Hidden Hurdles: Getting to Workplace Gender Equality


On some of the world’s most visible stages, women appear to be making huge professional strides. In the U.S., we had our first female presidential candidate from a major party and the U.K. chose its second female prime minister. Women are outnumbering men by a 3-to-2 ratio on college campuses, and they have earned more doctoral degrees than men for seven straight years. Even at this year’s Summer Olympics, the U.S. fielded a team of athletes made up of a female majority for the first time.

But reality is different in the executive suite. Among Fortune 500 companies, a mere 27 are run by women. At this rate, according to a new report from McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.org, it will take more than 100 years to achieve gender parity at the C-suite level.

As the cover feature in the November issue of HR Magazine points out, the gender gap in pay and promotion falls squarely within HR’s jurisdiction. Certainly, we can deploy programs that help, including offering flextime and paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers and eliminating the practice of asking candidates their salary histories, which perpetuates wage disparities. Companies that are most successful in closing the gender gap in their senior ranks enact supportive policies like these. 

Women are still taken less seriously than men in their career ambitions and that has a lot to do with the fact that women in the workplace need mentors, and this role is most likely filled by other women. By extension, that means fewer of these mentors are senior leaders, so C-suite doors remain closed. HR can and should help employees of both genders build more-diverse professional networks.

Where gender bias is deeply embedded in work culture, it is up to HR to show how gender equity drives better business outcomes and builds lasting success.

We can’t afford to wait another 100 years. HR must drive organizations to do more than set policy and wait for it to have an effect. We must take the lead to actively dismantle the hurdles that prevent women from taking full advantage of the opportunities to drive the success of their organizations at all levels. It’s good business.


SHRM CEO Hank Jackson


The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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