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How is Equality Measured?

Values, CompanyAvery Vaught, Gap Inc. blogger Comment

Sure, we want equality for women in the workplace. But how will its success be measured?

Last week, Gap Inc. hosted the University of California Hastings College of the Law’s 2014 Cutting Edge Leadership Conference, which brought lawyers and other professionals from around the country together on the topic of gender and leadership in the workplace. 

One speaker was Joan C. Williams, founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings and co-author of What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know (2014). She, with her daughter Rachel Dempsey, took hundreds of social psychology studies and categorized them into four overarching patterns in an effort to categorize where the equality fight should focus.

The four patterns are: “Prove it Again,” which forces women to prove themselves over and over to overcome the stereotype that men are more successful; “The Tightrope,” which puts pressure on women to behave in masculine ways (while still being feminine) in order to be seen as competent; “The Maternal Wall,” which discriminates against mothers more than the glass ceiling; and “The Tug of War,” which causes women to discriminate against each other because they are facing the other three biases.

Williams found was that categorizing these biases allows for a more accurate way to identify the workplace issue. A whopping 90% of the women they interviewed recognized one or more of these biases in their own work lives.

Once identified, Williams says companies and groups need to accurately assess and measure the appropriate metrics (like pay equality ratios or the number of women in leadership positions) to create positive long-term change.

“If you don’t measure it, you don’t treasure it,” says Williams. “You won’t solve the business imperative if you don’t clearly know what it is and how to measure the metric to see if it changes.”