two dynamics, there are fewer women in line for top positions.

To view previous reports, please visit the Women in the Workplace archive

Moreover, progress for women of color is lagging behind their peers’ progress. At nearly every step in the pipeline, the representation of women of color falls relative to White women and men of the same race and ethnicity. Until companies address this inequity head-on, women of color will remain severely underrepresented in leadership positions—and mostly absent from the C-suite.

“It’s disheartening to be part of an organization for as many years as I have been and still not see a person like me in senior leadership. Until I see somebody like me in the C-suite, I’m never going to really feel like I belong.”
—Latina, manager, former executive director

Woman working at a desk

Four myths about the state of women at work

This year’s survey reveals the truth about four common myths related to women in the workplace.

Myth: Women are becoming less ambitious Reality: Women are more ambitious than before the pandemic—and flexibility is fueling that ambition

At every stage of the pipeline, women are as committed to their careers and as interested in being promoted as men. Women and men at the director level—when the C-suite is in closer view—are also equally interested in senior-leadership roles. And young women are especially ambitious. Nine in ten women under the age of 30 want to be promoted to the next level, and three in four aspire to become senior leaders.

Women represent roughly one in four C-suite leaders, and women of color just one in 16.

Moreover, the pandemic and increased flexibility did not dampen women’s ambitions. Roughly 80 percent of women want to be promoted to the next level, compared with 70 percent in 2019. And the same holds true for men. Women of color are even more ambitious than White women: 88 percent want to be promoted to the next level. Flexibility is allowing women to pursue their ambitions: overall, one in five women say flexibility has helped them stay in their job or avoid reducing their hours. A large number of women who work hybrid or remotely point to feeling less fatigued and burned out as a primary benefit. And a majority of women report having more focused time to get their work done when they work remotely.

The pandemic showed women that a new model of balancing work and life was possible. Now, few want to return to the way things were. Most women are taking more steps to prioritize their personal lives—but at no cost to their ambition. They remain just as committed to their careers and just as interested in advancing as women who aren’t taking more steps. These women are defying the outdated notion that work and life are incompatible, and that one comes at the expense of the other.

Myth: The biggest barrier to women’s advancement is the ‘glass ceiling’ Reality: The ‘broken rung’ is the greatest obstacle women face on the path to senior leadership

For the ninth consecutive year, women face their biggest hurdle at the first critical step up to manager. This year, for every 100 men promoted from entry level to manager, 87 women were promoted (Exhibit 2). And this gap is trending the wrong way for women of color: this year, 73 women of color were promoted to manager for every 100 men, down from 82 women of color last year. As a result of this “broken rung,” women fall behind and can’t catch up.

Progress for early-career Black women remains the furthest behind. After rising in 2020 and 2021 to a high of 96 Black women promoted for every 100 men—likely because of heightened focus across corporate America—Black women’s promotion rates have fallen to 2018 levels, with only 54 Black women promoted for every 100 men this year.

While companies are modestly increasing women’s representation at the top, doing so without addressing the broken rung offers only a temporary stopgap. Because of the gender disparity in early promotions, men end up holding 60 percent of manager-level positions in a typical company, while women occupy 40 percent. Since men significantly outnumber women, there are fewer women to promote to senior managers, and the number of women decreases at every subsequent level.

Myth: Microaggressions have a ‘micro’ impact Reality: Microaggressions have a large and lasting impact on women

Microaggressions are a form of everyday discrimination that is often rooted in bias. They include comments and actions—even subtle ones that are not overtly harmful—that demean or dismiss someone based on their gender, race, or other aspects of their identity. They signal disrespect, cause acute stress, and can negatively impact women’s careers and health.

Years of data show that women experience microaggressions at a significantly higher rate than men: they are twice as likely to be mistaken for someone junior and hear comments on their emotional state (Exhibit 3). For women with traditionally marginalized identities, these slights happen more often and are even more demeaning. As just one example, Asian and Black women are seven times more likely than White women to be confused with someone of the same race and ethnicity.

As a result, the workplace is a mental minefield for many women, particularly those with traditionally marginalized identities. Women who experience microaggressions are much less likely to feel psychologically safe, which makes it harder to take risks, propose new ideas, or raise concerns. The stakes feel just too high. On top of this, 78 percent of women who face microaggressions self-shield at work, or adjust the way they look or act in an effort to protect themselves. For example, many women code-switch—or tone down what they say or do—to try to blend in and avoid a negative reaction at work. Black women are more than twice as likely as women overall to code-switch. And LGBTQ+ women are 2.5 times as likely to feel pressure to change their appearance to be perceived as more professional. The stress caused by these dynamics cuts deep.

Women who experience microaggressions—and self-shield to deflect them—are three times more likely to think about quitting their jobs and four times more likely to almost always be burned out. By leaving microaggressions unchecked, companies miss out on everything women have to offer and risk losing talented employees.

“It’s like I have to act extra happy so I’m not looked at as bitter because I’m a Black woman. And a disabled Black woman at that. If someone says something offensive to me, I have to think about how to respond in a way that does not make me seem like an angry Black woman.”
—Black woman with a physical disability, entry-level role

Seated woman in a meeting

Myth: It’s mostly women who want—and benefit from—flexible work Reality: Men and women see flexibility as a ‘top 3’ employee benefit and critical to their company’s success

Most employees say that opportunities to work remotely and have control over their schedules are top company benefits, second only to healthcare (Exhibit 4). Workplace flexibility even ranks above tried-and-true benefits such as parental leave and childcare.

As workplace flexibility transforms from a nice-to-have for some employees to a crucial benefit for most, women continue to value it more. This is likely because they still carry out a disproportionate amount of childcare and household work. Indeed, 38 percent of mothers with young children say that without workplace flexibility, they would have had to leave their company or reduce their work hours.

But it’s not just women or mothers who benefit: hybrid and remote work are delivering important benefits to most employees. Most women and men point to better work–life balance as a primary benefit of hybrid and remote work, and a majority cite less fatigue and burnout (Exhibit 5). And research shows that good work–life balance and low burnout are key to organizational success. Moreover, 83 percent of employees cite the ability to work more efficiently and productively as a primary benefit of working remotely. However, it’s worth noting companies see this differently: only half of HR leaders say employee productivity is a primary benefit of working remotely.

For women, hybrid or remote work is about a lot more than flexibility. When women work remotely, they face fewer microaggressions and have higher levels of psychological safety.

Employees who work on-site also see tangible benefits. A majority point to an easier time collaborating and a stronger personal connection to coworkers as the biggest benefits of working on-site—two factors central to employee well-being and effectiveness. However, the culture of on-site work may be falling short. While 77 percent of companies believe a strong organizational culture is a key benefit of on-site work, most employees disagree: only 39 percent of men and 34 percent of women who work on-site say a key benefit is feeling more connected to their organization’s culture.

Not to mention that men benefit disproportionately from on-site work: compared with women who work on-site, men are seven to nine percentage points more likely to be “in the know,” receive the mentorship and sponsorships they need, and have their accomplishments noticed and rewarded.

A majority of organizations have started to formalize their return-to-office policies, motivated by the perceived benefits of on-site work (Exhibit 6). As they do so, they will need to work to ensure everyone can equally reap the benefits of on-site work.

Recommendations for companies

As companies work to support and advance women, they should focus on five core areas:

  • tracking outcomes for women’s representation
  • empowering managers to be effective people leaders
  • addressing microaggressions head-on
  • unlocking the full potential of flexible work
  • fixing the broken rung, once and for all
Sixty percent of companies have increased their financial and staffing investments in diversity, equity, and inclusion over the past year. And nearly three in four HR leaders say DEI is critical to their companies’ future success.

1. Track outcomes to improve women’s experience and progression

Tracking outcomes is critical to any successful business initiative. Most companies do this consistently when it comes to achieving their financial objectives, but few apply the same rigor to women’s advancement. Here are three steps to get started:

Measure employees’ outcomes and experiences—and use the data to fix trouble spots. Outcomes for drivers of women’s advancement include hiring, promotions, and attrition. Visibility into other metrics—such as participation in career development programs, performance ratings, and employee sentiments—that influence career progression is also important, and data should be collected with appropriate data privacy protections in place. Then, it’s critically important that companies mine their data for insights that will improve women’s experiences and create equal opportunities for advancement. Ultimately, data tracking is only valuable if it leads to organizational change.

Take an intersectional approach to outcome tracking. Tracking metrics by race and gender combined should be table stakes. Yet, even now, fewer than half of companies do this, and far fewer track data by other self-reported identifiers, such as LGBTQ+ identity. Without this level of visibility, the experiences and career progression of women with traditionally marginalized identities can go overlooked.

Share internal goals and metrics with employees. Awareness is a valuable tool for driving change—when employees are able to see opportunities and challenges, they’re more invested in being part of the solution. In addition, transparency with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals and metrics can send a powerful signal to employees with traditionally marginalized identities that they are supported within the organization.

2. Support and reward managers as key drivers of organizational change

Managers are on the front lines of employees’ experiences and central to driving organizational change. As companies more deeply invest in the culture of work, managers play an increasingly critical role in fostering DEI, ensuring employee well-being, and navigating the shift to flexible work. These are all important business priorities, but managers do not always get the direction and support they need to deliver on them. Here are three steps to get started:

Clarify managers’ priorities and reward results. Companies need to explicitly communicate to managers what is core to their roles and motivate them to take action. The most effective way to do this is to include responsibilities like career development, DEI, and employee well-being in managers’ job descriptions and performance reviews. Relatively few companies evaluate managers on metrics linked to people management. For example, although 61 percent of companies point to DEI as a top manager capability, only 28 percent of people managers say their company recognizes DEI in performance reviews. This discrepancy may partially explain why not enough employees say their manager treats DEI as a priority.

Equip managers with the skills they need to be successful. To effectively manage the new demands being placed on them, managers need ongoing education. This includes repeated, relevant, and high-quality training and nudges that emphasize specific examples of core concepts, as well as concrete actions that managers can incorporate into their daily practices. Companies should adopt an “often and varied” approach to training and upskilling and create regular opportunities for coaching so that managers can continue to build the awareness and capabilities they need to be effective.

Make sure managers have the time and support to get it right. It requires significant intentionality and follow-through to be a good people and culture leader, and this is particularly true when it comes to fostering DEI. Companies need to make sure their managers have the time and resources to do these aspects of their job well. Additionally, companies should put policies and systems in place to make managers’ jobs easier.

3. Take steps to put an end to microaggressions

Microaggressions are pervasive, harmful to the employees who experience them, and result in missed ideas and lost talent. Companies need to tackle microaggressions head-on. Here are three steps to get started:

Make clear that microaggressions are not acceptable. To raise employee awareness and set the right tone, it’s crucial that senior leaders communicate that microaggressions and disrespectful behavior of any kind are not welcome. Companies can help with this by developing a code of conduct that articulates what supportive and respectful behavior looks like—as well as what’s unacceptable and uncivil behavior.

Teach employees to avoid and challenge microaggressions. Employees often don’t recognize microaggressions, let alone know what to say or do to be helpful. That’s why it’s so important that companies have employees participate in high-quality bias and allyship training and receive periodic refreshers to keep key learnings top of mind.

Create a culture where it’s normal to surface microaggressions. It’s important for companies to foster a culture that encourages employees to speak up when they see microaggressions or other disrespectful behavior. Although these conversations can be difficult, they often lead to valuable learning and growth. Senior leaders can play an important role in modeling that it is safe to surface and discuss these behaviors.

4. Finetune flexible working models

The past few years have seen a transformation in how we work. Flexibility is now the norm in most companies; the next step is unlocking its full potential and bringing out the best of the benefits that different work arrangements have to offer. Here are three steps to get started:

Establish clear expectations and norms around working flexibly. Without this clarity, employees may have very different and conflicting interpretations of what’s expected of them. It starts with redefining the work best done in person, versus remotely, and injecting flexibility into the work model to meet personal demands. As part of this process, companies need to find the right balance between setting organization-wide guidelines and allowing managers to work with their teams to determine an approach that unlocks benefits for men and women equally.

Measure the impact of new initiatives to support flexibility and adjust them as needed. The last thing companies want to do is fly in the dark as they navigate the transition to flexible work. As organizations roll out new working models and programs to support flexibility, they should carefully track what’s working, and what’s not, and adjust their approach accordingly—a test-and-learn mentality and a spirit of co-creation with employees are critical to getting these changes right.

Few companies currently track outcomes across work arrangements. For example, only 30 percent have tracked the impact of their return-to-office policies on key DEI outcomes.

Put safeguards in place to ensure a level playing field across work arrangements. Companies should take steps to ensure that employees aren’t penalized for working flexibly. This includes putting systems in place to make sure that employees are evaluated fairly, such as redesigning performance reviews to focus on results rather than when and where work gets done. Managers should also be equipped to be part of the solution. This requires educating managers on proximity bias. Managers need to ensure their team members get equal recognition for their contributions and equal opportunities to advance regardless of working model.

5. Fix the broken rung for women, with a focus on women of color

Fixing the broken rung is a tangible, achievable goal and will set off a positive chain reaction across the pipeline. After nine years of very little progress, there is no excuse for companies failing to take action. Here are three steps to get started:

Track inputs and outcomes. To uncover inequities in the promotions process, companies need to track who is put up for and who receives promotions—by race and gender combined. Tracking with this intersectional lens enables employers to identify and address the obstacles faced by women of color, and companies can use these data points to identify otherwise invisible gaps and refine their promotion processes.

Work to de-bias performance reviews and promotions. Leaders should put safeguards in place to ensure that evaluation criteria are applied fairly and bias doesn’t creep into decision making. Companies can take these actions:

  • Send “bias” reminders before performance evaluations and promotion cycles, explaining how common biases can impact reviewers’ assessments.
  • Appoint a “bias monitor” to keep performance evaluations and promotions discussions focused on the core criteria for the job and surface potentially biased decision making.
  • Have reviewers explain the rationale behind their performance evaluations and promotion recommendations. When individuals have to justify their decisions, they are less likely to make snap judgments or rely on gut feelings, which are prone to bias.

Invest in career advancement for women of color. Companies should make sure their career development programs address the distinct biases and barriers that women of color experience. Yet only a fraction of companies tailor career program content for women of color. And given that women of color tend to get less career advice and have less access to senior leaders, formal mentorship and sponsorship programs can be particularly impactful. It’s also important that companies track the outcomes of their career development programs with an intersectional lens to ensure they are having the intended impact and not inadvertently perpetuating inequitable outcomes.

Practices of top-performing companies

Companies with strong women’s representation across the pipeline are more likely to have certain practices in place. The following data are based on an analysis of top performers—companies that have a higher representation of women and women of color than their industry peers (Exhibit 7).

This year’s survey brings to light important realities about women’s experience in the workplace today. Women, and particularly women of color, continue to lose the most ground in middle management, and microaggressions have a significant and enduring effect on many women—especially those with traditionally marginalized identities. Even still, women are as ambitious as ever, and flexibility is contributing to this, allowing all workers to be more productive while also achieving more balance in their lives. These insights can provide a backdrop for senior leaders as they plan for the future of their organizations.

Emily Field is a partner in McKinsey’s Seattle office; Alexis Krivkovich and Lareina Yee are senior partners in the Bay Area office, where Nicole Robinson is an associate partner; Sandra Kügele is a consultant in the Washington, D.C., office.

The authors wish to thank Zoha Bharwani, Quentin Bolton, Sara Callander, Katie Cox, Ping Chin, Robyn Freeman, James Gannon, Jenn Gao, Mar Grech, Alexis Howard, Isabelle Hughes, Sara Kaplan, Ananya Karanam, Sophia Lam, Nina Li, Steven Lee, Anthea Lyu, Tess Mandoli, Abena Mensah, Laura Padula, David Pinski, Jane Qu, Charlie Rixey, Sara Samir, Chanel Shum, Sofia Tam, Neha Verma, Monne Williams, Lily Xu, Yaz Yazar, and Shirley Zhao for their contributions to this article.

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Gender inequalities in the workplace: the effects of organizational structures, processes, practices, and decision makers’ sexism

Gender inequality in organizations is a complex phenomenon that can be seen in organizational structures, processes, and practices. For women, some of the most harmful gender inequalities are enacted within human resources (HRs) practices. This is because HR practices (i.e., policies, decision-making, and their enactment) affect the hiring, training, pay, and promotion of women. We propose a model of gender discrimination in HR that emphasizes the reciprocal nature of gender inequalities within organizations. We suggest that gender discrimination in HR-related decision-making and in the enactment of HR practices stems from gender inequalities in broader organizational structures, processes, and practices. This includes leadership, structure, strategy, culture, organizational climate, as well as HR policies. In addition, organizational decision makers’ levels of sexism can affect their likelihood of making gender biased HR-related decisions and/or behaving in a sexist manner while enacting HR practices. Importantly, institutional discrimination in organizational structures, processes, and practices play a pre-eminent role because not only do they affect HR practices, they also provide a socializing context for organizational decision makers’ levels of hostile and benevolent sexism. Although we portray gender inequality as a self-reinforcing system that can perpetuate discrimination, important levers for reducing discrimination are identified.


The workplace has sometimes been referred to as an inhospitable place for women due to the multiple forms of gender inequalities present (e.g., Abrams, 1991 ). Some examples of how workplace discrimination negatively affects women’s earnings and opportunities are the gender wage gap (e.g., Peterson and Morgan, 1995 ), the dearth of women in leadership ( Eagly and Carli, 2007 ), and the longer time required for women (vs. men) to advance in their careers ( Blau and DeVaro, 2007 ). In other words, workplace discrimination contributes to women’s lower socio-economic status. Importantly, such discrimination against women largely can be attributed to human resources (HR) policies and HR-related decision-making. Furthermore, when employees interact with organizational decision makers during HR practices, or when they are told the outcomes of HR-related decisions, they may experience personal discrimination in the form of sexist comments. Both the objective disadvantages of lower pay, status, and opportunities at work, and the subjective experiences of being stigmatized, affect women’s psychological and physical stress, mental and physical health ( Goldenhar et al., 1998 ; Adler et al., 2000 ; Schmader et al., 2008 ; Borrel et al., 2010 ),job satisfaction and organizational commitment ( Hicks-Clarke and Iles, 2000 ), and ultimately, their performance ( Cohen-Charash and Spector, 2001 ).

Within this paper, we delineate the nature of discrimination within HR policies, decisions, and their enactment, as well as explore the causes of such discrimination in the workplace. Our model is shown in Figure ​ Figure1 1 . In the Section “Discrimination in HR Related Practices: HR Policy, Decisions, and their Enactment,” we explain the distinction between HR policy, HR-related decision-making, and HR enactment and their relations to each other. Gender inequalities in HR policy are a form of institutional discrimination. We review evidence of institutional discrimination against women within HR policies set out to determine employee selection, performance evaluations, and promotions. In contrast, discrimination in HR-related decisions and their enactment can result from organizational decision makers’ biased responses: it is a form of personal discrimination. Finally, we provide evidence of personal discrimination against women by organizational decision makers in HR-related decision-making and in the enactment of HR policies.

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A model of the root causes of gender discrimination in HR policies, decision-making, and enactment .

In the Section “The Effect of Organizational Structures, Processes, and Practices on HR Practices,” we focus on the link between institutional discrimination in organizational structures, processes, and practices that can lead to personal discrimination in HR practices (see Figure ​ Figure1 1 ). Inspired by the work of Gelfand et al. (2007) , we propose that organizational structures, processes, and practices (i.e., leadership, structure, strategy, culture, climate, and HR policy) are interrelated and may contribute to discrimination. Accordingly, gender inequalities in each element can affect the others, creating a self-reinforcing system that can perpetuate institutional discrimination throughout the organization and that can lead to discrimination in HR policies, decision-making, and enactment. We also propose that these relations between gender inequalities in the organizational structures, processes, and practices and discrimination in HR practices can be bidirectional (see Figure ​ Figure1 1 ). Thus, we also review how HR practices can contribute to gender inequalities in organizational structures, processes, and practices.

In the Section “The Effect of Hostile and Benevolent Sexism on How Organizational Decision Makers’ Conduct HR Practices,” we delineate the link between organizational decision makers’ levels of sexism and their likelihood of making gender-biased HR-related decisions and/or behaving in a sexist manner when enacting HR policies (e.g., engaging in gender harassment). We focus on two forms of sexist attitudes: hostile and benevolent sexism ( Glick and Fiske, 1996 ). Hostile sexism involves antipathy toward, and negative stereotypes about, agentic women. In contrast, benevolent sexism involves positive but paternalistic views of women as highly communal. Whereas previous research on workplace discrimination has focused on forms of sexism that are hostile in nature, we extend this work by explaining how benevolent sexism, which is more subtle, can also contribute in meaningful yet distinct ways to gender discrimination in HR practices.

In the Section “The Effect of Organizational Structures, Processes, and Practices on Organizational Decision Makers’ Levels of Hostile and Benevolent Sexism,” we describe how institutional discrimination in organizational structures, processes, and practices play a critical role in our model because not only do they affect HR-related decisions and the enactment of HR policies, they also provide a socializing context for organizational decision makers’ levels of hostile and benevolent sexism. In other words, where more institutional discrimination is present, we can expect higher levels of sexism—a third link in our model—which leads to gender bias in HR practices.

In the Section “How to Reduce Gender Discrimination in Organizations,” we discuss how organizations can reduce gender discrimination. We suggest that, to reduce discrimination, organizations should focus on: HR practices, other closely related organizational structures, processes, and practices, and the reduction of organizational decision makers’ level of sexism. Organizations should take such a multifaceted approach because, consistent with our model, gender discrimination is a result of a complex interplay between these factors. Therefore, a focus on only one factor may not be as effective if all the other elements in the model continue to promote gender inequality.

The model we propose for understanding gender inequalities at work is, of course, limited and not intended to be exhaustive. First, we only focus on women’s experience of discrimination. Although men also face discrimination, the focus of this paper is on women because they are more often targets ( Branscombe, 1998 ; Schmitt et al., 2002 ; McLaughlin et al., 2012 ) and discrimination is more psychologically damaging for women than for men ( Barling et al., 1996 ; Schmitt et al., 2002 ). Furthermore, we draw on research from Western, individualistic countries conducted between the mid-1980s to the mid-2010s that might not generalize to other countries or time frames. In addition, this model derives from research that has been conducted primarily in sectors dominated by men. This is because gender discrimination ( Mansfield et al., 1991 ; Welle and Heilman, 2005 ) and harassment ( Mansfield et al., 1991 ; Berdhal, 2007 ) against women occur more in environments dominated by men. Now that we have outlined the sections of the paper and our model, we now turn to delineating how gender discrimination in the workplace can be largely attributed to HR practices.

Discrimination in HR Related Practices: HR Policy, Decisions, and their Enactment

In this section, we explore the nature of gender discrimination in HR practices, which involves HR policies, HR-related decision-making, and their enactment by organizational decision makers. HR is a system of organizational practices aimed at managing employees and ensuring that they are accomplishing organizational goals ( Wright et al., 1994 ). HR functions include: selection, performance evaluation, leadership succession, and training. Depending on the size and history of the organization, HR systems can range from those that are well structured and supported by an entire department, led by HR specialists, to haphazard sets of policies and procedures enacted by managers and supervisors without formal training. HR practices are critically important because they determine the access employees have to valued reward and outcomes within an organization, and can also influence their treatment within an organization ( Levitin et al., 1971 ).

Human resource practices can be broken down into formal HR policy, HR-related decision-making, and the enactment of HR policies and decisions. HR policy codifies practices for personnel functions, performance evaluations, employee relations, and resource planning ( Wright et al., 1994 ). HR-related decision-making occurs when organizational decision makers (i.e., managers, supervisors, or HR personnel) employ HR policy to determine how it will be applied to a particular situation and individual. The enactment of HR involves the personal interactions between organizational decision makers and job candidates or employees when HR policies are applied. Whereas HR policy can reflect institutional discrimination, HR-related decision-making and enactment can reflect personal discrimination by organizational decision makers.

Institutional Discrimination in HR Policy

Human resource policies that are inherently biased against a group of people, regardless of their job-related knowledge, skills, abilities, and performance can be termed institutional discrimination. Institutional discrimination against women can occur in each type of HR policy from the recruitment and selection of an individual into an organization, through his/her role assignments, training, pay, performance evaluations, promotion, and termination. For instance, if women are under-represented in a particular educational program or a particular job type and those credentials or previous job experience are required to be considered for selection, women are being systematically, albeit perhaps not intentionally, discriminated against. In another example, there is gender discrimination if a test is used in the selection battery for which greater gender differences emerge, than those that emerge for job performance ratings ( Hough et al., 2001 ). Thus, institutional discrimination can be present within various aspects of HR selection policy, and can negatively affect women’s work outcomes.

Institutional discrimination against women also occurs in performance evaluations that are used to determine organizational rewards (e.g., compensation), opportunities (e.g., promotion, role assignments), and punishments (e.g., termination). Gender discrimination can be formalized into HR policy if criteria used by organizational decision makers to evaluate job performance systematically favor men over women. For instance, “face time” is a key performance metric that rewards employees who are at the office more than those who are not. Given that women are still the primary caregivers ( Acker, 1990 ; Fuegen et al., 2004 ), women use flexible work arrangements more often than men and, consequently, face career penalties because they score lower on face time ( Glass, 2004 ). Thus, biased criteria in performance evaluation policies can contribute to gender discrimination.

Human resource policies surrounding promotions and opportunities for advancement are another area of concern. In organizations with more formal job ladders that are used to dictate and constrain workers’ promotion opportunities, women are less likely to advance ( Perry et al., 1994 ). This occurs because job ladders tend to be divided by gender, and as such, gender job segregation that is seen at entry-level positions will be strengthened as employees move up their specific ladder with no opportunity to cross into other lines of advancement. Thus, women will lack particular job experiences that are not available within their specific job ladders, making them unqualified for advancement ( De Pater et al., 2010 ).

In sum, institutional discrimination can be present within HR policies set out to determine employee selection, performance evaluations, and promotions. These policies can have significant effects on women’s careers. However, HR policy can only be used to guide HR-related decision-making. In reality, it is organizational decision-makers, that is, managers, supervisors, HR personnel who, guided by policy, must evaluate job candidates or employees and decide how policy will be applied to individuals.

Personal Discrimination in HR-Related Decision-Making

The practice of HR-related decision-making involves social cognition in which others’ competence, potential, and deservingness are assessed by organizational decision makers. Thus, like all forms of social cognition, HR-related decision-making is open to personal biases. HR-related decisions are critically important because they determine women’s pay and opportunities at work (e.g., promotions, training opportunities). Personal discrimination against women by organizational decision makers can occur in each stage of HR-related decision-making regarding recruitment and selection, role assignments, training opportunities, pay, performance evaluation, promotion, and termination.

Studies with varying methodologies show that women face personal discrimination when going through the selection process (e.g., Goldberg, 1968 ; Rosen and Jerdee, 1974 ). Meta-analyses reveal that, when being considered for male-typed (i.e., male dominated, believed-to-be-for-men) jobs, female candidates are evaluated more negatively and recommended for employment less often by study participants, compared with matched male candidates (e.g., Hunter et al., 1982 ; Tosi and Einbender, 1985 ; Olian et al., 1988 ; Davison and Burke, 2000 ). For example, in audit studies, which involve sending ostensibly real applications for job openings while varying the gender of the applicant, female applicants are less likely to be interviewed or called back, compared with male applicants (e.g., McIntyre et al., 1980 ; Firth, 1982 ). In a recent study, male and female biology, chemistry, and physics professors rated an undergraduate science student for a laboratory manager position ( Moss-Racusin et al., 2012 ). The male applicant was rated as significantly more competent and hireable, offered a higher starting salary (about $4000), and offered more career mentoring than the female applicant was. In summary, women face a distinct disadvantage when being considered for male-typed jobs.

There is ample evidence that women experience biased performance evaluations on male-typed tasks. A meta-analysis of experimental studies reveals that women in leadership positions receive lower performance evaluations than matched men; this is amplified when women act in a stereotypically masculine, that is, agentic fashion ( Eagly et al., 1992 ). Further, in masculine domains, women are held to a higher standard of performance than men are. For example, in a study of military cadets, men and women gave their peers lower ratings if they were women, despite having objectively equal qualifications to men ( Boldry et al., 2001 ). Finally, women are evaluated more poorly in situations that involve complex problem solving; in these situations, people are skeptical regarding women’s expertise and discredit expert women’s opinions but give expert men the benefit of the doubt ( Thomas-Hunt and Phillips, 2004 ).

Sometimes particular types of women are more likely to be discriminated against in selection and performance evaluation decisions. Specifically, agentic women, that is, those who behave in an assertive, task-oriented fashion, are rated as less likeable and less hireable than comparable agentic male applicants ( Heilman and Okimoto, 2007 ; Rudman and Phelan, 2008 ; Rudman et al., 2012 ). In addition, there is evidence of discrimination against pregnant women when they apply for jobs ( Hebl et al., 2007 ; Morgan et al., 2013 ). Further, women who are mothers are recommended for promotion less than women who are not mothers or men with or without children ( Heilman and Okimoto, 2008 ). Why might people discriminate specifically against agentic women and pregnant women or mothers, who are seemingly very different? The stereotype content model, accounts for how agentic women, who are perceived to be high in competence and low in warmth, will be discriminated against because of feelings of competition; whereas, pregnant women and mothers, who are seen as low in competence, but high in warmth, will be discriminated against because of a perceived lack of deservingness ( Fiske et al., 1999 , 2002 ; Cuddy et al., 2004 ). Taken together, research has uncovered that different forms of bias toward specific subtypes of women have the same overall effect—bias in selection and performance evaluation decisions.

Women are also likely to receive fewer opportunities at work, compared with men, resulting in their under-representation at higher levels of management and leadership within organizations ( Martell et al., 1996 ; Eagly and Carli, 2007 ). Managers give women fewer challenging roles and fewer training opportunities, compared with men ( King et al., 2012 ; Glick, 2013 ). For instance, female managers ( Lyness and Thompson, 1997 ) and midlevel workers ( De Pater et al., 2010 ) have less access to high-level responsibilities and challenges that are precursors to promotion. Further, men are more likely to be given key leadership assignments in male-dominated fields and in female-dominated fields (e.g., Maume, 1999 ; De Pater et al., 2010 ). This is detrimental given that challenging roles, especially developmental ones, help employees gain important skills needed to excel in their careers ( Spreitzer et al., 1997 ).

Furthermore, managers rate women as having less promotion potential than men ( Roth et al., 2012 ). Given the same level of qualifications, managers are less likely to grant promotions to women, compared with men ( Lazear and Rosen, 1990 ). Thus, men have a faster ascent in organizational hierarchies than women ( Cox and Harquail, 1991 ; Stroh et al., 1992 ; Blau and DeVaro, 2007 ). Even minimal amounts of gender discrimination in promotion decisions for a particular job or level can have large, cumulative effects given the pyramid structure of most hierarchical organizations ( Martell et al., 1996 ; Baxter and Wright, 2000 ). Therefore, discrimination by organizational decision makers results in the under-promotion of women.

Finally, women are underpaid, compared with men. In a comprehensive US study using data from 1983 to 2000, after controlling for human capital factors that could affect wages (e.g., education level, work experience), the researchers found that women were paid 22% less than men ( U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2003 ). Further, within any given occupation, men typically have higher wages than women; this “within-occupation” wage gap is especially prominent in more highly paid occupations ( U.S. Census Bureau, 2007 ). In a study of over 2000 managers, women were compensated less than men were, even after controlling for a number of human capital factors ( Ostroff and Atwater, 2003 ). Experimental work suggests that personal biases by organizational decision makers contribute to the gender wage gap. When participants are asked to determine starting salaries for matched candidates that differ by gender, they pay men more (e.g., Steinpreis et al., 1999 ; Moss-Racusin et al., 2012 ). Such biases are consequential because starting salaries determine life-time earnings ( Gerhart and Rynes, 1991 ). In experimental studies, when participants evaluate a man vs. a woman who is matched on job performance, they choose to compensate men more ( Marini, 1989 ; Durden and Gaynor, 1998 ; Lips, 2003 ). Therefore, discrimination in HR-related decision-making by organizational decision makers can contribute to women being paid less than men are.

Taken together, we have shown that there is discrimination against women in decision-making related to HR. These biases from organizational decision makers can occur in each stage of HR-related decision-making and these biased HR decisions have been shown to negatively affect women’s pay and opportunities at work. In the next section, we review how biased HR practices are enacted, which can involve gender harassment.

Personal Discrimination in HR Enactment

By HR enactment, we refer to those situations where current or prospective employees go through HR processes or when they receive news of their outcomes from organizational decision makers regarding HR-related issues. Personal gender discrimination can occur when employees are given sexist messages, by organizational decision makers, related to HR enactment. More specifically, this type of personal gender discrimination is termed gender harassment, and consists of a range of verbal and non-verbal behaviors that convey sexist, insulting, or hostile attitudes about women ( Fitzgerald et al., 1995a , b ). Gender harassment is the most common form of sex-based discrimination ( Fitzgerald et al., 1988 ; Schneider et al., 1997 ). For example, across the military in the United States, 52% of the 9,725 women surveyed reported that they had experienced gender harassment in the last year ( Leskinen et al., 2011 , Study 1). In a random sample of attorneys from a large federal judicial circuit, 32% of the 1,425 women attorneys surveyed had experienced gender harassment in the last 5 years ( Leskinen et al., 2011 , Study 2). When examining women’s experiences of gender harassment, 60% of instances were perpetrated by their supervisor/manager or a person in a leadership role (cf. Crocker and Kalemba, 1999 ; McDonald et al., 2008 ). Thus, personal discrimination in the form of gender harassment is a common behavior; however, is it one that organizational decision makers engage in when enacting HR processes and outcomes?

Although it might seem implausible that organizational decision makers would convey sexist sentiments to women when giving them the news of HR-related decisions, there have been high-profile examples from discrimination lawsuits where this has happened. For example, in a class action lawsuit against Walmart, female workers claimed they were receiving fewer promotions than men despite superior qualifications and records of service. In that case, the district manager was accused of confiding to some of the women who were overlooked for promotions that they were passed over because he was not in favor of women being in upper management positions ( Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 2004/2011 ). In addition, audit studies, wherein matched men and women apply to real jobs, have revealed that alongside discrimination ( McIntyre et al., 1980 ; Firth, 1982 ; Moss-Racusin et al., 2012 ), women experience verbal gender harassment when applying for sex atypical jobs, such as sexist comments as well as skeptical or discouraging responses from hiring staff ( Neumark, 1996 ). Finally, gender harassment toward women when HR policies are enacted can also take the form of offensive comments and denying women promotions due to pregnancy or the chance of pregnancy. For example, in Moore v. Alabama , an employee was 8 months pregnant and the woman’s supervisor allegedly looked at her belly and said “I was going to make you head of the office, but look at you now” ( Moore v. Alabama State University, 1996 , p. 431; Williams, 2003 ). Thus, organizational decision makers will at times convey sexist sentiments to women when giving them the news of HR-related decisions.

Interestingly, whereas discrimination in HR policy and in HR-related decision-making is extremely difficult to detect ( Crosby et al., 1986 ; Major, 1994 ), gender harassment in HR enactment provides direct cues to recipients that discrimination is occurring. In other words, although women’s lives are negatively affected in concrete ways by discrimination in HR policy and decisions (e.g., not receiving a job, being underpaid), they may not perceive their negative outcomes as due to gender discrimination. Indeed, there is a multitude of evidence that women and other stigmatized group members are loath to make attributions to discrimination ( Crosby, 1984 ; Vorauer and Kumhyr, 2001 ; Stangor et al., 2003 ) and instead are likely to make internal attributions for negative evaluations unless they are certain the evaluator is biased against their group ( Ruggiero and Taylor, 1995 ; Major et al., 2003 ). However, when organizational decision makers engage in gender harassment during HR enactment women should be more likely to interpret HR policy and HR-related decisions as discriminatory.

Now that we have specified the nature of institutional gender discrimination in HR policy and personal discrimination in HR-related decision-making and in HR enactment, we turn to the issue of understanding the causes of such discrimination: gender discrimination in organizational structures, processes, and practices, and personal biases of organizational decision makers.

The Effect of Organizational Structures, Processes, and Practices on HR Practices

The first contextual factor within which gender inequalities can be institutionalized is leadership. Leadership is a process wherein an individual (e.g., CEOs, managers) influences others in an effort to reach organizational goals ( Chemers, 1997 ; House and Aditya, 1997 ). Leaders determine and communicate what the organization’s priorities are to all members of the organization. Leaders are important as they affect the other organizational structures, processes, and practices. Specifically, leaders set culture, set policy, set strategy, and are role models for socialization. We suggest that one important way institutional gender inequality in leadership exists is when women are under-represented, compared with men—particularly when women are well-represented at lower levels within an organization.

An underrepresentation of women in leadership can be perpetuated easily because the gender of organizational leaders affects the degree to which there is gender discrimination, gender supportive policies, and a gender diversity supportive climate within an organization ( Ostroff et al., 2012 ). Organizational members are likely to perceive that the climate for women is positive when women hold key positions in the organization ( Konrad et al., 2010 ). Specifically, the presence of women in key positions acts as a vivid symbol indicating that the organization supports gender diversity. Consistent with this, industries that have fewer female high status managers have a greater gender wage gap ( Cohen and Huffman, 2007 ). Further, women who work with a male supervisor perceive less organizational support, compared with those who work with a female supervisor ( Konrad et al., 2010 ). In addition, women who work in departments that are headed by a man report experiencing more gender discrimination, compared with their counterparts in departments headed by women ( Konrad et al., 2010 ). Some of these effects may be mediated by a similar-to-me bias ( Tsui and O’Reilly, 1989 ), where leaders set up systems that reward and promote individuals like themselves, which can lead to discrimination toward women when leaders are predominantly male ( Davison and Burke, 2000 ; Roth et al., 2012 ). Thus, gender inequalities in leadership affect women’s experiences in the workplace and their likelihood of facing discrimination.

The second contextual factor to consider is organizational structure. The formal structure of an organization is how an organization arranges itself and it consists of employee hierarchies, departments, etc. ( Grant, 2010 ). An example of institutional discrimination in the formal structure of an organization are job ladders, which are typically segregated by gender ( Perry et al., 1994 ). Such gender-segregated job ladders typically exist within different departments of the organization. Women belonging to gender-segregated networks within organizations ( Brass, 1985 ) have less access to information about jobs, less status, and less upward mobility within the organization ( Ragins and Sundstrom, 1989 ; McDonald et al., 2009 ). This is likely because in gender-segregated networks, women have less visibility and lack access to individuals with power ( Ragins and Sundstrom, 1989 ). In gender-segregated networks, it is also difficult for women to find female mentors because there is a lack of women in high-ranking positions ( Noe, 1988 ; Linehan and Scullion, 2008 ). Consequently, the organizational structure can be marked by gender inequalities that reduce women’s chances of reaching top-level positions in an organization.

Gender inequalities can be inherent in the structure of an organization when there are gender segregated departments, job ladders, and networks, which are intimately tied to gender discrimination in HR practices. For instance, if HR policies are designed such that pay is determined based on comparisons between individuals only within a department (e.g., department-wide reporting structure, job descriptions, performance evaluations), then this can lead to a devaluation of departments dominated by women. The overrepresentation of women in certain jobs leads to the lower status of those jobs; consequently, the pay brackets for these jobs decrease over time as the number of women in these jobs increase (e.g., Huffman and Velasco, 1997 ; Reilly and Wirjanto, 1999 ). Similarly, networks led by women are also devalued for pay. For example, in a study of over 2,000 managers, after controlling for performance, the type of job, and the functional area (e.g., marketing, sales, accounting), those who worked with female mangers had lower wages than those who worked with male managers ( Ostroff and Atwater, 2003 ). Thus, gender inequalities in an organization’s structure in terms of gender segregation have reciprocal effects with gender discrimination in HR policy and decision-making.

Another contextual factor in our model is organizational strategy and how institutional discrimination within strategy is related to discrimination in HR practices. Strategy is a plan, method, or process by which an organization attempts to achieve its objectives, such as being profitable, maintaining and expanding its consumer base, marketing strategy, etc. ( Grant, 2010 ). Strategy can influence the level of inequality within an organization ( Morrison and Von Glinow, 1990 ; Hunter et al., 2001 ). For example, Hooters, a restaurant chain, has a marketing strategy to sexually attract heterosexual males, which has led to discrimination in HR policy, decisions, and enactment because only young, good-looking women are considered qualified ( Schneyer, 1998 ). When faced with appearance-based discrimination lawsuits regarding their hiring policies, Hooters has responded by claiming that such appearance requirements are bona fide job qualifications given their marketing strategy (for reviews, see Schneyer, 1998 ; Adamitis, 2000 ). Hooters is not alone, as many other establishments attempt to attract male cliental by requiring their female servers to meet a dress code involving a high level of grooming (make-up, hair), a high heels requirement, and a revealing uniform ( McGinley, 2007 ). Thus, sexist HR policies and practices in which differential standards are applied to male and female employees can stem from a specific organizational strategy ( Westall, 2015 ).

We now consider institutional gender bias within organizational culture and how it relates to discrimination in HR policies. Organizational culture refers to collectively held beliefs, assumptions, and values held by organizational members ( Trice and Beyer, 1993 ; Schein, 2010 ). Cultures arise from the values of the founders of the organization and assumptions about the right way of doing things, which are learned from dealing with challenges over time ( Ostroff et al., 2012 ). The founders and leaders of an organization are the most influential in forming, maintaining, and changing culture over time (e.g., Trice and Beyer, 1993 ; Jung et al., 2008 ; Hartnell and Walumbwa, 2011 ). Organizational culture can contribute to gender inequalities because culture constrains people’s ideas of what is possible: their strategies of action ( Swidler, 1986 ). In other words, when people encounter a problem in their workplace, the organizational culture—who we are, how we act, what is right—will provide only a certain realm of behavioral responses. For instance, in organizational cultures marked by greater gender inequality, women may have lower hopes and expectations for promotion, and when they are discriminated against, may be less likely to imagine that they can appeal their outcomes ( Kanter, 1977 ; Cassirer and Reskin, 2000 ). Furthermore, in organizational cultures marked by gender inequality, organizational decision makers should hold stronger descriptive and proscriptive gender stereotypes: they should more strongly believe that women have less ability to lead, less career commitment, and less emotional stability, compared with men ( Eagly et al., 1992 ; Heilman, 2001 ). We expand upon this point later.

Other aspects of organizational culture that are less obviously related to gender can also lead to discrimination in HR practices. For instance, an organizational culture that emphasizes concerns with meritocracy, can lead organizational members to oppose HR efforts to increase gender equality. This is because when people believe that outcomes ought to go only to those who are most deserving, it is easy for them to fall into the trap of believing that outcomes currently do go to those who are most deserving ( Son Hing et al., 2011 ). Therefore, people will believe that men deserve their elevated status and women deserve their subordinated status at work ( Castilla and Benard, 2010 ). Furthermore, the more people care about merit-based outcomes, the more they oppose affirmative action and diversity initiatives for women ( Bobocel et al., 1998 ; Son Hing et al., 2011 ), particularly when they do not recognize that discrimination occurs against women in the absence of such policies ( Son Hing et al., 2002 ). Thus, a particular organizational culture can influence the level of discrimination against women in HR and prevent the adoption of HR policies that would mitigate gender discrimination.

Finally, gender inequalities can be seen in organizational climates. An organizational climate consists of organizational members’ shared perceptions of the formal and informal organizational practices, procedures, and routines ( Schneider et al., 2011 ) that arise from direct experiences of the organization’s culture ( Ostroff et al., 2012 ). Organizational climates tend to be conceptualized and studied as “climates for” an organizational strategy ( Schneider, 1975 ; Ostroff et al., 2012 ). Gender inequalities are most clearly reflected in two forms of climate: climates for diversity and climates for sexual harassment.

A positive climate for diversity exists when organizational members perceive that diverse groups are included, empowered, and treated fairly. When employees perceive a less supportive diversity climate, they perceive greater workplace discrimination ( Cox, 1994 ; Ragins and Cornwall, 2001 ; Triana and García, 2009 ), and experience lower organizational commitment and job satisfaction ( Hicks-Clarke and Iles, 2000 ), and higher turnover intentions ( Triana et al., 2010 ). Thus, in organizations with a less supportive diversity climate, women are more likely to leave the organization, which contributes to the underrepresentation of women in already male-dominated arenas ( Miner-Rubino and Cortina, 2004 ).

A climate for sexual harassment involves perceptions that the organization is permissive of sexual harassment. In organizational climates that are permissive of harassment, victims are reluctant to come forward because they believe that their complaints will not be taken seriously ( Hulin et al., 1996 ) and will result in negative personal consequences (e.g., Offermann and Malamut, 2002 ). Furthermore, men with a proclivity for harassment are more likely to act out these behaviors when permissive factors are present ( Pryor et al., 1993 ). Therefore, a permissive climate for sexual harassment can result in more harassing behaviors, which can lead women to disengage from their work and ultimately leave the organization ( Kath et al., 2009 ).

Organizational climates for diversity and for sexual harassment are inextricably linked to HR practices. For instance, a factor that leads to perceptions of diversity climates is whether the HR department has diversity training (seminars, workshops) and how much time and money is devoted to diversity efforts ( Triana and García, 2009 ). Similarly, a climate for sexual harassment depends on organizational members’ perceptions of how strict the workplace’s sexual harassment policy is, and how likely offenders are to be punished ( Fitzgerald et al., 1995b ; Hulin et al., 1996 ). Thus, HR policies, decision-making, and their enactment strongly affect gender inequalities in organizational climates and gender inequalities throughout an organization.

In summary, gender inequalities can exist within organizational structures, processes, and practices. However, organizational leadership, structure, strategy, culture, and climate do not inherently need to be sexist. It could be possible for these organizational structures, processes, and practices to promote gender equality. We return to this issue in the conclusion section.

The Effect of Hostile and Benevolent Sexism on How Organizational Decision Makers’ Conduct HR Practices

In this section, we explore how personal biases can affect personal discrimination in HR-related decisions and their enactment. Others have focused on how negative or hostile attitudes toward women predict discrimination in the workplace. However, we extend this analysis by drawing on ambivalent sexism theory, which involves hostile sexism (i.e., antagonistic attitudes toward women) and benevolent sexism (i.e., paternalistic attitudes toward women; see also Glick, 2013 ), both of which lead to discrimination against women.

Stereotyping processes are one possible explanation of how discrimination against women in male-typed jobs occurs and how women are relegated to the “pink ghetto” ( Heilman, 1983 ; Eagly and Karau, 2002 ; Rudman et al., 2012 ). Gender stereotypes, that is, expectations of what women and men are like, and what they should be like, are one of the most powerful schemas activated when people encounter others ( Fiske et al., 1991 ; Stangor et al., 1992 ). According to status characteristics theory, people’s group memberships convey important information about their status and their competence on specific tasks ( Berger et al., 1974 ; Berger et al., 1998 ; Correll and Ridgeway, 2003 ). Organizational decision makers will, for many jobs, have different expectations for men’s and women’s competence and job performance. Expectations of stereotyped-group members’ success can affect gender discrimination that occurs in HR-related decisions and enactment ( Roberson et al., 2007 ). For example, men are preferred over women for masculine jobs and women are preferred over men for feminine jobs ( Davison and Burke, 2000 ). Thus, the more that a workplace role is inconsistent with the attributes ascribed to women, the more a particular woman might be seen as lacking “fit” with that role, resulting in decreased performance expectations ( Heilman, 1983 ; Eagly and Karau, 2002 ).

Furthermore, because women are associated with lower status, and men with higher status, women experience backlash for pursuing high status roles (e.g., leadership) in the workplace ( Rudman et al., 2012 ). In other words, agentic women who act competitively and confidently in a leadership role, are rated as more socially deficient, less likeable and less hireable, compared with men who act the same way ( Rudman, 1998 ; Rudman et al., 2012 ). Interestingly though, if women pursue roles in the workplace that are congruent with traditional gender expectations, they will elicit positive reactions ( Eagly and Karau, 2002 ).

Thus, cultural, widely known, gender stereotypes can affect HR-related decisions. However, such an account does not take into consideration individual differences among organizational decision makers (e.g., managers, supervisors, or HR personnel) who may vary in the extent to which they endorse sexist attitudes or stereotypes. Individual differences in various forms of sexism (e.g., modern sexism, neosexism) have been demonstrated to lead to personal discrimination in the workplace ( Hagen and Kahn, 1975 ; Beaton et al., 1996 ; Hitlan et al., 2009 ). Ambivalent sexism theory builds on earlier theories of sexism by including attitudes toward women that, while sexist, are often experienced as positive in valence by perceivers and targets ( Glick and Fiske, 1996 ). Therefore, we draw on ambivalent sexism theory, which conceptualizes sexism as a multidimensional construct that encompasses both hostile and benevolent attitudes toward women ( Glick and Fiske, 1996 , 2001 ).

Hostile sexism involves antipathy and negative stereotypes about women, such as beliefs that women are incompetent, overly emotional, and sexually manipulative. Hostile sexism also involves beliefs that men should be more powerful than women and fears that women will try to take power from men ( Glick and Fiske, 1996 ; Cikara et al., 2008 ). In contrast, benevolent sexism involves overall positive views of women, as long as they occupy traditionally feminine roles. Individuals with benevolently sexist beliefs characterize women as weak and needing protection, support, and adoration. Importantly, hostile and benevolent sexism tend to go hand-in-hand (with a typical correlation of 0.40; Glick et al., 2000 ). This is because ambivalent sexists, people who are high in benevolent and hostile sexism, believe that women should occupy restricted domestic roles and that women are weaker than men are ( Glick and Fiske, 1996 ). Ambivalent sexists reconcile their potentially contradictory attitudes about women by acting hostile toward women whom they believe are trying to steal men’s power (e.g., feminists, professionals who show competence) and by acting benevolently toward traditional women (e.g., homemakers) who reinforce conventional gender relations and who serve men ( Glick et al., 1997 ). An individual difference approach allows us to build on the earlier models ( Heilman, 1983 ; Eagly and Karau, 2002 ; Rudman et al., 2012 ), by specifying who is more likely to discriminate against women and why.

Organizational decision makers who are higher (vs. lower) in hostile sexism should discriminate more against women in HR-related decisions ( Glick et al., 1997 ; Masser and Abrams, 2004 ). For instance, people high in hostile sexism have been found to evaluate candidates, who are believed to be women, more negatively and give lower employment recommendations for a management position, compared with matched candidates believed to be men ( Salvaggio et al., 2009 ) 1 . In another study, among participants who evaluated a female candidate for a managerial position, those higher in hostile sexism were less likely to recommend her for hire, compared with those lower in hostile sexism ( Masser and Abrams, 2004 ). Interestingly, among those evaluating a matched man for the same position, those higher (vs. lower) in hostile sexism were more likely to recommend him for hire ( Masser and Abrams, 2004 ). According to ambivalent sexism theorists ( Glick et al., 1997 ), because people high in hostile sexism see women as a threat to men’s status, they act as gatekeepers denying women access to more prestigious or masculine jobs.

Furthermore, when enacting HR policies and decisions, organizational decision makers who are higher (vs. lower) in hostile sexism should discriminate more against women in the form of gender harassment. Gender harassment can involve hostile terms of address, negative comments regarding women in management, sexist jokes, and sexist behavior ( Fitzgerald et al., 1995a , b ). It has been found that people higher (vs. lower) in hostile sexism have more lenient attitudes toward the sexual harassment of women, which involves gender harassment, in the workplace ( Begany and Milburn, 2002 ; Russell and Trigg, 2004 ). Furthermore, men who more strongly believe that women are men’s adversaries tell more sexist jokes to a woman ( Mitchell et al., 2004 ). Women also report experiencing more incivility (i.e., low level, rude behavior) in the workplace than men ( Björkqvist et al., 1994 ; Cortina et al., 2001 , 2002 ), which could be due to hostile attitudes toward women. In summary, the evidence is consistent with the idea that organizational decision makers’ hostile sexism should predict their gender harassing behavior during HR enactment; however, more research is needed for such a conclusion.

In addition, organizational decision makers who are higher (vs. lower) in benevolent sexism should discriminate more against women when making HR-related decisions. It has been found that people higher (vs. lower) in benevolent sexism are more likely to automatically associate men with high-authority and women with low-authority roles and to implicitly stereotype men as agentic and women as communal ( Rudman and Kilianski, 2000 ). Thus, organizational decision makers who are higher (vs. lower) in benevolent sexism should more strongly believe that women are unfit for organizational roles that are demanding, challenging, and requiring agentic behavior. Indeed, in studies of male MBA students those higher (vs. lower) in benevolent sexism assigned a fictional woman less challenging tasks than a matched man ( King et al., 2012 ). The researchers reasoned that this occurred because men are attempting to “protect” women from the struggles of challenging work. Although there has been little research conducted that has looked at benevolent sexism and gender discrimination in HR-related decisions, the findings are consistent with our model.

Finally, organizational decision makers who are higher (vs. lower) in benevolent sexism should engage in a complex form of gender discrimination when enacting HR policy and decisions that involves mixed messages: women are more likely to receive messages of positive verbal feedback (e.g., “stellar work,” “excellent work”) but lower numeric ratings on performance appraisals, compared with men ( Biernat et al., 2012 ). It is proposed that this pattern of giving women positive messages about their performance while rating them poorly reflects benevolent sexists’ desire to protect women from harsh criticism. However, given that performance appraisals are used for promotion decisions and that constructive feedback is needed for learning, managers’ unwillingness to give women negative verbal criticisms can lead to skill plateau and career stagnation.

Furthermore, exposure to benevolent sexism can harm women’s motivation, goals and performance. Adolescent girls whose mothers are high in benevolent (but not hostile) sexism display lower academic goals and academic performance ( Montañés et al., 2012 ). Of greater relevance to the workplace, when role-playing a job candidate, women who interacted with a hiring manager scripted to make benevolently sexist statements became preoccupied with thoughts about their incompetence, and consequently performed worse in the interview, compared with those in a control condition ( Dardenne et al., 2007 ). These findings suggest that benevolent sexism during the enactment of HR practices can harm women’s work-related motivation and goals, as well as their performance, which can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy ( Word et al., 1974 ). In other words, the low expectations benevolent sexists have of women can be confirmed by women as they are undermined by paternalistic messages.

Ambivalent sexism can operate to harm women’s access to jobs, opportunities for development, ratings of performance, and lead to stigmatization. However, hostile and benevolent sexism operate in different ways. Hostile sexism has direct negative consequences for women’s access to high status, male-typed jobs ( Masser and Abrams, 2004 ; Salvaggio et al., 2009 ), and it is related to higher rates of sexual harassment ( Fitzgerald et al., 1995b ; Mitchell et al., 2004 ; Russell and Trigg, 2004 ), which negatively affect women’s health, well-being, and workplace withdrawal behaviors ( Willness et al., 2007 ). In contrast, benevolent sexism has indirect negative consequences for women’s careers, for instance, in preventing access to challenging tasks ( King et al., 2012 ) and critical developmental feedback ( Vescio et al., 2005 ). Interestingly, exposure to benevolent sexism results in worsened motivation and cognitive performance, compared with exposure to hostile sexism ( Dardenne et al., 2007 ; Montañés et al., 2012 ). This is because women more easily recognize hostile sexism as a form of discrimination and inequality, compared with benevolent sexism, which can be more subtle in nature ( Dardenne et al., 2007 ). Thus, women can externalize hostile sexism and mobilize against it, but the subtle nature of benevolent sexism prevents these processes ( Kay et al., 2005 ; Becker and Wright, 2011 ). Therefore, hostile and benevolent sexism lead to different but harmful forms of HR discrimination. Future research should more closely examine their potentially different consequences.

Thus far, we have articulated how gender inequalities in organizational structures, processes, and practices can affect discrimination in HR policy and in HR-related decision-making and enactment. Furthermore, we have argued that organizational decision makers’ levels of hostile and benevolent sexism are critical factors leading to personal discrimination in HR-related decision-making and enactment, albeit in different forms. We now turn to an integration of these two phenomena.

The Effect of Organizational Structures, Processes, and Practices on Organizational Decision Makers’ Levels of Hostile and Benevolent Sexism

Organizational decision makers’ beliefs about men and women should be affected by the work environments in which they are embedded. Thus, when there are more gender inequalities within organizational structures, processes, and practices, organizational decision makers should have higher levels of hostile sexism and benevolent sexism. Two inter-related processes can account for this proposition: the establishment of who becomes and remains an organizational member, and the socialization of organizational members.

First, as organizations develop over time, forces work to attract, select, and retain an increasingly homogenous set of employees in terms of their hostile and benevolent sexism ( Schneider, 1983 , 1987 ). In support of this perspective, an individual’s values tend to be congruent with the values in his or her work environment (e.g., Holland, 1996 ; Kristof-Brown et al., 2005 ). People are attracted to and choose to work for organizations that have characteristics similar to their own, and organizations select individuals who are likely to fit with the organization. Thus, more sexist individuals are more likely to be attracted to organizations with greater gender inequality in leadership, structure, strategy, culture, climate, and HR policy; and they will be seen as a better fit during recruitment and selection. Finally, individuals who do not fit with the organization tend to leave voluntarily through the process of attrition. Thus, less (vs. more) sexist individuals would be more likely to leave a workplace with marked gender inequalities in organizational structures, processes, and practices. The opposite should be true for organizations with high gender equality. Through attraction, selection, and attrition processes it is likely that organizational members will become more sexist in a highly gender unequal organization and less sexist in a highly gender equal organization.

Second, socialization processes can change organizational members’ personal attributes, goals, and values to match those of the organization ( Ostroff and Rothausen, 1997 ). Organizational members’ receive both formal and informal messages about gender inequality—or equality—within an organization through their orientation and training, reading of organizational policy, perceptions of who rises in the ranks, how women (vs. men) are treated within the organization, as well as their perception of climates for diversity and sexual harassment. Socialization of organizational members over time has been shown to result in organizational members’ values and personalities changing to better match the values of the organization ( Kohn and Schooler, 1982 ; Cable and Parsons, 2001 ).

These socialization processes can operate to change organizational members’ levels of sexism. It is likely that within more sexist workplaces, people’s levels of hostile and benevolent sexism increase because their normative beliefs shift due to exposure to institutional discrimination against women, others’ sexist attitudes and behavior, and gender bias in culture and climate ( Schwartz and DeKeseredy, 2000 ; Ford et al., 2008 ; Banyard et al., 2009 ). These processes can also lead organizational decision makers to adopt less sexist attitudes in a workplace context marked by greater gender equality. Thus, organizational members’ levels of hostile and benevolent sexism can be shaped by the degree of gender inequalities in organizational structures, processes, and practices and by the sexism levels of their work colleagues.

In addition, organizational decision makers can be socialized to act in discriminatory ways without personally becoming more sexist. If organizational decision makers witness others acting in a discriminatory manner with positive consequences, or acting in an egalitarian way with negative consequences, they can learn to become more discriminatory in their HR practices through observational learning ( Bandura, 1977 , 1986 ). So, organizational decision makers could engage in personal discrimination without being sexist if they perceive that the fair treatment of women in HR would encounter resistance given the broader organizational structures, processes, and practices promoting gender inequality. Yet over time, given cognitive dissonance ( Festinger, 1962 ), it is likely that discriminatory behavior could induce attitude change among organizational decision makers to become more sexist.

Thus far we have argued that gender inequalities in organizational structures, processes, and practices, organizational decision makers’ sexist attitudes, and gender discrimination in HR practices can have reciprocal, reinforcing relationships. Thus, it may appear that we have created a model that is closed and determinate in nature; however, this would be a misinterpretation. In the following section, we outline how organizations marked by gender inequalities can reduce discrimination against women.

How to Reduce Gender Discrimination in Organizations

The model we present for understanding gender discrimination in HR practices is complex. We believe that such complexity is necessary to accurately reflect the realities of organizational life. The model demonstrates that many sources of gender inequality are inter-related and have reciprocal effects. By implication, there are no simple or direct solutions to reduce gender discrimination in organizations. Rather, this complex problem requires multiple solutions. In fact, as discussed by Gelfand et al. (2007) , if an organization attempts to correct discrimination in only one aspect of organizational structure, process, or practice, and not others, such change attempts will be ineffective due to mixed messages. Therefore, we outline below how organizations can reduce gender discrimination by focusing on (a) HR policies (i.e., diversity initiatives and family friendly policies) and closely related organizational structures, processes, and practices; (b) HR-related decision-making and enactment; as well as, (c) the organizational decision makers who engage in such actions.

Reducing Gender Discrimination in HR Policy and Associated Organizational Structures, Processes, and Practices

Organizations can take steps to mitigate discrimination in HR policies. As a first example, let us consider how an organization can develop, within its HR systems, diversity initiatives aimed at changing the composition of the workforce that includes policies to recruit, retain, and develop employees from underrepresented groups ( Jayne and Dipboye, 2004 ). Diversity initiatives can operate like affirmative action programs in that organizations track and monitor (a) the number of qualified candidates from different groups (e.g., women vs. men) in a pool, and (b) the number of candidates from each group hired or promoted. When the proportion of candidates from a group successfully selected varies significantly from their proportion in the qualified pool then action, such as targeted recruitment efforts, needs to be taken.

Importantly, such efforts to increase diversity can be strengthened by other HR policies that reward managers, who select more diverse personnel, with bonuses ( Jayne and Dipboye, 2004 ). Organizations that incorporate diversity-based criteria into their performance and promotion policies and offer meaningful incentives to managers to identify and develop successful female candidates for promotion are more likely to succeed in retaining and promoting diverse talent ( Murphy and Cleveland, 1995 ; Cleveland et al., 2000 ). However, focusing on short-term narrowly defined criteria, such as increasing the number of women hired, without also focusing on candidates’ merit and providing an adequate climate or support for women are unlikely to bring about any long-term change in diversity, and can have detrimental consequences for its intended beneficiaries ( Heilman et al., 1992 , 1997 ). Rather, to be successful, HR policies for diversity need to be supported by the other organizational structures, processes, and practices, such as strategy, leadership, and climate.

For instance, diversity initiatives should be linked to strategies to create a business case for diversity ( Jayne and Dipboye, 2004 ). An organization with a strategy to market to more diverse populations can justify that a more diverse workforce can better serve potential clientele ( Jayne and Dipboye, 2004 ). Alternatively, an organization that is attempting to innovate and grow might justify a corporate strategy to increase diversity on the grounds that diverse groups have multiple perspectives on a problem with the potential to generate more novel, creative solutions ( van Knippenberg et al., 2004 ). Furthermore, organizational leaders must convey strong support for the HR policies for them to be successful ( Rynes and Rosen, 1995 ). Given the same HR policy within an organization, leaders’ personal attitudes toward the policy affects the discrimination levels found within their unit ( Pryor, 1995 ; Pryor et al., 1995 ). Finally, diversity programs are more likely to succeed in multicultural organizations with strong climates for diversity ( Elsass and Graves, 1997 ; Jayne and Dipboye, 2004 ). An organization’s climate for diversity consists of employees’ shared perceptions that the organization’s structures, processes, and practices are committed to maintaining diversity and eliminating discrimination ( Nishii and Raver, 2003 ; Gelfand et al., 2007 ). In organizations where employees perceive a strong climate for diversity, diversity programs result in greater employee attraction and retention among women and minorities, at all levels of the organization ( Cox and Blake, 1991 ; Martins and Parsons, 2007 ).

As a second example of how HR policies can mitigate gender inequalities, we discuss HR policies to lessen employees’ experience of work-family conflict. Work-family conflict is a type of role conflict that workers experience when the demands (e.g., emotional, cognitive, time) of their work role interfere with the demands of their family role or vice versa ( Greenhaus and Beutell, 1985 ). Work-family conflict has the negative consequences of increasing employee stress, illness-related absence, and desire to turnover ( Grandey and Cropanzano, 1999 ). Importantly, women are more adversely affected by work-family conflict than men ( Martins et al., 2002 ). Work-family conflict can be exacerbated by HR policies that evaluate employees based on face time (i.e., number of hours present at the office), as a proxy for organizational commitment ( Perlow, 1995 ; Elsbach et al., 2010 ).

Formal family friendly HR policies can be adopted to relieve work-family conflict directly, which differentially assists women in the workplace. For instance, to reduce work-family conflict, organizations can implement HR policies such as flexible work arrangements, which involve flexible schedules, telecommuting, compressed work weeks, job-shares, and part-time work ( Galinsky et al., 2008 ). In conjunction with other family friendly policies, such as the provision of childcare, elderly care, and paid maternity leave, organizations can work to reduce stress and improve the retention of working mothers ( Burke, 2002 ).

Unfortunately, it has been found that the enactment of flexible work policies can still lead to discrimination. Organizational decision makers’ sexism can lead them to grant more flexible work arrangements to white men than to women and other minorities because white men are seen as more valuable ( Kelly and Kalev, 2006 ). To circumvent this, organizations need to formalize HR policies relating to flexible work arrangements ( Kelly and Kalev, 2006 ). For instance, formal, written policies should articulate who can adopt flexible work arrangements (e.g., employees in specific divisions or with specific job roles) and what such arrangements look like (e.g., core work from 10 am to 3 pm with flexible work hours from 7 to 10 am or from 3 to 6 pm). When the details of such policies are formally laid out, organizational decision makers have less latitude and therefore less opportunity for discrimination in granting access to these arrangements.

To be successful, family friendly HR policies should be tied to other organizational structures, processes, and practices such as organizational strategy, leadership, culture, and climate. A business case for flexible work arrangements can be made because they attract and retain top-talent, which includes women ( Baltes et al., 1999 ). Furthermore, organizational leaders must convey strong support for family friendly programs ( Jayne and Dipboye, 2004 ). Leaders can help bolster the acceptance of family friendly policies through successive interactions, communications, visibility, and role modeling with employees. For instance, a leader who sends emails at 2 o’clock in the morning is setting a different expectation of constant availability than a leader who never sends emails after 7:00 pm. Family friendly HR policies must also be supported by simultaneously changing the underlying organizational culture that promotes face time. Although it is difficult to change the culture of an organization, the leaders’ of the organization play an influential role in instilling such change because the behaviors of leaders are antecedents and triggers of organizational culture ( Kozlowski and Doherty, 1989 ; Ostroff et al., 2012 ). In summary, HR policies must be supported by other organizational structures, processes, and practices in order for these policies to be effective.

Adopting HR diversity initiative policies and family friendly policies can reduce gender discrimination and reshape the other organizational structures, processes, and practices and increase gender equality in them. Specifically, such policies, if successful, should increase the number of women in all departments and at all levels of an organization. Further, having more women in leadership positions signals to organizational members that the organization takes diversity seriously, affecting the diversity climate of the organization, and ultimately its culture ( Konrad et al., 2010 ). Thus, particular HR policies can reduce gender inequalities in all of the other organizational structures, processes, and practices.

Reducing Gender Discrimination in HR-Related Decision-Making and Enactment

A wealth of research demonstrates that an effective means of reducing personal bias by organizational decision makers in HR practices is to develop HR policies that standardize and objectify performance data (e.g., Konrad and Linnehan, 1995 ; Reskin and McBrier, 2000 ). To reduce discrimination in personnel decisions (i.e., employee hiring and promotion decisions) a job analysis should be performed to determine the appropriate knowledge skills and abilities needed for specific positions ( Fine and Cronshaw, 1999 ). This ensures that expectations about characteristics of the ideal employee for that position are based on accurate knowledge of the job and not gender stereotypes about the job ( Welle and Heilman, 2005 ). To reduce discrimination in performance evaluations, HR policies should necessitate the use of reliable measures based on explicit objective performance expectations and apply these practices consistently across all worker evaluations ( Bernardin et al., 1998 ; Ittner et al., 2003 ). Employees’ performance should be evaluated using behaviorally anchored rating scales ( Smith and Kendall, 1963 ) that allow supervisors to rate subordinates on examples of actual work behaviors. These evaluations should be done regularly, given that delays require retrieving memories of work performance and this process can be biased by gender stereotypes ( Sanchez and De La Torre, 1996 ). Finally, if greater gender differences are found on selection tests than on performance evaluations, then the use of such biased selection tests needs to be revisited ( Chung-Yan and Cronshaw, 2002 ). In summary, developing HR policies that standardize and objectify the process of employee/candidate evaluations can reduce personal bias in HR practices.

Importantly, the level of personal discrimination enacted by organizational decision makers can be reduced by formalizing HR policies, and by controlling the situations under which HR-related decisions are made. We have articulated how HR-related decisions involve social cognition and are therefore susceptible to biases introduced by the use of gender stereotypes. This can occur unwittingly by those who perceive themselves to be unprejudiced but who are affected by stereotypes or negative automatic associations nonetheless ( Chugh, 2004 ; Son Hing et al., 2008 ). For instance, when HR policies do not rely on objective criteria, and the context for evaluation is ambiguous, organizational decision makers will draw on gender (and other) stereotypes to fill in the blanks when evaluating candidates ( Heilman, 1995 , 2001 ). Importantly, the context can be constructed in such a way as to reduce these biases. For instance, organizational decision makers will make less biased judgments of others if they have more time available to evaluate others, are less cognitively busy ( Martell, 1991 ), have higher quality of information available about candidates, and are accountable for justifying their ratings and decisions ( Kulik and Bainbridge, 2005 ; Roberson et al., 2007 ). Thus, if they have the time, motivation, and opportunity to make well-informed, more accurate judgments, then discrimination in performance ratings can be reduced.

Reducing Organizational Decision Makers’ Sexism

Another means to reduce gender discrimination in HR-related decision-making and enactment is to focus directly on reducing the hostile and benevolent sexist beliefs of organizational decision makers. Interventions aimed at reducing these beliefs typically involve diversity training, such as a seminar, course, or workshop. Such training involves one or more sessions that involve interactive discussions, lectures, and practical assignments. During the training men and women are taught about sexism and how gender roles in society are socially constructed. Investigations have shown these workshop-based interventions are effective at reducing levels of hostile sexism but have inconsistent effects on benevolent sexism ( Case, 2007 ; de Lemus et al., 2014 ). The subtle, and in some ways positive nature of benevolent sexism makes it difficult to confront and reduce using such interventions. However, levels of benevolent sexism are reduced when individuals are explicitly informed about the harmful implications of benevolent sexism ( Becker and Swim, 2012 ). Unfortunately, these interventions have not been tested in organizational settings. So their efficacy in the field is unknown.

Gender inequality in organizations is a complex phenomenon that can be seen in HR practices (i.e., policies, decision-making, and their enactment) that affects the hiring, training, pay, and promotion of women. We propose that gender discrimination in HR-related decision-making and the enactment of HR practices stems from gender inequalities in broader organizational structures, processes, and practices, including HR policy but also leadership, structure, strategy, culture, and organizational climate. Moreover, reciprocal effects should occur, such that discriminatory HR practices can perpetuate gender inequalities in organizational leadership, structure, strategy, culture, and climate. Organizational decision makers also play an important role in gender discrimination. We propose that personal discrimination in HR-related decisions and enactment arises from organizational decision makers’ levels of hostile and benevolent sexism. While hostile sexism can lead to discrimination against women because of a desire to keep them from positions of power, benevolent sexism can lead to discrimination against women because of a desire to protect them. Finally, we propose that gender inequalities in organizational structures, processes, and practices affect organizational decision makers’ sexism through attraction, selection, socialization, and attrition processes. Thus, a focus on organizational structure, processes, and practices is critical.

The model we have developed extends previous work by Gelfand et al. (2007) in a number of substantive ways. Gelfand et al. (2007) proposed that aspects of the organization, that is, structure, organizational culture, leadership, strategy, HR systems, and organizational climates, are all interrelated and may contribute to or attenuate discrimination (e.g., racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia). First, we differ from their work by emphasizing that workplace discrimination is most directly attributable to HR practices. Consequently, we emphasize how inequalities in other organizational structures, processes, and practices affect institutional discrimination in HR policy. Second, our model differs from that of Gelfand et al. (2007) in that we focus on the role of organizational decision makers in the enactment of HR policy. The attitudes of these decision makers toward specific groups of employees are critical. However, the nature of prejudice differs depending on the target group ( Son Hing and Zanna, 2010 ). Therefore, we focus on one form of bias—sexism—in the workplace. Doing so, allows us to draw on more nuanced theories of prejudice, namely ambivalent sexism theory ( Glick and Fiske, 1996 ). Thus, third, our model differs from the work of Gelfand et al. (2007) by considering how dual beliefs about women (i.e., hostile and benevolent beliefs) can contribute to different forms of gender discrimination in HR practices. Fourth, we differ from Gelfand et al. (2007) by reviewing how organizational decision makers’ level of sexism within an organization is affected by organizational structures, processes, and practices via selection-attraction-attrition processes and through socialization processes.

However, the model we have developed is not meant to be exhaustive. There are multiple issues that we have not addressed but should be considered: what external factors feed into our model? What other links within the model might arise? What are the limits to its generalizability? What consequences derive from our model? How can change occur given a model that is largely recursive in nature? We focus on these issues throughout our conclusion.

In this paper, we have illustrated what we consider to be the dominant links in our model; however, additional links are possible. First, we do not lay out the factors that feed into our model, such as government regulations, the economy, their competitors, and societal culture. In future work, one could analyze the broader context that organizations operate in, which influences its structures, processes, and practices, as well as its members. For instance, in societies marked by greater gender inequalities, the levels of hostile and benevolent sexism of organizational decision makers will be higher ( Glick et al., 2000 ). Second, there is no link demonstrating how organizational decision makers who are more sexist have the capacity, even if they sit lower in the organizational hierarchy, to influence the amount of gender inequality in organizational structures, processes, and practices. It is possible for low-level managers or HR personnel who express more sexist sentiments to—through their own behavior—affect others’ perceptions of the tolerance for discrimination in the workplace ( Ford et al., 2001 ) and others’ perceptions of the competence and hireability of female job candidates ( Good and Rudman, 2010 ). Thus, organizational decision makers’ levels of hostile and benevolent sexism can affect organizational climates, and potentially other organizational structures, processes, and practices. Third, it is possible that organizational structures, processes, and practices could moderate the link between organizational decision makers’ sexist attitudes and their discriminatory behavior in HR practices. The ability of people to act in line with their attitudes depends on the strength of the constraints in the social situation and the broader context ( Lewin, 1935 , 1951 ). Thus, if organizational structures, processes, and practices clearly communicate the importance of gender equality then the discriminatory behavior of sexist organizational decision makers should be constrained. Accordingly, organizations should take steps to mitigate institutional discrimination by focusing on organizational structures, processes, and practices rather than focusing solely on reducing sexism in individual employees.

Our model does not consider how women’s occupational status is affected by their preferences for gender-role-consistent careers and their childcare and family responsibilities, which perhaps should not be underestimated (e.g., Manne, 2001 ; Hakim, 2006 ; Ceci et al., 2009 ). In other words, lifestyle preferences could contribute to gender differences in the workplace. However, it is important to consider how women’s agency in choosing occupations and managing work-life demands is constrained. Gender imbalances (e.g., in pay) in the workplace (e.g., Moss-Racusin et al., 2012 ; Sheltzer and Smith, 2014 ) and gender imbalances in the home (e.g., in domestic labor, childcare; Bianchi, 2000 ; Bianchi et al., 2000 ) shape the decisions that couples (when they consist of a woman and a man) make about how to manage dual careers. For instance, research has uncovered that women with professional degrees leave the labor force at roughly three times the rate of men ( Baker, 2002 ). Women’s decisions to interrupt their careers were difficult and were based on factors, such as workplace inflexibility, and their husbands’ lack of domestic responsibilities, rather than a preference to stay at home with their children ( Stone and Lovejoy, 2004 ). Thus, both factors inside and outside the workplace constrain and shape women’s career decisions.

Our model is derived largely from research that has been conducted in male-dominated organizations; however, we speculate that it should hold for female-dominated organizations. There is evidence that tokenism does not work against men in terms of their promotion potential in female-dominated environments. Rather, there is some evidence for a glass-escalator effect for men in female-dominated fields, such as nursing, and social work ( Williams, 1992 ). In addition, regardless of the gender composition of the workplace, men are advantaged, compared with women in terms of earnings and wage growth ( Budig, 2002 ). Finally, even in female-dominated professions, segregation along gender lines occurs in organizational structure ( Snyder and Green, 2008 ). Thus, the literature suggests that our model should hold for female-dominated environments.

Some might question if our model assumes that organizational decision makers enacting HR practices are men. It does not. There is evidence that decision makers who are women also discriminate against women (e.g., the Queen Bee phenomenon; Ellemers et al., 2004 ). Further, although men are higher in hostile sexism, compared with women ( Glick et al., 1997 , 2000 ), they are not necessarily higher in benevolent sexism ( Glick et al., 2000 ). More importantly, the effects of hostile and benevolent sexism are not moderated by participant gender ( Masser and Abrams, 2004 ; Salvaggio et al., 2009 ; Good and Rudman, 2010 ). Thus, those who are higher in hostile or benevolent sexism respond in a more discriminatory manner, regardless of whether they are men or women. Thus, organizational decision makers, regardless of their sex, should discriminate more against women in HR practices when they are higher in hostile or benevolent sexism.

In future work, the consequences of our model for women discriminated against in HR practices should be considered. The negative ramifications of sexism and discrimination on women are well known: physical and psychological stress, worse physical health (e.g., high blood pressure, ulcers, anxiety, depression; Goldenhar et al., 1998 ); lower job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and attachment to work ( Murrell et al., 1995 ; Hicks-Clarke and Iles, 2000 ); lower feelings of power and prestige ( Gutek et al., 1996 ); and performance decrements through stereotype threat ( Spencer et al., 1999 ). However, how might these processes differ depending on the proximal cause of the discrimination?

Our model lays out two potential paths by which women might be discriminated against in HR practices: institutional discrimination stemming from organizational structures, processes, and practices and personal discrimination stemming from organizational decision makers’ levels of sexism. In order for the potential stressor of stigmatization to lead to psychological and physical stress it must be seen as harmful and self-relevant ( Son Hing, 2012 ). Thus, if institutional discrimination in organizational structures, processes, and practices are completely hidden then discrimination might not cause stress reactions associated with stigmatization because it may be too difficult for women to detect ( Crosby et al., 1986 ; Major, 1994 ), and label as discrimination ( Crosby, 1984 ; Stangor et al., 2003 ). In contrast, women should be adversely affected by stigmatization in instances where gender discrimination in organizational structures, processes, and practices is more evident. For instance, greater perceptions of discrimination are associated with lower self-esteem in longitudinal studies ( Schmitt et al., 2014 ).

It might appear that we have created a model, which is a closed system, with no opportunities to change an organization’s trajectory: more unequal organizations will become more hierarchical, and more equal organizations will become more egalitarian. We do not believe this to be true. One potential impetus for organizations to become more egalitarian may be some great shock such as sex-based discrimination lawsuits that the organization either faces directly or sees its competitors suffer. Large corporations have been forced to settle claims of gender harassment and gender discrimination with payouts upward of $21 million ( Gilbert v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 2004 ; LexisNexis, 2010 ; Velez, et al. v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Crop, et al., 2010 ). Discrimination lawsuits are time consuming and costly ( James and Wooten, 2006 ), resulting in lower shares, lower public perceptions, higher absenteeism, and higher turnover ( Wright et al., 1995 ). Expensive lawsuits experienced either directly or indirectly should act as a big driver in the need for change.

Furthermore, individual women can work to avoid stigmatization. Women in the workplace are not simply passive targets of stereotyping processes. People belonging to stigmatized groups can engage in a variety of anti-stigmatization techniques, but their response options are constrained by the cultural repertoires available to them ( Lamont and Mizrachi, 2012 ). In other words, an organization’s culture will provide its members with a collective imaginary for how to behave. For instance, it might be unimaginable for a woman to file a complaint of sexual harassment if she knows that complaints are never taken seriously. Individuals do negotiate stigmatization processes; however, this is more likely when stigmatization is perceived as illegitimate and when they have the resources to do so ( Major and Schmader, 2001 ). Thus, at an individual level, people engage in strategies to fight being discriminated against but these strategies are likely more constrained for those who are most stigmatized.

Finally, possibly the most efficacious way for organizational members (men and women) to challenge group-based inequality and to improve the status of women as a whole is to engage in collective action (e.g., participate in unions, sign petitions, organize social movements, recruit others to join a movement; Klandermans, 1997 ; Wright and Lubensky, 2009 ). People are most likely to engage in collective action when they perceive group differences as underserved or illegitimate ( Wright, 2001 ). Such a sense of relative deprivation involves feelings of injustice and anger that prompt a desire for wide scale change ( van Zomeren et al., 2008 ). Interestingly, people are more likely to experience relative deprivation when inequalities have begun to be lessened, and thus their legitimacy questioned ( Crosby, 1984 ; Kawakami and Dion, 1993 ; Stangor et al., 2003 ). If organizational leaders respond to such demands for change by altering previously gender oppressive organizational structures, processes, and practices, this can, in people’s minds, open the door for additional changes. Therefore, changes to mitigate gender inequalities within any organizational structure, policy, or practice could start a cascade of transformations leading to a more equal organization for men and women.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


This research was supported by funding from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) awarded to Leanne S. Son Hing.

1 In this study, candidates were identified with initials and participants were asked to indicate the presumed gender of the candidate after evaluating them.

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5 ways to improve gender equality in the workplace


Gender bias can lead to productivity losses of about $2.8 million a year. Image:  Unsplash/Christina @ wocintechchat.com

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gender inequality in the workplace presentation

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Stay up to date:, future of work.

  • Gender in-equity in the workplace can be inherent in recruitment processes, particularly in male-dominated industries.
  • Yet gender bias can lead to productivity losses of about $2.8 million a year, a recent study found.
  • Standardized interviews and skills-based assessments can help address the issue.
  • So can salary transparency and offering flexible working to allow for childcare duties.

Despite efforts to improve gender equality in the workplace, women still earn considerably less than their male colleagues and remain under-represented at senior level. Indeed, the global pay gap between the sexes stood at 50% last year , according to the World Economic Forum.

Yet improving workplace equality also has its benefits for employers. A 1% gender bias effect at a Fortune 500 company that hires 8,000 people a year can lead to productivity losses of about $2.8 million a year , found a recent study from Oregon State University.

Have you read?

The future of jobs report 2023, how to follow the growth summit 2023, growth summit 2023: how can we accelerate economic equity, here are five ways to improve gender equality in the workplace:.

1. Make a longer shortlist when recruiting

Gender inequities can be inherent in informal recruitment processes, particularly in male-dominated industries.

To address this, recruiters should make their informal shortlist longer, suggest researchers writing in the Harvard Business Review . Adding an additional three candidates to an initial shortlist of three saw the women-to-men ratio rise from 1:6 on the original list, to 1:4 on the extended one, their study showed.


2. Remove the gender pay gap

The gender pay gap measures the difference in average earnings between male and female employees. In 2020, women worldwide earned 81 cents for every US dollar earned by men , according to Statista. While this has improved over the years – up from 74 cents in 2015 – more work is needed, particularly as women are still less likely to negotiate their salary.

Employers can promote gender equality in the workplace by being transparent about wages, to ensure women aren’t receiving less than men in equivalent roles.

Pay brackets can encourage female applicants and employees to negotiate their wage by giving an indication of reasonable expectations for a particular role.

3. Use skills-based assessments

Employers in the UK are encouraged to use skills-based assessments and structured interviews when recruiting, to reduce the risk of unfair bias.

Asking candidates to perform tasks they would be expected to carry out in the role they are applying for, enables organizations to assess their suitability based on their performance, says a report from the Government Equalities Office. These tasks need to be standardized across all applicants to ensure fairness.

Recruiters are also urged to use structured interviews, where all candidates are asked the same questions in a predetermined order and format. Grading the responses using standardized criteria reduces the risk of unconscious bias, the report says.

4. Have women mentor men

Another way to improve gender equality in the workplace is by letting women mentor men. Mentoring in the workplace can prove invaluable in helping an employee progress their career. The benefits of junior business women having a mentor to help break the barriers they face are well documented.

But specifically having women mentor men could benefit both parties , and society as a whole, by allowing people to learn more about different working and leadership styles, according to research reported on the Social Science Research Network.

“We’re hoping that if we encourage more women mentoring men, maybe we can generate more empathy, more co-operation and just more willingness to see each other as people and to work for everybody’s success,” says study co-author Cindi Schipani, professor of business law at the University of Michigan.

5. Make work-life balance a priority

Improving work-life balance can benefit both men and women.

Insurance company Zurich saw a 16% increase in women applying for jobs after it became the first firm in the UK to advertise all its vacancies with the options of ‘part-time’, ‘job-share’ or ‘flexible working’. It also saw a rise in applications from men.

Gender equality in the workplace also widens considerably after women have children – an issue which can be tackled by shared parental leave policies and enabling working parents to share childcare more equally.

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United Nations Sustainable Development Logo

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. There has been progress over the last decades, but the world is not on track to achieve gender equality by 2030.

Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and therefore also half of its potential. But gender inequality persists everywhere and stagnates social progress. On average, women in the labor market still earn 23 percent less than men globally and women spend about three times as many hours in unpaid domestic and care work as men.

Sexual violence and exploitation, the unequal division of unpaid care and domestic work, and discrimination in public office, all remain huge barriers. All these areas of inequality have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic: there has been a surge in reports of sexual violence, women have taken on more care work due to school closures, and 70% of health and social workers globally are women.

At the current rate, it will take an estimated 300 years to end child marriage, 286 years to close gaps in legal protection and remove discriminatory laws, 140 years for women to be represented equally in positions of power and leadership in the workplace, and 47 years to achieve equal representation in national parliaments.

Political leadership, investments and comprehensive policy reforms are needed to dismantle systemic barriers to achieving Goal 5 Gender equality is a cross-cutting objective and must be a key focus of national policies, budgets and institutions.

How much progress have we made?

International commitments to advance gender equality have brought about improvements in some areas: child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) have declined in recent years, and women’s representation in the political arena is higher than ever before. But the promise of a world in which every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality, and where all legal, social and economic barriers to their empowerment have been removed, remains unfulfilled. In fact, that goal is probably even more distant than before, since women and girls are being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Are they any other gender-related challenges?

Yes. Worldwide, nearly half of married women lack decision-making power over their sexual and reproductive health and rights. 35 per cent of women between 15-49 years of age have experienced physical and/ or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence.1 in 3 girls aged 15-19 have experienced some form of female genital mutilation/cutting in the 30 countries in Africa and the Middle East, where the harmful practice is most common with a high risk of prolonged bleeding, infection (including HIV), childbirth complications, infertility and death.

This type of violence doesn’t just harm individual women and girls; it also undermines their overall quality of life and hinders their active involvement in society.

Why should gender equality matter to me?

Regardless of where you live in, gender equality is a fundamental human right. Advancing gender equality is critical to all areas of a healthy society, from reducing poverty to promoting the health, education, protection and the well-being of girls and boys.

What can we do?

If you are a girl, you can stay in school, help empower your female classmates to do the same and fight for your right to access sexual and reproductive health services. If you are a woman, you can address unconscious biases and implicit associations that form an unintended and often an invisible barrier to equal opportunity.

If you are a man or a boy, you can work alongside women and girls to achieve gender equality and embrace healthy, respectful relationships.

You can fund education campaigns to curb cultural practices like female genital mutilation and change harmful laws that limit the rights of women and girls and prevent them from achieving their full potential.

The Spotlight Initiative is an EU/UN partnership, and a global, multi-year initiative focused on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls – the world’s largest targeted effort to end all forms of violence against women and girls.

gender inequality in the workplace presentation

Facts and figures

Goal 5 targets.

  • With only seven years remaining, a mere 15.4 per cent of Goal 5 indicators with data are “on track”, 61.5 per cent are at a moderate distance and 23.1 per cent are far or very far off track from 2030 targets.
  • In many areas, progress has been too slow. At the current rate, it will take an estimated 300 years to end child marriage, 286 years to close gaps in legal protection and remove discriminatory laws, 140 years for women to be represented equally in positions of power and leadership in the workplace, and 47 years to achieve equal representation in national parliaments.
  • Political leadership, investments and comprehensive policy reforms are needed to dismantle systemic barriers to achieving Goal 5. Gender equality is a cross-cutting objective and must be a key focus of national policies, budgets and institutions.
  • Around 2.4 billion women of working age are not afforded equal economic opportunity. Nearly 2.4 Billion Women Globally Don’t Have Same Economic Rights as Men  
  • 178 countries maintain legal barriers that prevent women’s full economic participation. Nearly 2.4 Billion Women Globally Don’t Have Same Economic Rights as Men
  • In 2019, one in five women, aged 20-24 years, were married before the age of 18. Girls | UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children

Source: The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2023

5.1 End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere

5.2 Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation

5.3 Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation

5.4 Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate

5.5 Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decisionmaking in political, economic and public life

5.6 Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences

5.A  Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws

5.B Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women

5.C Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels

He for She campaign

United Secretary-General Campaign UNiTE to End Violence Against Women

Every Woman Every Child Initiative

Spotlight Initiative

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

UN Population Fund: Gender equality

UN Population Fund: Female genital mutilation

UN Population Fund: Child marriage

UN Population Fund: Engaging men & boys

UN Population Fund: Gender-based violence

World Health Organization (WHO)

UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)

UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Gender Statistics

Fast Facts: Gender Equality

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Infographic: Gender Equality

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The Initiative is so named as it brings focused attention to this issue, moving it into the spotlight and placing it at the centre of efforts to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

An initial investment in the order of EUR 500 million will be made, with the EU as the main contributor. Other donors and partners will be invited to join the Initiative to broaden its reach and scope. The modality for the delivery will be a UN multi- stakeholder trust fund, administered by the Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office, with the support of core agencies UNDP, UNFPA and UN Women, and overseen by the Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General.

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Regions & Countries

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The Enduring Grip of the Gender Pay Gap

Table of contents.

The gender pay gap – the difference between the earnings of men and women – has barely closed in the United States in the past two decades. In 2022, American women typically earned 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. That was about the same as in 2002, when they earned 80 cents to the dollar. The slow pace at which the gender pay gap has narrowed this century contrasts sharply with the progress in the preceding two decades: In 1982, women earned just 65 cents to each dollar earned by men.

Line chart showing gender pay gap narrowed in the 1980s and ’90s, but progress has stalled since

There is no single explanation for why progress toward narrowing the pay gap has all but stalled in the 21st century. Women generally begin their careers closer to wage parity with men, but they lose ground as they age and progress through their work lives, a pattern that has remained consistent over time. The pay gap persists even though women today are more likely than men to have graduated from college. In fact, the pay gap between college-educated women and men is not any narrower than the one between women and men who do not have a college degree. This points to the dominant role of other factors that still set women back or give men an advantage.

One of these factors is parenthood. Mothers ages 25 to 44 are less likely to be in the labor force than women of the same age who do not have children at home, and they tend to work fewer hours each week when employed. This can reduce the earnings of some mothers, although evidence suggests the effect is either modest overall or short-lived for many. On the other hand, fathers are more likely to be in the labor force – and to work more hours each week – than men without children at home. This is linked to an increase in the pay of fathers – a phenomenon referred to as the “ fatherhood wage premium ” – and tends to widen the gender pay gap.

Related: Gender pay gap in U.S. hasn’t changed much in two decades

Family needs can also influence the types of jobs women and men pursue , contributing to gender segregation across occupations. Differential treatment of women, including gender stereotypes and discrimination , may also play a role. And the gender wage gap varies widely by race and ethnicity.

Pew Research Center conducted this study to better understand how women’s pay compared with men’s pay in the U.S. in the economic aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak .

The study is based on the analysis of monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) data from January 1982 to December 2022 monthly files ( IPUMS ). The CPS is the U.S. government’s official source for monthly estimates of unemployment . For a quarter of the sample each month, the CPS also records data on usual hourly earnings for hourly workers and usual weekly earnings and hours worked for other workers. In this report, monthly CPS files were combined to create annual files to boost sample sizes and to analyze the gender pay gap in greater detail.

The comparison between women’s and men’s pay is based on their median hourly earnings. For workers who are not hourly workers, hourly earnings were computed as the ratio of usual weekly earnings to usual weekly hours worked. The samples include employed workers ages 16 and older with positive earnings, working full time or part time, including those for whom earnings were imputed by the Census Bureau . Self-employed workers are excluded because their earnings are not recorded in the CPS.

The COVID-19 outbreak affected data collection efforts by the U.S. government in its surveys, especially in 2020 and 2021, limiting in-person data collection and affecting the response rate. It is possible that some measures of economic outcomes and how they vary across demographic groups are affected by these changes in data collection.

“Mothers” and “fathers” refer to women and men 16 and older who have an own child younger than 18 living in the household.

The U.S. labor force, used interchangeably with the workforce in this analysis, consists of people 16 and older who are either employed or actively looking for work.

White, Black and Asian workers include those who report being only one race and who are not Hispanic. Hispanics are of any race. Asian workers include Pacific Islanders. Other racial and ethnic groups are included in all totals but are not shown separately.

“High school graduate” refers to those who have a high school diploma or its equivalent, such as a General Education Development (GED) certificate, and those who had completed 12th grade, but their diploma status was unclear (those who had finished 12th grade but not received a diploma are excluded). “Some college” include workers with an associate degree and those who attended college but did not obtain a degree.

How the gender pay gap increases with age

Younger women – those ages 25 to 34 and early in their work lives – have edged closer to wage parity with men in recent years. Starting in 2007, their earnings have consistently stood at about 90 cents to the dollar or more compared with men of the same age. But even as pay parity might appear in reach for women at the start of their careers, the wage gap tends to increase as they age.

Line chart showing as women age, their pay relative to the pay of men of the same age decreases

Consider, for example, women who were ages 25 to 34 in 2010. In that year, they earned 92% as much as men their age, compared with 83% for women overall. But by 2022, this group of women, now ages 37 to 46, earned only 84% as much as men of the same age. This pattern repeats itself for groups of women who were ages 25 to 34 in earlier years – say, 2005 or 2000 – and it may well be the future for women entering the workforce now.

Dot plot showing women’s pay relative to men’s drops most sharply around ages 35 to 44

A good share of the increase in the gender pay gap takes place when women are between the ages of 35 and 44. In 2022, women ages 25 to 34 earned about 92% as much as men of the same ages, but women ages 35 to 44 and 45 to 54 earned 83% as much. The ratio dropped to 79% among those ages 55 to 64. This general pattern has not changed in at least four decades.

The increase in the pay gap coincides with the age at which women are more likely to have children under 18 at home. In 2022, 40% of employed women ages 25 to 34 had at least one child at home. The same was true for 66% of women ages 35 to 44 but for fewer – 39% – among women ages 45 to 54. Only 6% of employed women ages 55 to 64 had children at home in 2022.

Similarly, the share of employed men with children at home peaks between the ages of 35 to 44, standing at 58% in 2022. This is also when fathers tend to receive higher pay, even as the pay of employed mothers in same age group is unaffected.

Mothers with children at home tend to be less engaged with the workplace, while fathers are more active

Parenthood leads some women to put their careers on hold, whether by choice or necessity, but it has the opposite effect among men. In 2022, 70% of mothers ages 25 to 34 had a job or were looking for one, compared with 84% of women of the same age without children at home. This amounted to the withdrawal of 1.4 million younger mothers from the workforce. Moreover, when they are employed, younger mothers tend to put in a shorter workweek – by two hours per week, on average – than other women their age. Reduced engagement with the workplace among younger mothers is also a long-running phenomenon.

Dot plot showing younger mothers are less active in the workplace than women without kids at home; fathers are more active

Fathers, however, are more likely to hold a job or be looking for one than men who don’t have children at home, and this is true throughout the prime of their working years , from ages 25 to 54. Among those who do have a job, fathers also work a bit more each week, on average, than men who do not have children at home.

Dot plit showing mothers work fewer hours at jobs than women without kids at home; fathers work more

As a result, the gender gap in workplace activity is greater among those who have children at home than among those who do not. For example, among those ages 35 to 44, 94% of fathers are active in the workforce, compared with 75% of mothers – a gap of 19 percentage points. But among those with no children at home in this age group, 84% of men and 78% of women are active in the workforce – a gap of 6 points.

These patterns contribute to the gap in workplace activity between men and women overall. As of 2022, 68% of men ages 16 and older – with or without children at home – are either employed or seeking employment. That compares with 57% of women, a difference of 11 percentage points. This gap was as wide as 24 points in 1982, but it narrowed to 14 points by 2002. Men overall also worked about three hours more per week at a job than women in 2022, on average, down from a gap of about six hours per week in 1982.

Employed mothers earn about the same as similarly educated women without children at home; both groups earn less than fathers

Parenthood affects the hourly earnings of employed women and men in unexpected ways. While employed mothers overall appear to earn less than employed women without children at home, the gap is driven mainly by differences in educational attainment between the two groups. Among women with similar levels of education, there is little gap in the earnings of mothers and non-mothers. However, fathers earn more than other workers, including other men without children at home, regardless of education level. This phenomenon – known as the fatherhood wage premium – is one of the main ways that parenthood affects the gender pay gap among employed workers.

gender inequality in the workplace presentation

Among employed men and women, the impact of parenting is felt most among those ages 25 to 54, when they are most likely to have children under 18 at home. In 2022, mothers ages 25 to 34 earned 85% as much as fathers that age, but women without children at home earned 97% as much as fathers. In contrast, employed women ages 35 to 44 – with or without children – both earned about 80% as much as fathers. The table turns for women ages 45 to 54, with mothers earning more than women with no children at home. Among those ages 35 to 44 or 45 to 54, men without children earned only 84% as much as fathers.

Bar chart showing others earn about as much as women with no children at home who have the same level of education

When the earnings of mothers are compared with those of women without children at home who have the same level of education, the differences either narrow or go away. Among employed women ages 25 to 34 with at least a bachelor’s degree, both mothers and women without children at home earned 80% as much as fathers in 2022. Among women ages 25 to 34 with a high school diploma and no further education, mothers earned 79% as much as fathers and women with no children at home earned 84% as much. The narrowing of the gap in earnings of mothers and women without children at home after controlling for education level also extends to other age groups.

Thus, among the employed, the effect of parenthood on the gender pay gap does not seem to be driven by a decrease in mothers’ earnings relative to women without children at home. Instead, the widening of the pay gap with parenthood appears to be driven more by an increase in the earnings of fathers. Fathers ages 25 to 54 not only earn more than mothers the same age, they also earn more than men with no children at home. Nonetheless, men without children at home still earn more than women with or without children at home.

Although there is little gap in the earnings of employed mothers and women with no children at home who have the same level of education, there is a lingering gap in workplace engagement between the two groups. Whether they had at least a bachelor’s degree or were high school graduates, mothers ages 25 to 34 are less likely to hold a job or be looking for one. Similarly, younger mothers on average work fewer hours than women without children at home each week, regardless of their education level. The opposite is true for fathers compared with men without children at home.

Progress in closing the gender pay gap has slowed despite gains in women’s education

Line chart showing women are more likely than men to hold at least a bachelor’s degree

The share of women with at least a bachelor’s degree has increased steadily since 1982 – and faster than among men. In 1982, 20% of employed women ages 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education, compared with 26% of employed men. By 2022, 48% of employed women had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 41% of men. Still, women did not see the pay gap close to the same extent from 2002 to 2022 as they did from 1982 to 2002.

In part, this may be linked to how the gains from going to college have changed in recent decades, for women and men alike. The college wage premium – the boost in earnings workers get from a college degree – increased rapidly during the 1980s. But the rise in the premium slowed down over time and came to a halt around 2010. This likely reduced the relative growth in the earnings of women.

Dot plot showing women with a bachelor’s degree face about the same pay gap as other women

Although gains in education have raised the average earnings of women and have narrowed the gender pay gap overall, college-educated women are no closer to wage parity with their male counterparts than other women. In 2022, women with at least a bachelor’s degree earned 79% as much as men who were college graduates, and women who were high school graduates earned 81% as much as men with the same level of education. This underscores the challenges faced by women of all education levels in closing the pay gap.

Notably, the gender wage gap has closed more among workers without a four-year college degree than among those who do have a bachelor’s degree or more education. For example, the wage gap for women without a high school diploma narrowed from 62% in 1982 to 83% in 2022 relative to men at the same education level. But it closed only from 69% to 79% among bachelor’s degree holders over the same period. This is because only men with at least a bachelor’s degree experienced positive wage growth from 1982 to 2022; all other men saw their real wages decrease. Meanwhile, the real earnings of women increased regardless of their level of education.

Dot plot showing women and men tend to work in different occupations, but some differences have narrowed since 1982

As women have improved their level of education in recent decades, they’ve also increased their share of employment in higher-paying occupations, such as managerial, business and finance, legal, and computer, science and engineering (STEM) occupations. In 1982, women accounted for only 26% of employment in managerial occupations. By 2022, their share had risen to 40%. Women also substantially increased their presence in social, arts and media occupations. Over the same period, the shares of women in several lower-paying fields, such as administrative support jobs and food preparation and serving occupations, fell significantly.

Even so, women are still underrepresented in managerial and STEM occupations – along with construction, repair and production, and transportation occupations – when compared with their share of employment overall. And there has been virtually no change in the degree to which women are over represented in education, health care, and personal care and services occupations – the last of which are lower paying than the average across all occupations. The distribution of women and men across occupations remains one of the drivers of the gender pay gap . But the degree to which this distribution is the result of personal choices or gender stereotypes is not entirely clear.

Gender pay gap differs widely by race and ethnicity

Looking across racial and ethnic groups, a wide gulf separates the earnings of Black and Hispanic women from the earnings of White men. 3 In 2022, Black women earned 70% as much as White men and Hispanic women earned only 65% as much. The ratio for White women stood at 83%, about the same as the earnings gap overall, while Asian women were closer to parity with White men, making 93% as much.

Dot plot showing Black and Hispanic women experience the largest gender wage gap

The pay gap narrowed for all groups of women from 1982 to 2022, but more so for White women than for Black and Hispanic women. The earnings gap for Asian women narrowed by about 17 percentage points from 2002 to 2022, but data for this group is not available for 1982.

To some extent, the gender wage gap varies by race and ethnicity because of differences in education, experience, occupation and other factors that drive the gender wage gap for women overall. But researchers have uncovered new evidence of hiring discrimination against various racial and ethnic groups, along with discrimination against other groups, such as LGBTQ and disabled workers. Discrimination in hiring may feed into differences in earnings by shutting out workers from opportunities.

Broader economic forces may impact men’s and women’s earnings in different ways

Changes in the gender pay gap are also shaped by economic factors that sometimes drive men’s and women’s earnings in distinctive ways. Because men and women tend to work in different types of jobs and industries, their earnings may respond differently to external pressures.

Line chart showing the growth in women’s earnings has slowed in the past two decades

More specifically, men’s earnings essentially didn’t change from 1982 to 2002. Potential reasons for that include a more rapid decline in union membership among men, a shift away from jobs calling for more physical skills, and global competition that sharply reduced employment in manufacturing in the 1980s. At the same time, women’s earnings increased substantially as they raised their level of education and shifted toward higher-paying occupations.

But in some ways, the economic climate has proved less favorable for women this century. For reasons that are not entirely clear, women’s employment was slower to recover from the Great Recession of 2007-2009. More recently, the COVID-19 recession took on the moniker “ she-cession ” because of the pressure on jobs disproportionately held by women . Amid a broader slowdown in earnings growth from 2000 to 2015, the increase in women’s earnings from 2002 to 2022 was not much greater than the increase in men’s earnings, limiting the closure in the gender pay gap over the period.

What’s next for the gender pay gap?

Higher education, a shift to higher-paying occupations and more labor market experience have helped women narrow the gender pay gap since 1982. But even as women have continued to outpace men in educational attainment, the pay gap has been stuck in a holding pattern since 2002, ranging from 80 to 85 cents to the dollar.

More sustained progress in closing the pay gap may depend on deeper changes in societal and cultural norms and in workplace flexibility that affect how men and women balance their careers and family lives . Even in countries that have taken the lead in implementing family-friendly policies, such as Denmark, parenthood continues to drive a significant wedge in the earnings of men and women. New research suggests that family-friendly policies in the U.S. may be keeping the pay gap from closing. Gender stereotypes and discrimination, though difficult to quantify, also appear to be among the “last-mile” hurdles impeding further progress.

gender inequality in the workplace presentation

What is the gender wage gap in your metropolitan area? Find out with our pay gap calculator

  • It is also worth noting that even if the hourly earnings of mothers are not affected, their weekly or annual pay is reduced in line with the reduction in the hours worked. ↩
  • In part, this is because the age of women at first birth varies by educational attainment . Motherhood among women with a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education occurs at an older age than among women without a bachelor’s degree. ↩
  • Although Asian men earned about 24% more than White men at the median in 2022, comparisons in this section are drawn with reference to White men. In 2022, White men accounted for about one-third of total employment in the U.S., compared with about 3% for Asian men. ↩

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  • Iris Bohnet,
  • Oliver Hauser

gender inequality in the workplace presentation

Learn from companies like Unilever on how to make progress.

It’s common for organizations to have gender parity or close to it in entry-level roles, only to see the percentage of women employees decrease as you get closer to the top. A deeper dive into the data reveals that the drop-off of women is primarily driven by gender disparities in promotion rates, not gender differences in hiring or retention. To address this challenge, the authors have identified a simple and straightforward concept: the gender proportionality principle (GPP), which stipulates that a given level in an organization should aim to reflect the gender composition of the level immediately below it. They have worked with several organizations that report that the GPP has helped achieve sustainable and predictable improvement in gender equity across ranks.

Consider the following scenario: A company’s entry-level workforce is approximately half women and half men, but the proportion of women drops slightly at every level. Only about 38% of managers are women, then 33% of directors, 28% of senior vice presidents, and 21% of C-suite executives. A deeper dive into the data reveals that the drop-off of women is primarily driven by gender disparities in promotion rates, not gender differences in hiring or retention.

gender inequality in the workplace presentation

  • Siri Chilazi is a research fellow at the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School, where she studies gender equality in the workplace. Her work focuses on de-biasing organizational processes and structures through behavioral design. She is the co-author, with Iris Bohnet, of a forthcoming book on the topic.
  • Iris Bohnet is the Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government, co-director of the Women and Public Policy Program and the Academic Dean at Harvard Kennedy School. She is the author of the award-winning book What Works: Gender Equality by Design .
  • Oliver Hauser is a professor of economics at the University of Exeter and a faculty affiliate at Harvard University. His research studies how corporates, nonprofits, and governments can become more sustainable, cooperative, inclusive, and productive workplaces for employees, managers, and executive leaders.

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Combating Gender Inequality Workshop

Combating gender inequality workshop presentation, free google slides theme and powerpoint template.

Increase awareness and foster progress with this presentation template for workshops. The simple yet eye-catching composition is perfect for capturing attention, while the thought-provoking slides and relevant facts you can add, can make it easy to communicate your message. Educate and inspire people to take action against gender-based discrimination thanks to this design.

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gender inequality and discrimination in the workplace

Gender Inequality and Discrimination In The Workplace

Apr 05, 2019

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Gender Inequality and Discrimination In The Workplace. Summary. Although there are regulations within the workplace there is still discrimination Women are facing discrimination in their income, unemployment and occupational distribution Women’s salaries average only 72-88% to men’s salaries

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Summary • Although there are regulations within the workplace there is still discrimination • Women are facing discrimination in their income, unemployment and occupational distribution • Women’s salaries average only 72-88% to men’s salaries • The ratio of women’s median annual earnings to men’s only rose from 60.7 in 1960 to 77.8 in 2008

Earnings Comparison In 2006 the median weekly earnings of full time working women was $600 a week compared to $743 for men In management jobs was $840 per week compared to $1,154 for men In the recent 2008 women’s median weekly earnings were 79.9% of men

Why women still make less than men? • Compensation differences appear to be tied to perceptions, availability and fields genders specialize into • Women are more represented in clerical and services occupations while men are concentrated in craft and laborer jobs • Men can travel easier than women due to family obligations • Men with children appear to get an earnings boost whereas women lose earnings (GAO Statistics) • Women on average have fewer years of work experience

Citations • http/findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2294/is_n1-v38/ai_20816289/bnet (Trentham Susan, Larwoud Laurie. A Journal research.Jan.1998). • http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-151662677.html (Fast sheet series. October 1, 2004). • Catalyst Inc: Published March 2009 Women’s Earnings and income. • http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/1997/04/art2full.pdf (Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wooton Barbara. April 1997. • TED: The Editor’s Desk. October 29, 2008. http://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2008/oct/wk4/art03.htm • http://usgovinfo.about.com/cs/census statistic/a/womenspay.htm (Why women still make less than men? Longley Robert).

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Discovery Vanderbilt Sends Research Soaring

Drone footage of Vanderbilt campus

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Apr 15, 2024, 12:33 PM

On October 17, 2022, Vanderbilt University launched “ Discovery Vanderbilt ” to embolden faculty, students and staff to pursue innovative ideas through disciplined, rigorous inquiry. Led by Provost Cybele Raver, the university committed $80 million in the effort—and invested $50 million in the first year alone.

“Our faculty members love to take on a grand challenge, to swing with a ‘big bat,’ and it’s so exciting to see them deliver,” Raver said. “As an institution, we are investing millions so that our best minds can truly dare as they take on those big questions, carving new paths of exploration, discovery and innovation.”

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The Vanderbilt community responded, using Discovery Vanderbilt investments to advance knowledge and innovation in artificial intelligence, drug discovery, health equity and more. Discovery Vanderbilt money also improved buildings, labs and infrastructure, recruited faculty, educated lawmakers and launched startup businesses.


It has been 546 days since the launch of Discovery Vanderbilt. In that brief time, Vanderbilt faculty built and launched multiple centers and institutes, including:

  • Vanderbilt Center for Addiction Research , which conducts “frontier research” to understand how the brain controls behavior and illuminate how it changes with addiction.
  • Warren Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery, which aims to translate advances in basic science to new treatments by “de-risking” innovative approaches for the treatment of serious brain disorders.
  • Vanderbilt Center for Research on Inequality and Health , which studies the health impact of economic and social inequality, population health science, LGBTQ+ health policy and gun violence.

And before 800 days pass, Vanderbilt will have launched even more discovery centers to tackle critical societal issues like sustainability, energy, climate change and artificial intelligence.


“Our accomplishments in the last 546 days clearly demonstrate Vanderbilt’s agility in making strategically timed investments,” Raver said.

Vaccine research at the bench (Vanderbilt University)

Discovery Vanderbilt funds not only helped in the launch of new centers and institutes of research and innovation, it also empowered faculty to explore burgeoning technologies. The emergence of artificial intelligence, for example, has taken the world by storm and many institutions by surprise. Vanderbilt, however, is on the forefront of AI as faculty use it to accelerate and deepen research and enrich students’ learning experience. Vanderbilt is using not only AI to innovate, but also generative AI and a highly advanced iteration of the ChatGPT engine to improve the accuracy, safety and research value of AI for all.

Last year Vanderbilt put this advanced knowledge to work when Professor Ganesh Sitaraman , the New York Alumni Chancellor’s Chair in Law and director of the Vanderbilt Policy Accelerator for Political Economy and Regulation, briefed Congressional staffers on Vanderbilt advancements in artificial intelligence and provided guidance on ethical considerations and policy frameworks that should accompany the rapid advancement of AI technologies.


“At Vanderbilt, we never take our eyes off our mission to bring out the best in humanity, and these funds have been used to tackle some of the world’s greatest problems,” Raver added. “The work of researchers like Erin Calipari, Kitt Carpenter, and Craig Lindsley are making this world a better place.”

Erin Calipari

Erin Calipari , associate professor of pharmacology and associate director of the Vanderbilt Center for Addiction Research, is tackling the opioid crisis by investigating how to characterize and modulate the precise circuits in the brain. VCAR is focused on neurological interventions that could help cut cravings so patients can focus on other contributing factors.

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Kitt Carpenter , the E. Bronson Ingram University Distinguished Professor of Economics and Health Policy, launched the Center for Research on Inequality and Health. The center is a trans-institutional collaboration of the College of Arts and Science and the School of Nursing to study economic and social inequality, population health science, LGBTQ+ health policy and gun violence to identify the health impacts of these interrelated areas of study.

Craig Lindsley, the William K. Warren, Jr. Chair in Medicine and University Professor of Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Chemistry

Craig Lindsley , the William K. Warren, Jr. Chair in Medicine, University Professor of Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Chemistry, and director of Vanderbilt University’s Warren Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery, used Discovery Vanderbilt funds to research new drug treatments to prevent and treat serious brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease. One of the more promising compounds, VU319, which could help slow memory loss accompanying various cognitive diseases, recently went into phase 1 human clinical trials.

The investments in humanity did not stop there. Discovery Vanderbilt launched three faculty-initiated startups:

  • HeroWear makes exosuits to alleviate back strain and injuries for people that do heavy and repetitive lifting. The suits were successfully tested with soldiers at nearby Fort Campbell.
  • IDBiologics develops human monoclonal antibodies for the treatment and prevention of major infectious diseases, including SARS-CoV-2, influenza, respiratory syncytial and Zika viruses.
  • VIRTUOSO invented a robotic surgery system that enables physicians to overcome the limitations of traditional endoscopes and improve the treatment of prostate cancer.


“The discoveries, innovations and lifesaving solutions that were born of Discovery Vanderbilt in the first 546 days have delivered a remarkable return on investment,” Raver said. “Discovery Vanderbilt has proven to be a high-growth research opportunity, and the ROI has been huge. As part of our investment, we provided more resources for faculty to submit for outside research funding, and it paid off. In year one, we saw an 11 percent year-over-year growth in new outside research funding.”

gender inequality in the workplace presentation

Discovery Vanderbilt also invested in commercialization efforts and increased funding to the Center for Technology Transfer and Commercialization . In 2023, the university had another record-breaking year, reaching $96 million in revenue from licensing, which put Vanderbilt in the top six among research institutions in the country.

Finally, investments in student research and innovation have made Vanderbilt one of the nation’s leading universities in the undergraduate educational experience, inside and outside the classroom. After the launch of Discovery Vanderbilt, there was a 26 percent increase in the number of student applications for Immersion Vanderbilt summer research funds and 13 percent increase in presentations to U.S. and international conferences.

The provost’s office is committed to continuing the remarkable work that began in 2022.

“In the coming months and years, we will continue to ‘swing big bats’ and find solutions for some of humanity’s biggest challenges at global, national, state and local levels,” Raver said. “Our work has only begun.”

For more information about Discovery Vanderbilt, check out the Discovery Vanderbilt news archive

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Vanderbilt launches Center for Research on Inequality and Health to study causes and consequences of health-related inequalities

U.S. Cabinet official leads seminar on transgender health and policy

U.S. Cabinet official leads seminar on transgender health and policy

Discovery Vanderbilt invests in three faculty-initiated startups: HeroWear, IDBiologics and Virtuoso

Discovery Vanderbilt invests in three faculty-initiated startups: HeroWear, IDBiologics and Virtuoso

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