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Women in the Workplace: Examining the Past, Present, and Redefining the Future

A Gemisode® Series – Part I

It’s officially Women’s History Month in the USA, and with International Women’s Day (March 8th) just around the corner, there is no better time to reflect on the experiences of women in the workplace and the critical role that organizations, leaders, and individuals play in championing support and creating environments where all women can thrive.

From the suffragettes who fought for women’s right to vote to the activists who campaigned for workplace reforms, women throughout history have challenged societal norms and paved the way for future generations. However, despite their contributions, women have long faced systemic barriers to full participation in the workforce. Discriminatory practices, such as unequal pay and limited access to education and employment opportunities, have hindered women’s economic empowerment and career advancement. The lack of supportive laws and policies further exacerbates these inequalities, leaving women vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination in the workplace.

Discriminatory and biased practices directed towards women are also imposed on women by other women as societal conditioning and stereotypes have also meant that some women become gatekeepers of other women, perpetuating biases and hindering collective progress. This phenomenon underscores the need for a deeper examination of how internalized biases and societal expectations impact women’s experiences in the workplace.

As we transition from understanding the historical struggles of women in the workplace to addressing the contemporary challenges they face, it’s crucial to examine the present-day landscape and identify areas for improvement. McKinsey & Company and’s Women in the Workplace 2023 report provides valuable insights into the state of women in corporate America, highlighting persistent disparities and the need for collective action to drive change.

Recent headlines may suggest that women’s ambition is diminishing, but the data tells a different story. Women remain as committed to their careers and as interested in being promoted as men at every stage of the pipeline. Yet, systemic barriers continue to hinder their progress, with women of color facing the steepest drop-off in representation as they climb the corporate ladder. This intersectional challenge underscores the importance of addressing not only gender bias but also racial bias in the workplace. Additionally, the report noted, “women’s biggest hurdle to advancement is at the first critical step up to manager: for every 100 men promoted from entry-level to manager, 87 women are promoted. And this gap is trending the wrong way for women of color. As a result of this “broken rung,” women fall behind and can never catch up with men.”


Internalized oppression means that women can gatekeep other women too!

Furthermore, women continue to experience microaggressions at significantly higher rates than men, further contributing to feelings of exclusion and marginalization. According to the report, Asian women are seven times more likely than white women and men to be mistaken for someone of the same race and ethnicity, while LGBTQ+ women are five times more likely to hide aspects of their personal lives in the workplace. These experiences highlight the need for organizations to foster inclusive cultures where all individuals feel valued, respected, and empowered to bring their full selves to work.

Stay tuned for Part II, the conclusion of this Gemisode, dropping on March 15th. In it, we’ll delve into the crucial roles that organizations, leaders, and society at large must embrace to create a more inclusive workplace for women today and the women to come.