Female Empowerment in the Workplace

  • Brace
  • November 29, 2018
  • 10 min

Women hold revolutionary potential for the workplace. Their insights power new ideas, and their perspectives build strong, profitable companies. But despite this, women are still underrepresented in the workforce. It’s no wonder that interest in female empowerment and women’s advancement are at an all-time high. Read on to find out more about the state of women in the workplace, ideas for improvement, and key takeaways to build and benefit from gender equality in the work world.

The Female Factor: Empirical Bottom Line Benefits

It’s no stretch to state that everybody deserves equal chances and treatment. Luckily, making this a reality comes not only with moral advantages, but financial ones. Equal representation of women as leaders and workers brings many new capabilities to the workplace to drive profits and productivity.

The advantages of gender equality include…

  • More profitable teams. A Mckinsey study observed that gender-diverse leadership units show 3.5% greater earnings for every 10% increase in diversity, while better gender representation in the workforce drives 15% better profits and performance.
  • More specialized knowledge. The same study shows that women comprise 35% of bachelor and 33% of master graduates, yet only represent 17% of executive teams. That’s a lot of training and knowledge being left out that could be used to grow and advance companies across the board.
  • More GDP growth. Citigroup, in its economic study of women’s empowerment, puts the most conservative estimate of achievable GDP growth through gender equality at an impressive 6%. The high end of this estimate is an incredible 20% growth, driven by better participation and inclusion of women in the workforce.

The State of the Workplace for Women

Making inroads toward equal participation, representation, and treatment is not an easy path. There are many challenges and roadblocks in the workplace that hinder women’s advancement and participation. Hiring practices have not kept up with equality goals, leaving the percentage of women in the workforce lagging significantly behind male participation, while advancement opportunities still leave women out of executive teams. Women also face the misconception that they are less competent leaders, which impacts their treatment at work and beyond.

Complicating this further is the perception of women and their connection to housework. According to UN studies, even as more women have earned their way into the workforce, they are still disproportionately grouped into the care sector, while at home, women are still 2.6x more likely to do unpaid housework. All of these factors complicate the creation of a stable and successful work-life for women, and lead 80% of women to feel that they are underrepresented in leadership; a feeling that the statistics support:

Women’s Workplace Statistics

Role % Women
Labor Force Participation 63% (vs. 94% for men)


Care Industry Employment 75%


Executive Level Representation 16%


Fortune 500 Executive Representation 4.6%


Pay Gap (Median, US, varies by industry/role) 18.2%


Estimated Parity Date 2085

Double Jeopardy: Challenges of Race and Gender

As complicated as the workplace landscape is for women’s advancement and success, other factors make this even harder. For women of color, the road to success has a few extra rocks strewn on top, evidenced by the total lack of black women executives in Fortune 500 companies. In interviews conducted by the Harvard Business Review, some common experiences emerged for women of color in the workplace:

  • Both work and personal aspects are judged.
    Respondents felt that they had to play a certain role and adapt to the dominant work culture to be effective and respected. This split personality of work-self and real-self means extra stress, and often disengagement, as other coworkers don’t understand the perspective or experiences that women of color express.
  • Judgments are harsher and accomplishments overlooked.
    For women in management, there are already negative assumptions about leadership abilities that they must confront. For women of color, this is magnified. In a study by Harvard, black women were perceived as the least effective leaders and received harsher judgment than white men, white women, and black men. Women of color are also less likely to have their success remembered or their suggestions attributed to them.
  • Lack of support and mentoring
    Sponsorship is often necessary to succeed and advance, and in the interviews, it was a common experience that this wasn’t as available to women of color. Managers and mentors often advise against being too outspoken, while the feeling that one has to blend in makes connecting with coworkers and the path up the ladder more difficult.

Promoting Female Empowerment in the Workplace

Every employee has something special to offer. It’s important for companies and their success that women also have an equal chance, voice, and conditions with which to contribute their full talents. Below are 5 first steps companies and leaders can take to create a welcoming, engaged, effective, and productive workplace for everyone.

  1. Women are people, too, and should be treated as such. A good first step is to offer female employees the same treatment as anyone else. This includes advising, feedback, and information about networking and advancement opportunities. A fair workplace is not about special treatment, but about equal chances.
  2. Equal pay for equal work. It should go without saying that everyone who does a job should make equal wages. Unfortunately, this is still not the case. A great step to make an equal workplace is to ensure that female employees are paid the same as any male colleague for comparable jobs, talent, and efforts.
  3. Facilitate collaborating and mentoring. Teams learn and grow together, and great leaders can arise from these interactions. Bring women fully into the team by encouraging an environment in which female talent, like all talent, is developed, respected, and integrated into the workplace.
  4. Promote female leaders and diversify management. Having talented women in the leadership team not only provides new insights and strategies, but gives all other female employees a goal. Diverse leaders confirm that everyone in a company has the chance to grow and succeed.
  5. Build a fair parental leave program. Not just women take care of children. A great parental compensation plan allows for men and women to take care of parental duties, while also facilitating the return to work. This promotes women’s advancement by no longer requiring women to sacrifice their careers for motherhood, and allows companies to keep great, experienced talent that encourages growth and success.

Doing It Yourself: Workplace Empowerment Steps for Women

Unfortunately, workplace hindrances for women are not just a one-way street. Along with workplace structures, personal and learned beliefs and behaviors also hold many women back. These include being afraid of failure, hesitance to follow dreams or start a family, or having a feeling of inferiority. To take on these issues, it’s sometimes better just to take matters into your own hands.

Personal changes to improve the workplace:

  • Trust in yourself and your instincts. Women are every bit as knowledgeable and capable as male coworkers. Don’t doubt your capabilities based on gender assumptions.
  • Be true to yourself. Women in the workforce can have many various desires and needs. If you want a family, start one. If you feel more comfortable in pants, wear them. Don’t let preconceived notions force you to be someone else in the workplace.
  • Don’t fear mistakes. To be human is to err and women have as much right to make mistakes and learn from them as anyone else. Remember that people develop through learning and doing, which means sometimes not being perfect. And that’s OK.

Key Takeaways

  • Gender diverse workforces and leadership leads to better profits and decisions.
  • Women still lag behind in pay, executive representation, and labor force participation.
  • Not all women’s experiences are the same, with women of color facing still extra hurdles to workplace success and advancement.
  • Achieving better women’s advancement and status in companies requires structural change, as well as altering individual ways of thinking and acting.
  • Mentoring and feedback give women an active voice in the workforce and allow companies to learn what female employees need and to develop top female talent.

Listen, Learn, Improve

Every woman has a different story to tell, and it’s important for the workplace and engagement that she is heard. Digital feedback tools like kununu engage facilitate regular, anonymous feedback, so women in the workplace can express their experiences, and also provide space for safe discussion and comments, allowing employers to learn what is missing or needed. Open channels of communication and active participation bring workplaces together and make them open and productive for all.

Learn more about kununu engage and start learning what your whole team needs to succeed.

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kununu engage is an application that allows you and your entire company to share continuous and anonymous feedback about what working in the company is like. This insight and transparency can help a company function better and build a stronger company culture.