how to recognize inequalities that impact women’s advancement

At a time when acquiring skilled talent is perhaps more challenging than ever before, it makes sense that employers are starting to prioritize employee retention and in-house career advancement. The good news for these employers is that our recent survey of 1,000 employed Canadian women reveals that nearly 7 in 10 of these women expect to remain with their employer for another three years. 

While this statistic may sound great on the surface, our study also shows that only half of these women feel motivated to take the next step in their career with their current employer. So, this brings into question whether these 7 out of 10 women would actually stay with their employer if a better offer for career advancement came along.

If employers really want to motivate women to stay and grow their careers with the company, they must recognize women for the work they do. 

Employee recognition is often tied to increased production, better quality and higher retention rates. In fact, studies show that 69% of workers are more likely to stay with an employer that offers recognition and rewards

But, with the majority of employers in Canada already offering some type of employee recognition program, the question needs to be asked, 'Why are these recognition programs not providing the results employers need?' To answer this question, we must take a closer look at women’s perceptions in the workplace.


gender inequity in the workplace

The first challenge employers face regarding employee recognition is gender inequity in the workplace. Nearly 4 in 10 women believe they must work harder than men in the same role to gain the same level of recognition. 

To make matters worse, 20% of women also don’t trust their employer to be fair and unbiased to all employees, and 19% believe others in similar roles receive higher salaries than they do. 

Let’s face it; no employee should feel like they have to work harder than other workers just to be recognized for the value they bring to the company. 

Employers must do better at offering recognition equitably throughout the organization if they hope to build trust with female workers. The reality is that without this trust, employers can have a difficult time retaining these workers when they prepare to advance their careers.

recognition of women of colour and younger women

According to our survey, women of colour and younger women are disproportionately discouraged in the workplace. First, 45% of women of colour feel that they have to work harder than men to receive recognition, compared to just 35% of women not of colour. Younger women in the workforce also feel this demand to work harder, with nearly half of women aged 18-34 believing that they don’t receive recognition at the same rate as their male counterparts, in comparison to just over 3 in 10 women aged 45-50 who feel the same. 

Secondly, only 54% of women of colour believe that their pay is equitable to others in similar roles, compared to 68% of women not of colour. Finally, only 5 in 10 women of colour in the workforce trust their employers to be fair to all employees, compared to 6 out of 10 women of not of colour. 

Employers must recognize both conscious and unconscious biases in the workplace and take steps to strengthen equality to ensure all employees, despite age, gender or race, are treated fairly and equally recognized for their contributions to the company. 

advancement and gender

Despite working women clearly acknowledging biases and unfair treatment in the workplace, half of the women we surveyed claim that even if they knew advancement in the company could be harder because of their gender, they would still stay with their current employer. Only 30% of the women we surveyed would look for an employer with a stronger commitment to equality in the workplace. 

At first glance, it may seem odd that women are willing to stay with an employer despite their lack of action towards building a more equitable workplace. 

Perhaps, women in the workforce understand just how pronounced gender inequality is in the overall workforce? It’s likely that these women believe they will face similar challenges no matter where they work. 

What’s remarkable about our survey results is the reasons why 50% of working women would stay with their current employer despite gender biases hindering their advancement opportunities. 

Our research shows that one third of working women would remain with their current employer to prove that they are just as qualified, or more qualified, than their male counterparts. On the other hand, 1 in 5 would stay to help bring policy change and equity to the workforce. 

Clearly, these women want to be part of the solution. Employers should jump on the opportunity to learn from their female workers in order to develop policies that provoke change. 

clear and transparent advancement policies

Employers must create structured programs that focus on fairness and transparency. Unfortunately, our research shows that this level of clarity and transparency is lacking. 

Only half of the working women in Canada believe that leadership at their company is open and transparent with the workers. One and five disagree or strongly disagree with this statement. 

This lack of clarity and transparency may be preventing women in the workplace from taking advantage of various career development and advancement opportunities the company offers. 

For instance, according to our survey, only 1 in 4 working women clearly understand the criteria used for promotions within the organization. Nearly 20% believe these criteria are not as clear, and 17% have no idea what measures their employers use when determining promotions. 

Without a clear understanding of company expectations, it could be nearly impossible for these women to develop the skills, talents and attributes needed to advance their careers within the company. 

To make the most of their employee recognition and career advancement programs, employers must develop well-structured policies and provide a high level of clarity and transparency.

curious about how women are transforming the workplace?

Learn more about overcoming challenges and biases in the workplace by checking out our additional resources in the Empowering Women section of our website.

women in the workplace