Labor Day Reminder: Gender Discrimination Hurts Women AND the Economy

3611222210_0626ceab11_nThanks to recent Supreme Court cases, proving gender-based harassment and discrimination is a lot harder. Maybe the decisions wouldn’t be so distressing if gender discrimination in the workplace had suddenly disappeared. But as two new studies show, it remains pervasive and widespread.

A poll by the Center for American Progress and Elle Magazine found that more than one in four women have experienced discrimination, and the higher they rank in the workplace hierarchy the more likely that they’ve been discriminated against. An August Gallup poll found that 15 percent of women said they were denied a promotion because of gender. Furthermore, a June 2013 research note by a Columbia Law School student found that more than half of the Fortune 50 companies are failing to meet the SEC’s diversity requirements, a practice that continues to hurt women.

The Center for American Progress poll found, too, that men tend not to notice the non-economic consequences of sexual discrimination. Only about half of the men who were surveyed felt that women are held to higher standards in the workplace, and the majority believed that the “country has made most of the changes needed to give women equal rights as men.” Two-thirds of the women polled, however, believe they are held to higher standards, and almost three-quarters believe that the government needs to do more to guarantee equal rights. When it comes to the economic effects of discrimination, though, men and women tend to be more in agreement about the problem: 31 percent of women think they’d be paid more if they were men, and 20 percent of men agree that they’d have less in their paycheck if they were women.

The poll also found that women in the workplace commonly defy many traditional stereotypes that they’re not assertive enough. More than half of women surveyed said that they “frequently” speak up in meetings, and 58 percent of those higher up on the corporate ladder have “leaned in” and asked for a raise.

The Columbia Law School note emphasized that diversity in board rooms has essentially stayed stagnant for the last seven years. In 2010, the SEC passed the first set of guidelines that addressed the lack of women on corporate boards, requiring companies to disclose how they consider diversity in hiring. Three years later, only 10 percent of Fortune 50 companies did not mention diversity in their hiring requirements. But only a quarter of the companies fully met the SEC’s standards, and only 44 percent of Fortune 50 companies consider gender diversity while hiring. Warren Buffett’s corporation Berkshire Hathaway rejected even considering increasing the diversity of its Board of Directors. Women hold only 21 percent of board seats at Fortune 500 companies, and even less at Fortune 50 ones.

Discrimination against women in the workplace hurts more than just women and their families. In July, Thomson Reuters released a study that found that companies with mixed-gender boards preformed better than companies that only had male board members. According to a Credit Suisse Research study, that’s because

stocks with greater gender diversity on their boards generally look defensive: They tend to perform best when markets are falling, deliver higher average ROEs through the cycle, exhibit less volatility in earnings and typically have lower gearing ratios. … The evidence suggests that more balance on the board brings less volatility and more balance through the cycle.

So come on, Wall Street—time to start speaking out against gender discrimination. After all, putting the question of human rights aside, it’s better for your bottom line if you have a more equitable board!

Picture of women protesting the gender pay gap from Flickr user Fawcett Society under license from Creative Commons 2.0