Gender inequality in the workplace is discrimination against an employee or applicant based on their sex or gender identity. It begins way before we even enter the workforce—in schools, playgrounds, and on the street.

The female population and gender non-conforming people in the workforce feel it the most due to societal bias and the lasting effects of patriarchy.

Women fought to be able to work, and they continue to fight to be treated the same in the workplace as men. Thus, their battle for equality didn’t end when they entered the workforce—it merely changed form.

So, without further ado, let’s examine the details of gender inequality in the workplace and offer some tips for battling it.

Key Takeaways

  • Numerous factors contribute to gender inequality in the workplace, ranging from unequal salaries to hostile work environments.
  • The consequences of gender inequality in the workplace include economic drawbacks, mental health implications, and inhibited innovation.
  • Reducing and eliminating gender inequality in the workplace involves several stages, from salary parity and transparency to clear policies.

9+ Factors That Contribute to Gender Inequality in the Workplace

Factors that contribute to gender inequality in the workplace include unequal salaries and work-life imbalances, among others. Take a look at the list below to learn more about the most common gender challenges people face in the workplace and see valuable gender inequality examples.

#1. Unequal Salaries

The most prominent gender barrier in the workplace is inequality in salaries. In spite of gender equality initiatives such as Equal Pay Day, women in the USA earn, on average, 16.3% less than men. This wage gap is even wider for women of color.

Unequal pay often starts with the hiring process. Namely, women have lower salary expectations compared to equally qualified men. Moreover, they’re less likely to be selected for entry-level jobs, which means they face gender challenges as soon as they enter the workforce.

The wage gap widens as women climb up the corporate ladder. Since there are not enough of them to be promoted to leadership positions, to begin with, men’s professional advancement is faster and easier, which brings us to our next point.

#2. Glass Ceiling

A glass ceiling is an unofficial, unspoken, yet understood limit that prevents someone from advancing to a top position in an organization or a company. That someone often happens to be a woman, who is less likely to land a leadership role from the get-go, as men generally get a head start.

Women are often overlooked and passed over for development opportunities and promotions. However, as per Lieberman’s research from the Center for Leadership Insights at Russell Reynolds Associates, having female executives is advantageous for businesses.

Despite the research results, the number of women occupying leadership and managerial positions is only marginally improving. According to gender inequality statistics, women made up 46.9% of the US labor force in 2023, but they only assumed 30.6% of the executive roles.

#3. Sexual Harassment

Unfortunately, sexual harassment in the workplace still exists, as it does in other settings. It’s yet another issue stemming from gender inequality that women have to face in their career paths.

Thanks to the #MeToo movement, we are now more aware of how extensive sexual harassment is in women’s experiences in the workplace. Another thing we should thank this movement for is the fact that sexual harassment in the workplace is now more likely to be reported.

More importantly, victims are more likely to be believed, which is a big step in the right direction for women in the workforce.

#4. Gender Stereotypes

gender inequality in the workplace


Gender stereotypes are generalized assumptions about someone’s characteristics based on their gender. It is what ultimately reinforces sexism.

Stereotypes about women in the workplace often go hand in hand with racial stereotypes, leading to women of color experiencing microaggression in the workplace.

A clear example of gender stereotypes in the workplace is the fact that traits such as agency and intelligence are often attributed to men. A woman with these qualities is often described as “bossy,” whereas a man with the same traits is considered “assertive” and “a good leader.”

Another gender stereotype is that women are more nurturing than men. While it may seem like praise, it’s another factor that can undermine women’s competence in the workplace.

Lastly, these mostly stem from a common unconscious bias that assumes women are more emotional (and, thus, less rational) than men. Along with the glass ceiling, gender stereotypes disadvantage women’s input in the workplace from the moment they enter the workforce.

#5. Work-Life Balance

There’s still an imbalance between men’s and women’s work lives. The reason is another piece of baggage we’ve carried over from patriarchy—the assumption that women are primarily responsible for childcare and household chores.

Unfortunately, that’s still true in many cases—women often perform more “invisible” labor than their male partners. Subsequently, as primary caregivers, they can be presumed to “struggle” with their professional duties and thus be less likely to break through the glass ceiling.

#6. Bias Against Mothers

Another issue women often face in the workplace is bias against mothers. To make matters worse, it doesn’t arise when a woman decides to have children. Instead, it’s rooted in the collective attitude toward both women of childbearing age and those who are already mothers.

These women are often less likely to receive a callback from hiring managers, even if their experience and expertise are on the same level as those of men and women without children.

The pandemic’s gender effect deepened the issue even further when almost two million women, mostly mothers of young children, considered “slowing down” with their careers or leaving the workforce altogether.

#7. Higher Burnout in Women

McKinsey research has shown higher burnout in women in the workplace, especially those in high positions. According to it, women who experience microaggressions in the workplace are four times more likely to experience burnout and three times more likely to consider quitting their jobs.

The pandemic further widened the burnout gap between men and women. As a result, women have become more prone to accepting what seems like accommodations, such as internal roles or part-time work, that derail their careers even further, ultimately contributing to gender inequality in the workplace.

#8. Occupational Segregation

Occupational segregation means that women and men are unevenly represented in different types of jobs. It stems from numerous stereotypes about women, especially the one that women are natural caregivers struggling to keep up with their jobs’ demands, and it is their natural consequence.

As a result, there are sectors and fields dominated by one gender where the underrepresented gender is given limited opportunities. Ultimately, this can lead to gender inequality in advancement and pay.

The predominance of women in caregiving positions, such as nurses and preschool teachers, is one example of occupational segregation.

#9. Hostile Work Environment

A hostile work environment is what we get when all the gender stereotypes and issues arising from them join forces. It’s created when gender-based harassment, intimidation, and ridicule pervade, ultimately affecting a person’s ability to perform their job.

This is a serious issue that can hinder career progress and even cause emotional distress. It’s important to address it when it arises, despite the fear of retaliation that may be present.

#10. Gender Identity Discrimination

Women may be the most prominent target of gender identity discrimination, but the fact is, it’s not limited only to cisgender individuals.

Transgender and gender-nonconforming people often feel its effects. Discrimination against them can include deliberate misgendering, refusal of restroom access, and other forms of unfair treatment.

3 Consequences of Gender Inequality in the Workplace

3 Consequences of Gender Inequality


The negative effects of gender inequality in the workplace are numerous. In fact, many of the examples we’ve discussed are consequences of one another.

Gender inequality in the workplace generally hinders careers and can affect people’s quality of life in many ways. We grouped all the effects into the following three categories:

#1. Economic Drawbacks

Economic drawbacks are the most prominent consequence of women receiving smaller salaries due to their having fewer entry-level job opportunities than men and often being overlooked and discouraged from asking for a promotion.

Moreover, economic drawbacks can create further difficulties for women, such as having to change careers more frequently than men. In some cases, it can even prompt a woman to leave the workforce entirely.

However, employees aren’t the only ones who feel the negative effects of gender inequality in the workplace. Namely, companies that undervalue women are likely to miss out on profitable ideas, projects, and sales.

#2. Mental Health Implications

In addition to possibly hindering careers, gender inequality can have a much more severe negative effect—mental health implications.

Namely, sexism is a form of discrimination that threatens women’s general well-being. It creates numerous mental health issues, such as burnout in the workplace, loss of motivation, anxiety, depression, and decreased productivity.

In fact, discrimination-induced burnout is one of the main reasons women prefer remote work. This was especially prominent after the COVID-19 pandemic ended when women of color were hesitant to return to offices due to the discrimination they’d been facing there.

#3. Inhibited Innovation

The chain of events that is gender-based discrimination unmistakably leads to inhibited innovation. Namely, since diverse perspectives fuel innovation, the exclusion of women from decision-making processes can result in the stagnation of research and development.

In contrast, companies that foster gender equality, diversity, and inclusion have engaged employees and higher retention rates. This is due to the fact that diverse employees’ contributions are recognized and appreciated.

Ultimately, fully investing in employees gives companies time to innovate instead of repeatedly hiring and training new people.

9+ Ways to Reduce and Eliminate Gender Inequality in the Workplace

The first step in reducing and eliminating gender inequality in the workplace is admitting there’s a problem. Raising awareness about it is step two.

However, tangible results will only come when companies’ diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives go beyond marketing promises. So, let’s move on to the concrete actions that need to be taken to reduce and eliminate gender inequality in the workplace.

#1. Educate Employees

The first line of defense against gender inequality in the workplace should be adopting DEI principles and educating employees about them.

Effective employee training should go beyond standard onboarding. Namely, diversity training with a focus on gender equality should help employees understand differences in experience, background, and perspectives between genders. Moreover, it ought to include advice on improving interpersonal communication and reducing gender-based bias.

#2. Make Salaries Equal and Transparent

9+ Ways to Reduce and Eliminate Gender Inequality in the Workplace


After adopting DEI principles, companies should apply them to their practices, starting with equal and transparent salaries.

States with pay transparency laws, such as New York, already require employers to disclose salary ranges in job descriptions. This practice ought to be universally adopted, as it creates competition for human resources and, ultimately, higher salary offers for employees.

Companies could disclose their employee demographics in addition to making salaries transparent. Sharing those records publicly would hold companies, especially HR and C-suite leadership departments, accountable for their DEI plans.

#3. Allow Flexible Working Hours

Fostering a healthy work-life balance may be challenging, and companies can address this issue by allowing flexible working hours.

Practices such as hybrid or remote work, along with flexible hours, can make a substantial difference when it comes to bridging the gap between genders. They’re also highly beneficial for female employees, who may struggle to balance work and household responsibilities.

#4. Establish Mentorship Programs

Establishing mentorship programs can help women break through the glass ceiling. Specifically, connecting female employees with women in C-suite and management positions encourages them to take the same path.

Moreover, guidance and support from coworkers in leadership positions can prove rather beneficial in one’s career. As a result, women may have more tangible opportunities for advancement.

Lastly, supporting mentorship programs for women and minorities is how companies can foster diversity within C-suite roles.

#5. Offer Generous Parental Leave

Since women are often discouraged from pursuing their career goals in favor of taking care of the household, offering generous parental leave can improve their work-life balance.

However, parental leave should also be available for fathers, as it provides women with more childcare support and contributes to gender equality.

Employers can take this one step further by offering paid leave policies to new parents who are transitioning back to work. Additionally, providing on-site childcare services can be very helpful to working parents.

#6. Combat Discrimination and Bias

To implement DEI to the fullest, companies need to combat discrimination and bias openly. That means implementing the necessary measures for detecting and addressing discrimination and bias, albeit unconscious, in the workplace.

These measures include bias training programs, diverse interview panels, anonymous hiring processes, and clear guidelines against bias and discrimination.

However, an employer’s job doesn’t end there. They should also create a safe space for employees who have experienced discrimination to report it.

#7. Ensure Balanced Representation of Male and Female Employees

Ensuring a balanced representation of male and female employees is a way of putting gender equality tips into practice.

Companies should monitor their demographics by rank and function. This can be achieved through HR records and employee surveys.

The goal would be to make sure there’s gender diversity across positions, from entry-level jobs to upper management roles.

#8. Offer Skill Development Opportunities

Gender stereotypes in the workplace


Offering skill development opportunities to male and female employees equally ensures diversity and even chances of advancement.

Companies can take it a step further by encouraging women to enroll in training programs where men typically dominate, such as skill-building programs, technical training, and leadership skill training.

#9. Establish Clear Policies

Implementing DEI in the workplace requires companies to establish clear policies. Educating employees about equality is a good start, but it’s not enough—there need to be clear policies addressing inequality.

These policies need to be clearly disclosed to each employee as soon as their onboarding process starts. Additionally, they should receive an employee handbook stating all the policies.

Lastly, confidential reporting guidelines must be enforced so that all issues and concerns are addressed promptly and appropriately.

#10. Institute Women’s Employee Resource Groups (ERG)

Establishing women’s employee resource groups with clear objectives gives female employees an opportunity to address their concerns in the workplace.

Such employee research groups should identify gender inequality issues in the workplace and define their area of focus. Some examples are career development for women, equal opportunities, and specific challenges women face in the workplace.

Final Thoughts

Gender inequality in the workplace takes many forms, from salary disparity to gender stereotypes. In addition to being unfair, it can create numerous issues, such as economic drawbacks and mental implications.

Raising awareness about gender inequality is important, but putting DEI ideas into practice makes a real difference.