"When women set out in their careers, they are more optimistic about the access to equal opportunities than men, even if it's by a slim margin. But as they progress, you can see from the data that there's a huge drop in perception. Women start to see that they're being denied promotions. They're being passed over in favor of men. They're coming back from maternity leave and seeing their career trajectory blocked or slowed down. Or, they're seeing their friends and coworkers experience that," Mead says. Over time, she adds, women begin to see the biases and discrimination that happen in the workplace and understand that there are factors impacting their ability to succeed.
It's also problematic that men can't see through the blind spots outlined in the research, Mead says, because unless everyone pulls together to make a change, it won't happen, she says. Even in organizations that claim to be transparent and provide equal opportunity in theory, in practice, what women are actually reporting is the opposite -- and men just aren't seeing that, Mead says.
Equality in practice
"So many companies will claim they have equal opportunity and equal access; they'll have policies and benefits like parental leave, flex time, all of these great things. It looks great on paper. But if, in practice, in reality, women are paid less than men, or they come back from a maternity leave and they aren't eligible for promotions, or they have large projects taken away from them, or countless other ways women are sidelined, then that isn't actually supportive," Mead says.
Mead says she hopes this research will help highlight for men the challenges women still face both in access to opportunity and in workplace equality overall and spur everyone to help make the workplace more equal not just in the hypothetical, but in practice.
"We all want to believe that we have the same access to opportunity, and that we all can succeed based on merit and hard work. But when you see these other factors, it really impacts how you see your career path. We wanted to take these anecdotes and bring hard data to back them up so everyone understands what we're up against," she says.
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