The Great Gender Target Debate: Good for Equality, or Furthering the Issue?

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Of course, we’re all firm believers that any day is a great day to talk about women’s equality. But, today it seems especially fitting—considering today, Friday August 26 is Women’s Equality Day.

The issue of equality in the workplace has been a hot button topic for years. And, with the American presidential election fast approaching (and, of course, the Democratic candidate being a woman), this conversation only seems to be getting more attention.

Undoubtedly, women have made strides in being perceived as equals in a professional environment. However, do those strides actually represent equality—or simply progress?

I think that most of us would agree that women still have a way to go in truly being perceived as equals. In fact, as the Economic Policy Institute reported in 2014, the hourly wage of the median woman was still only 82.9 percent of a median man’s. Even further, the World Economic Forum released a report in 2015 claiming that it’ll take the world another 118 years to close the gender gap entirely.

But—let’s face it—not all of us are ready and willing to wait that long, which is precisely why more and more companies are implementing strategies (such as gender targets and scorecards) in order to improve their diversity and get more women into leadership roles.

However, is this truly the best way to achieve equality in the workplace—or will it only exacerbate the issue? Today, we’re taking a look at a few pros and cons of this method to see whether it’s a help or a hindrance in closing the gender gap.

More About This Method

Before we dive right into the pros and cons, let’s make sure we all have a good handle on what sorts of tactics companies are utilizing in order to get more women through the door. You’re likely familiar with most of these already, but a refresher never hurt anybody.

Here are a few of the different strategies that have become popular:

1. Gender Targets

Businesses are familiar with the process of setting goals and objectives for a ton of other company activities—such as quarterly goals or even a budget. So, it only seems natural that many are using that same philosophy to set gender targets.

This targeting process involves identifying a group to pursue (i.e. women) and setting an ambitious yet attainable goal to employ more people who fit that group and bring more diversity into the workplace. That’s an incredibly simplified explanation, but we’re sure you get the point.

2. Scorecards

In order to keep their finger on the pulse of the diversity within a company, several businesses have chosen to include a gender scorecard in their annual report.

While these vary from company to company, their main purpose is to allow an employer to see how they’re performing in terms of maintaining a diverse workplace. These have become increasingly popular in male-dominated industries, including energy.

3. Pay Transparency

This entire concept is somewhat newer, and it won’t work for every single business. However, a few companies have opted to be completely transparent about employees’ salaries—such as social media scheduling tool, Buffer, did with their employees.

Businesses have found this helpful for a couple of reasons. For starters, it helps to foster more of a collaborative and open work culture and has even allowed Buffer to experience an uptick in applications for open positions.

But, most relevantly? It clearly illustrates any pay gap issues—no dramatic Sony hack required.

Do these methods work?

This all sounds well and good, right? And, for the most part, that’s true. We’re willing to jump on our feet and give a hearty standing ovation for any company that’s making an effort to be more inclusive.

However, things aren’t always so cut and dried. Some people think that tactics like targets and scorecards are effective and a step in the right direction. Others? Well, they aren’t as supportive of the entire idea.

There’s nothing like a good, ol’ fashioned pros and cons list to help bring some clarity. So, let’s start by taking a look at some of the major positives.

Pros of Setting Targets

1. They Instill Accountability

Why do businesses set targets and goals for all sorts of other business activities? Because they establish a hard metric that success can be measured against—and they drive a culture of accountability.  

Gender targets work the same way. Leaders must work to achieve those numbers if they want to fulfill the duties of their role (and, in some cases, receive their full compensation).

2. They Make Gender Diversity a Priority

Sure, any company is going to say that gender diversity is a priority. But, how many businesses actually walk the walk?

According to to Women in the Workplace study put together by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co., only half of employees view gender diversity as a priority for their CEO—and only a third view it as a priority for their direct manager.

Driving a culture that lives its values keeps diversity on leaders’ radars, ensuring that it’s something they’re constantly working toward (and not continuing to push toward the back burner).  

Cons of Setting Targets

Those seem like two pretty huge advantages, right? However, there are critics who remain convinced that setting these metrics isn’t the best way to achieve diversity. Here are a few of their main arguments.

1. They Turn the Tables

There’s a certain stigma associated with setting these quotas—as if the appropriate anatomy will immediately outweigh any other qualifications (such as skills, experience, and education) when making hiring decisions.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, “In the U.S., resistance to the approach lingers. Corbett Anderson, assistant legal counsel with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, says employers should ‘proceed with caution’ when implementing targets to make sure they stay on the right side of the law and aren’t creating too high a bar to employment for men and non minorities.”

After all, no company wants their attempts to be inclusive to be read as discrimination.

2. They Can Destroy Morale

Having gender quotas and targets brings a whole new dynamic into the mix of employee relationships—and they very well might breed resentment. That male employee who thought he was deserving of that promotion on the table might feel he was slighted only because he’s not a female—and so on and so forth.

And, while the targets exist to improve opportunities for female employees, these quotas can often have the opposite effect. Women often find themselves wondering whether they’re climbing the ladder because they’re actually good at their jobs, or because the company needed to meet a certain metric by the end of the year.

What’s next for equality in the workplace?

As with anything, there are upsides and downsides to implementing tactics like quotas and scorecards in the workplace—and, ultimately, the decision is left to each individual company (at least for now).

However, regardless of your stance, I think we can all recognize that the fact this conversation is getting some attention (and even company-mandated requirements in some cases!) around it is a step in the right direction for closing the gender gap.

And, if you ask us, there’s really no better way to celebrate Women’s Equality Day! *cue the Beyonce music*

What do you think about the tactics that companies are setting to increase diversity in the workplace? Do you see them as a good thing, or only as a hindrance to having women perceived as true equals? 

About the Author Kat:  Kat is excited to bring her voice and expertise to the Pink Petro team!  She’s a Wisconsin-based content guru who has found a real passion for helping women build careers and lives they love.