We don’t need researchers to tell us we’re getting nowhere fast on this gender equality in the workplace thing: For goodness’ sake, the woman who played Queen Elizabeth on Netflix’s The Crown was paid less money per episode than the supporting actor who portrayed her husband, Prince Philip. In what universe does a queen ever come out second to a prince?!
But, alas, without data to confirm sexism is alive and well, how will we know when we’ve actually made progress, right? (Never mind that women’s stories matter too.)
In December, the Pew Research Center came out with a study that looked into people’s beliefs on the origins of gender differences. After surveying 4,573 respondents, researchers found that men are, unsurprisingly, more likely to believe the things that make men and women different—such as in our physical abilities, the way we parent, and how we express our feelings—are rooted in biology rather than the burdensome expectations society places upon us.
The good news is that most Americans have the right idea when it comes to the roles of men and women in the workplace: 62 percent of men and 65 percent of women don’t believe gender impacts what tasks they excel in at all. But of the men who did think a person’s gender matters, 61 percent attributed those differences to biology.
In other words, according to this segment of the male population, fewer women have leadership positions in corporate America because they simply weren’t designed for them. That’s really concerning, since the whole basis of fighting gender inequality stands on the belief that there can be change—and you can’t argue with biology.
Shedding a little more light in how much farther we’ve still got to go, the Pew researchers also posed an open-ended question to respondents, asking them to list what traits society values most in men and women. The authors called the differences between the two demographics “striking.”
“The top responses about women related to physical attractiveness (35 percent) or nurturing and empathy (30 percent),” the report states. “For men, one-third pointed to honesty and morality, while about one in five mentioned professional or financial success (23 percent), ambition or leadership (19 percent), strength or toughness (19 percent), and a good work ethic (18 percent). Far fewer cite these as examples of what society values most in women.”
In case you missed how preposterous that sounds, allow me to reiterate: When it comes to what Americans believe society values the most about women, more than a third offered an answer that had to do with one’s physical appearance.
With these kinds of attitudes, it’s no wonder a new report out of the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality found that progress toward gender equality has, as the authors put it, “stalled out” since the ’70s and ’80s. Shelley Correll, head of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research and an author of one of the chapters in the report, said in a statement: “Stereotypes and unconscious biases are getting in the way of faster social change. We still cling to the view that men and women are fundamentally different in interests and skills.”
The clearest indicator of where we stand on gender equality in the workplace has to do with pay, and one researcher suggested at the rate we’re going, it’ll be more than 100 years before women reach parity in the top one percent. Great.