How to combat gender inequality in the workplace

Posted at 2:12 PM, Mar 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-06 16:35:49-05

Editors note: This article, authored by Elizabeth Mellem, originally appeared on

Dr. Becky Takeda-Tinker is founding president of the first 100% online state university in the country, Colorado State University-Global Campus. In an interview with CSU-Global, she shares her best advice for battling gender inequality in the workplace.

CSU-Global: How do you see the current professional climate for women?

BTT: Women have progressed but not overall. Unfortunately, women still make 81 cents for every dollar that men earn which puts us at a huge disadvantage institutionally. This is a prime time for women to step up and lead, but don’t be surprised if your initial compensation is not equal to men in similar positions.

CSU-Global: What can women do to move toward pay equality?

BTT: Get out in front of your organization by taking positions with measurable accountability. Data-based achievements that prove your impact are difficult to overlook or undervalue. Highlight what you’re worth based on the norms of the industry you’re in. Be accountable for outcomes that are core to your organization, industry, area of expertise, and or responsibilities. Make your success undeniable.

CSU-Global: Why do you think women are still earning less than men?

BTT: Cultural norms and expectations have created a perception of women that is not particularly valued in leadership positions. For instance, marriage and parenthood are associated with higher wages for men, but not for women. Whole-self authenticity is generally important to women in the workplace, but that personal aspect of work is not part of corporate environments.

Perceptions can also be powerful as well. Many people suspect that highly effective women must not be very likeable, however, social capital is more necessary to managers’ advancement than skillful performance. When women do earn leadership roles, their accomplishments tend to be more transformational and effective than men’s leadership, which is more transactional or laissez-faire.

CSU-Global: Do you believe the biological differences between men and women have an impact in the workplace?

BTT: Yes, men and women’s brains are wired differently. Typically, women have larger areas in the brain that control seat of reason, your sense of “gut feelings,” and worry. Women also have a larger region of the brain that leads to greater ability to multi-task and see “big picture” connections. I believe women are biologically equipped to lead.

Despite these attributes being absolutely necessary in the workplace, generally more masculine traits like aggression, imposing rules, following orders, and wanting to be the best, or winning, are valued more highly in leadership roles.

CSU-Global: What advice would you give women who want to become leaders in their career?

BTT: Find your voice and share it. Figure out what you’re passionate about and align that passion with your profession. If you’re already in a position, identify the aspects of your role that you enjoy most. From passion comes vision, and vision is necessary for leadership.

To become a leader you need to put a stake in the ground and make your vision heard. You can’t lead if you don’t have followers, so make your vision something that people can get behind. Organize your followers and lead with the intention of making your vision a reality.

Be prepared to work more than “really hard.” Hopefully you get the attention of your organization’s leaders and industry stakeholders so you have to make your vision work. Like I said earlier, make your value undeniable.

CSU-Global: Is there a “good time” for women to be promoted?

BTT: Research shows that women are more often promoted into leadership when the deck is stacked against them. Crisis situations do not favor the stereotypical male traits of being competitive and uncompromising, so it’s a good time to step up.

Capitalize on your ability to adapt and be flexible, multi-task, create and foster relationships, and look at the big picture. Channel your masculine side and jump in without hesitation. Sure, you may need to give more than 100%, but the investment could pay off if you’re successful in executing your vision.

Focus your energy on what you want to achieve and know that in order to reach your goals you may need more than vision. Do you have the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) to reach your desired level? Do you have the requisite experience? If not, you could get passed up for a more qualified candidate or co-worker.

CSU-Global: Once a woman has earned her way to the top, what do you recommend for being a successful leader?

BTT: Hire the best people who align with your values. Hire slowly using probationary periods or contract-to-hire employees. You want the best people and unfortunately, the way a person claims to work in the interview process may not work out in practice. Quickly remove people who don’t fit the needs of the position and organization.

Trust your gut, act, and make it work. You’ve earned the position you’re in for a reason, have confidence in your ability to make decisions. There’s no such thing as a lost effort, so be open to the pathway that presents itself. When possible, worry less about the little things and lose the battles, but win the war. All in all, our technology-driven world doesn’t slow down, so you and your organization can’t either.

Are you willing to take the risk and dive in? Can you be fully focused on making your vision a reality? If so, the glass ceiling is penetrable and you can break through it if you’re honed and sharpened. There is a lot of opportunity for women at the highest levels of leadership – the time is now.


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