Paving the Path to Gender Equality in the Workplace
Compiled by Unstereotype Alliance UAE Chapter
Established in 2007, the Unstereotype Alliance convened by UN Women is a thought and action platform working to eliminate stereotypes from media and advertising. The UAE National Chapter is the sixth chapter to launch globally and the first and only one in the Middle East, comprising 16 leading organizations across various sectors.
Gender equality has come a long way, but substantial barriers persist, some invisible, often overlooked, and unaddressed effectively. These invisible barriers have significant effects and can hinder women’s personal and professional progress. These deeply entrenched biases, sometimes unconscious can lead to discrimination in hiring, promotion, and access to opportunities and resources. These invisible barriers to gender equality were at the heart of a session powered by the Unstereotype Alliance in collaboration with the Advertising Business Group (ABG) and contributions from partners like the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) at Communicate’s Women to Watch Conference. The session included four roundtable discussions addressing the impact of women’s work on children, women’s earnings and its impact on the family, imposter syndrome, and micro-aggressions in the workplace. The aim was to gauge women’s perspectives and experiences on these critical issues and to draw practical recommendations for organizations.
When Women Work, Do the Children Suffer?
According to the Global Gender Equality Attitudes (GEA) Survey 2022, 53.6% of people in UAE believe that when a woman works for pay, the children suffer, compared to 18.8% who believe the same is true for men. The GEA survey is a bi-annual study conducted across 20 countries, which quantifies the scale of harmful gender-based stereotypes to monitor how they shift over time. In the same study, 51% of men globally agree that women should work less and devote more time to caring for their families. This view is held most fervently among younger cohorts of men between the ages of 16-34. Having a brand personality not only assists in articulating a brand vision but also creates a dramatic shift in shareholder value. Consistently telling a brand’s story leads to a positive brand perception, which in turn, creates brand intimacy and increases brand value. Limited access to services and policies that help women balance work and life, such as affordable childcare, flexible work arrangements, and parental leave options, hinder women’s progress and force them to make tough choices to balance their responsibilities. Each day becomes a trade-off between family and work, a burden that should not be placed solely on women. This is despite the fact that the benefits of women’s work on the economy, society, and family are numerous and well documented. According to PWC, if we achieve economic empowerment, women’s contributions to the economy will reach 2 trillion USD by 2025, 56% of the region’s GDP.
The group proposed accelerating the development of policies that guarantee flexible working hours, remote work options, and provision of part-time and location-free roles using KPIs and results for performance evaluation, extending maternity and paternity leave, and creating return-to-work programs to help women return to their careers post-maternity and promoting a culture of sharing care responsibilities and building more robust support networks in the community. Focusing on education and awareness to advance more progressive portrayals of gender roles and engaging families in open discussions about women’s work was considered a cornerstone for success in addressing this issue.
Should a Woman Earn Less than Her Husband?
Globally, women still confront a gender pay gap of 23%, which remains an enduring issue worldwide. This disparity perpetuates economic disadvantage and deprives women of financial independence. A woman should not earn more or less than her husband solely based on gender. Equal pay for equal work is a fundamental principle of gender equality. Men and women’s compensation should be based on their skills, qualifications, and job responsibilities rather than their gender. Societal perceptions regarding women earning more or less than their husbands can vary based on cultural, social, and individual beliefs. Perceptions on this issue can impact family dynamics, decision-making processes, and the distribution of household responsibilities. Men who are not the primary earners may experience challenges to their sense of masculinity due to societal expectations.
The group recommended to ensure fair and transparent compensation and that women’s pay be based on merit. Focusing on the younger generation through education and practical guidance on financial management. Changing perceptions and redefining the meaning of success in the family beyond financial success or wealth. Extending well-being benefits by adding confidential counseling to help women and men navigate difficult conversations around financial issues and address the impact of women’s pay on family dynamics.
Imposter Syndrome and its Impact on Women’s Careers
“Imposter syndrome” is a psychological pattern characterized by persistent self-doubt and a fear of being exposed as fraud despite evidence of competence and success. It can disproportionately affect women, instilling self-doubt, affecting mental health, and hindering professional growth. According to a study by KPMG, 75% of female executives across different industries have experienced imposter syndrome. The issue arises from various factors, including high expectations, perfectionism, fear of judgment, a lack of self-confidence, a tendency to compare oneself to others, and societal pressures.
The group recommended creating opportunities for women to showcase their achievements and offering training programs focusing on self-confidence, building networks and authentic personal brands, offering health and well-being sessions, and awareness-raising sessions to help both men and women understand imposter syndrome and how to overcome it and launching mentorship and sponsorship programs.
Handling Microaggressions in the Workplace
Microaggressions in the workplace can undermine or marginalize women at work, leading to mental health issues or high levels of stress, impacting self-esteem, and creating a hostile work environment that impedes women’s growth. Women are disproportionately affected by microaggressions. According to the Women in the Workplace Study 2022 by McKinsey and Company, 37% of women leaders have had a co-worker get credit for their idea, compared to 27% of men leaders. The majority of participants in this group experienced microaggressions. Examples include having their work credited to others, encountering dismissive behavior towards their ideas, and being assigned less significant tasks due to their young age or situations such as pregnancy. Many incidents go unaddressed because individuals fear adverse reactions, such as being labeled overly sensitive or mistaken.
To tackle this issue, the group recommended launching self-awareness workshops to educate employees and managers about microaggression behaviors and provide clear examples of what is unacceptable within the organizational culture—directly addressing the situation with the person involved and expressing how it made them feel when experiencing a microaggression. If ineffective, reach out to leaders and allies to ensure that these concerns are acknowledged and prevented from recurring. Lead by example when witnessing such incidents directed at others by intervening and speaking up. When observing a colleague not being acknowledged for their contributions, step in to ensure they receive the recognition they deserve.
In conclusion, addressing these invisible barriers requires a multi-faceted approach involving policy changes, cultural shifts, education, and awareness-raising initiatives while amplifying women’s voices and engaging men proactively. To promote gender equality, we must dismantle stereotypes, attitudes, and perceptions that perpetuate gender inequality and lead to discrimination, while fostering pay transparency, fair hiring practices, workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion. The time is now to create more equitable and inclusive workplaces that promote equal opportunities and drive equity for all.
This piece was first published in Communicate's Women to Watch Issue 2023.