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Gender Bias in a Headline: Gallup, Do Better!

Uncategorized Mar 11, 2022

This week, we celebrated another International Women’s Day,  a cultural observance whose original intention was to spark awareness and activism about the mistreatment of women around the world. 

Consider: 

  • About 1 in 3 women and girls around the world experience violence because they are female. That statistic hasn’t changed in 20 years.
  • There are nearly 130 million girls around the world who should be in school, and aren’t. 

Yet this year on International Women’s Day, most of the focus I witnessed had to do with jobs and compensation in western countries. I’m sure this has something to do with the fact that I no longer work in or study international relations, but that’s not the whole story. 

There are important connections between the above statistics and pay inequalities in high-income countries like the U.S.

Mainly:

Gender bias.

It infects everything. Gender bias is at the base of bias against people in the LGBTQ+ community. It affects the way people experience racism and power. It affects interpersonal expectations. 

And it means women are rarely hired at equal pay rates to men hired to do the same job. 

Even the most well-meaning, research-focused organizations fall into expressing bias - and that only reinforces the status quo. 

 

 

This year, on Tuesday, March 8, the moment in which I felt the most irritation was at the end of my workday when I finally opened that Gallup email titled, “What Women Want and Need from Work.” 

The first headline was: “Recruiting Women Takes More Than Just Competitive Pay.” 

Really? Interesting. Ok, let’s follow that link… what do we find?

The latest Gallup research says that pay is not the #1 thing women want from work. It’s…

number 2. 

 So while the headline reads as though pay isn’t important to women, it’s actually very important. The article even states that both pay and wellbeing are very important to women. 

There are actually more women citing its importance than men. 

The pretty image comparing percentages of women and men, side-by-side, right here in this article: 

 Look at the second line - 65% of women say increasing income and benefits is among the most important factors for a job - compared to 63% of men. 

 Gallup’s own research right here in the article says, “The most significant difference between what men and women deem important when considering a potential job change is how much women value an organization’s diversity and inclusivity.” Women value it more than men. 

I find myself wondering how Gallup’s pay system is structured - and whether there are discriminatory patterns.

And what does this article and Gallup’s research say about the number one thing women want? They want more flexibility.

A whopping 1% more women cited flexibility over higher pay and benefits. So, ok, technically, pay is not actually #1 - but how meaningful is that statistic, really, in context? 

Look.

The pandemic taught the world that work does not actually operate well for most people (you know, “work doesn’t work”), so I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here to say EVERYONE wants more flexibility at work. Still, Gallup's poll has more flexibility - which they actually phrased in the poll as "greater work-life balance and better wellbeing" - at 56% of men. 

The top two google results I get for the search “do men want more flexible work schedules” are:

 

 

  • “Survey: Majority of men want flexible work” (The Washington Post reporting on a recent survey of 1,000 men, published in October 2014… 2014! A desire for flexible work is not new!)
  • “Flexible work schedules benefit men more than women” (The World Economic Forum, August 2016, about how when men and women both work flexible hours and earn overtime men still get rewarded more- literally earning more overtime pay.)
    • Like I said: Gender bias

What about more recently? 

A global study conducted in January 2022 by Future Forum of over 10,000 knowledge workers found that nearly everyone (95%) wants more flexibility in their schedule (and most also prefer a hybrid environment). 

When I read the Gallup email and followed the link and read the article, I got angry.

The headlines someone at Gallup wrote, and probably someone else edited, and probably some other person then approved seem to purposely mislead readers. The way the headline is written, and the way the opening of the article is written, it seems like women want flexibility more than pay. The biased, stereotypical explanation most of our brains will then supply is: Because women don't care about money, they have husbands/partners who are breadwinners, women just want the ability to take care of family members and more flexible work hours helps with that.

Maybe the misleading phrasing wasn’t purposeful - maybe it was gender bias. Either way, there's no material difference in the impact. 

If whoever created the email really wants women to experience equity, perhaps the headline should have read, “Recruiting Women? Offer Higher Pay and Flexible Hours.” 

I can easily picture some manager seeing the email as it was sent (“Recruiting Women Takes More Than Just Competitive Pay”)  and thinking, “I don’t need to raise the pay for the offer to this woman I want to hire, I just need to emphasize our hybrid office and flexibility options.” 

NO! Pay women more!  

And what does “competitive” pay mean? 

Pause and consider to yourself - you don’t have to tell anyone else - what salary would you offer if the name on the resume seemed male? Or if you couldn’t tell the gender, perhaps, because they go by something like JP? Do you see those initials and automatically imagine a man? That’s gender bias. 

Maybe you think that last paragraph doesn’t apply to you. Ok. Then please examine your company’s pay structures and see whether there are patterns indicative of discrimination. Discrimination isn’t always about personal biases, it also happens because of the way power structures work - the “things we always do” that somehow reinforce the status quo.

Like asking about previous salaries, or even asking people what they think they ought to make. When talking about pay is so subversive, if you ask someone who has been consistently underpaid what they think they should earn, they will probably say a number that feels reasonable to them - and it will still be far less than they would earn if they had never experienced being underpaid. 

There was more in the email that annoyed me. The third and final headline/link was: “6 in 10 in U.S. Satisfied with Position of Women.” 

Can we please break that down a little? Beyond the fact that you could easily state “4 in 10 in U.S. Not Satisfied with Position of Women” or “Nearly Half of Americans Unhappy with Women's Place in the World” and communicate the same fact, yet have it feel very different because of the choice of emphasis.

What does this article actually say?

That women are less satisfied than men with their position in society. Shocking. 

That fewer people of any gender are satisfied with women’s position in society than we were in the 2000s, when it polled at about 70%. That the decrease in satisfaction first happened in 2018, and may be linked to the rise of the #MeToo movement. That female representation amongst CEOs and members of Congress has actually increased in that time.

It says that women’s satisfaction with the position of women in society has hit a new low of 51%.

Perhaps they should have led with that. 

But still, that means about half of women in the U.S. are satisfied with "women's place." 

That statistic is probably why I still experience a bit of internal awe that so many more people are aware of International Women’s Day than were aware of it 20 years ago, that some companies actually gave people the day off like it’s a holiday to be celebrated. It is a holiday… yet - is it really anything to celebrate? 

 

There was at least one bot on Twitter that retweeted companies' celebratory International Women's Day posts with the known gender pay disparity at that company. 

So what are they celebrating? The ability to get away with it? 

Clearly, for me, the Gallup email was a trigger about a lot of things that I have never been satisfied with. And I know that Gallup is just engaging in the general clickbait game that most engage in when they create marketing emails. But still, I wanted better. 

So, dear Gallup - and the dear is not entirely sarcastic, I absolutely rely on your research and statistics in the work I do - please use less misleading headlines in your emails. Please stop reinforcing the status quo. Please do better. 

 

 

*Images in this blog post come from my email and from this page at Gallup.com, last accessed on March 11, 2022. Except for the google image, which were the results I got on March 10, 2022. 

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