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A Call to Action: Part One

Fixing Workplaces, Not Women
By Debra E. Lane and Ann Marie Luce
A Call to Action: Part One

You present an idea at your leadership team meeting that falls flat and needs more traction. Several weeks later, a male colleague introduces your idea as his, and it proceeds with enthusiasm and an action plan. A male colleague slides you his room key as you exchange business cards. Your invitation to the meeting or drinks after dinner never comes. The planning committee for the annual golf outing does not include women. You share work stories with female colleagues, and a man interrupts the group to discuss his importance as the leader of a "flagship" international school. These are just a few of the inequities, challenges, and microaggressions that women face every day in their work.

Progress toward gender parity in the workplace has stalled in the last 20 years (Employment and Social Development Canada, 2022). The World Economic Forum (2019) predicts that gender equality will take 208 years if we do not intentionally focus and increase the rate of change. The World Bank (2022) reported that 86 countries still have job restrictions for women, and 95 countries still do not guarantee equal pay for equal work. Even more shocking is that women in the United States have three-quarters of the legal rights of men. These challenges are even more significant for women of intersecting identities like race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, religion, and age (King, 2020). According to the McKinsey Report (2022), women face microaggressions that undermine their authority and are denied promotions and opportunities for advancement because of their gender or parental status. Further, their impact on supporting employee wellbeing and diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) work, which leads to greater employee satisfaction and retention, must be recognized.

Many workplace initiatives to close gender pay and promotion gaps focus on fixing the women, assuming that they, rather than systems that under-promote them, are the problem. Women need confidence training. They need to know how to negotiate pay raises. According to the Market Place Evidence Research Poll, the evidence suggests that women ask for pay raises as often as men. They are just less likely to get them. Perhaps the issue here is not the women but a system that does not account for gender bias.

The seemingly insurmountable barriers that women face have led to women switching jobs and exiting their companies in mass (McKinsey, 2022). Our partners, daughters, granddaughters, nieces, and students demand we act now. There are actions we can take, possibilities we can reimagine, and networks to fix workplaces and create equitable, safe, and productive spaces for all. Now is the time to prioritize transparency, metrics, safety, and policies, revolutionize structures that oppress women and other minority groups, and womanize the leadership landscape.

This article will look at the need to prioritize gender equity and tangible actions to dismantle inequity. The second part of this series will address how to change the leadership landscape and develop strong allies.


More women today have bachelor's degrees than ever before. 2019 was a turning point in gender parity in the United States (US) regarding women earning undergraduate degrees. For the last 20 years, college enrollment rates for female students have outnumbered males. Culture, organizational structures, individual opinions, and capabilities influence women's career development and advancement in leadership positions (Nakitende, 2019). For women to advance and meet the inherent challenges of their gender, they need champions and allies. Educational institutions and systems must address the inherent bias and stereotypes associated with gender. They must "examine their practices, policies, rules, norms, and procedures to ensure that they help women become more successful in educational leadership roles" (Nakitende, 2019, p. 96).

There has been a tremendous shift in women intentionally making different life choices. The number of single women is growing much faster than the rate of population increase. For example, in the study by Morgan Stanley (2022), the team found that 45 percent of buying-age working women between the ages of 25 and 44 will be single by 2030 compared to 2 percent in 1970. Quite a significant amount. So, why now?

Women today are delaying marriages, choosing to stay single or get a divorce later in life. Women are also postponing childbirth and choosing to have fewer children. In 2000, the average age of marriage in the US was 25 years old; by 2020, it increased to 28 years old. Per research-based estimations, by 2035 it will go up to 35 years old. Because women are earning more money today, they are primary healthcare consumers. They are the most prominent car, home, and consumer product purchasers. Gen Z women, born after 1997, are setting new standards and trends, leading the way as key influencers in social media in areas such as body image, makeup, sport, home, work, and careers.

Firms that focus more on gender equity outperform their peers at every level. Many studies have documented that women drive a 35 percent higher return on business investment than men. We repeatedly implore business leaders to request their organizational data, review it with senior leadership, acknowledge when it is unacceptable, and choose to do something about it. Simply put, most companies need more courage and commitment to publish their data and commit to making changes. However, transparency and tackling the tough challenges is what best-in-class schools/universities/companies do and what new entries into the workforce expect.

Michelle King (2020), author of the best-selling book The Fix: Overcoming Barriers that Hold Women Back at Work and former director of inclusion at Netflix, suggests that acknowledging inequality is the first step to changing workplaces. As King asserts, leaders must acknowledge how inequality surfaces in teams, divisions, and institutions. Leaders need to move beyond acknowledging inequality and identify and name the barriers women face in their workplaces. We must model the way forward by reading, researching, conversing, and listening. King encourages leaders to address exclusionary behaviors in formal and informal interactions and use them as opportunities to discuss and change behavior. These actions support women, institutions, and systems in finding the path forward toward equity.

What Tangible Actions Can We Address To Dismantle Inequity in Our Schools and Systems?

  • Practice transparency

Be transparent with pay practices and wages, promotional practices (Employment and Social Development Canada, 2022), representation, hiring, gender, promotions, and other aspects of identity (WHO Gender Equity Hub, 2020).

Intentionally design clarity, transparency, and accountability in school workplace settings. State the purpose of gender equity initiatives and be transparent in communications about establishing accountability for the institution and others.

Be clear about expectations and then set them as an example. Communicate how gender inclusion and diversity relate to purpose, intent, and values as leaders and keep them connected to business outcomes.

  • Use metrics

Track, analyze, and identify gaps in the leadership pipeline and gauge progress toward goals. Track the equitability of promotion decisions and performance evaluations to increase the success rate of DEIJ programs (Gonzales,2022).

Acknowledge and address that "what does not get measured does not get done" (Bonin in Employment and Social Development Canada, 2022, p. 20).

Encourage accountability. Review the demographic data for your school. Establish goals, track and measure progress, and report and discuss progress regularly.

  • Review and revise safety measures

In 2020, the World Health Organization’s Gender Equity Hub reported that 50 countries do not have laws against sexual harassment in the workplace. Gender-based harassment and violence can lead to low morale, decreased productivity, and safety concerns (Employment and Social Development Canada, 2022).

Organizations must adopt programs and policies that challenge toxic masculinity and patriarchal norms and involve men in bystander training to foster appropriate behavior (Employment and Social Development Canada, 2022).

Call in bad behavior. Often, it is much easier for an ally to point out inappropriate behavior and language but part of our responsibility as school leaders is to ensure that it is not unchecked. One school leader said, "It is always better to call it in rather than out." Put simply, shaming the person who misbehaved has no value. Often this behavior comes from ignorance, and you should pull someone aside and help them understand why their behavior is exclusive.

  • Create and revise policies

Prioritize and enable women and other marginalized identities to advance in their careers based on merit and balance work and home commitments without penalty. Challenge the perception that working flexibly or part-time means less commitment to your job (WHO Gender Equity Hub, 2020). Include women and vulnerable groups in the creation and monitoring of policies.

Create flexible work options that allow everyone to thrive. Carefully assess your parental leave policies. Ensure pay equity and pay rights. Set transparent hiring and salary criteria and conduct annual pay audits for your school.

Ensure there is a feedback and reporting loop (McNamer, 2022). Co-create a one-page code of conduct that transparently outlines guidelines for employee conduct and focuses on efforts to reduce bias and create psychological safety and inclusion (Tulshyan, 2022) with women and vulnerable groups.


In the book Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men (2019) by Caroline Criasdo Perez, she points out a few concerns in today's world: cars that are 71 percent less safe for women than men (designed using a 50th-percentile male dummy), voice-recognition technology that is 70 percent less likely to accurately understand women than men (because algorithms use 70 percent male data sets), medication that does not work when a woman is menstruating (because there were no women in the clinical trials). We live in a world designed for men because, for the most part, we have not been collecting data on women. This is the gender data gap. If we want to design a world that works for the woman of the future and the man of the present, we must close it.

The gender data gap, which centers around the male body, life patterns, and default male origins, has been disadvantageous for women for millennia. But in a world where we increasingly outsource our decision-making to algorithms trained on data with a great big hole, this problem will get more serious quickly. Furthermore, if we do not choose to correct the mistakes of the past now, we will blunder into a future where we have coded them (Perez, 2019).

This article presented current data on the inequities women face in the workplace and the tangible actions for organizations to make change. The second part of our series will provide strategies and actions for changing leadership. The 20th-century workplace is in the past. Our current workplace demands a new set of attributes, skill sets, and knowledge for its workers, directors, CEOs, and heads of schools to lead, develop, and advance this diverse workforce. If we want to design a just future, we must acknowledge and advocate against the fundamental bias that frames women as atypical. If we are committed to fixing workplaces, not women, organizations must prioritize transparency, metrics, safety, and policies.


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Debra E. Lane, Ed.D., has worked as a principal in an international school in China and is now consulting in international and United States based schools on leadership and development. She is the co-author of the book, Raise Her Up.

Ann Marie Luce, Ed.D., has worked as a principal in China and is now the director of curriculum and innovation at Allendale Columbia School in Rochester, NY.

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