What Other Employers Can Learn From Uber: Recognizing and Combating Sexism in the Workplace


Last month, a former Uber employee recounted her “very, very strange year” at the organization as a female engineer. Her account is a story of sexism, sexual harassment and HR violations that left many asking, “Are you kidding me?!”

While I’m not here to play the court of public opinion regarding the validity of these stories, I am here to tell you:

It’s 2017, and sexism in the workplace is something every organization should be concerned about. HR must be at the forefront of positive change.

Stories like this one don’t exist in a vacuum. As recent news items have shown us, this is not just a concern of the past. So, how can you ensure that your organization is not turning a blind eye to obvious or subtle sexism?

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Take notice of these four things:

1. Pay equity

Pay equity means equal pay for equal work. Recently, companies like Apple, Microsoft and Facebook have pledged to close the gender pay gap at their companies, in part by conducting annual pay analyses.

You can do the same. Start with a gender earnings comparison – through a compensation analytics tool or via spreadsheet – to see if there are any uncovered pay inequities in your organization.

You may be asking yourself – but what happens if we find out about a problem we didn’t know about?

Be honest and don’t shy away from the problem.

If you determine that males and females in similar roles are paid differently, have a conversation with leadership immediately. Ensure that jobs are benchmarked accurately, and understand where comparable employees are paid in the range for that role, as well as how their experience, degrees, certifications and expertise have impacted that pay. If skill or experience differentiators are the cause for pay differences, this probably makes sense. If all experience and skills are equal and male incumbents are paid more than females, you have some more work to do.

If you find pay inequity at your organization, be honest and don't shy away from the problem.Click To Tweet

2. Promotion equity

One of the biggest factors for pay inequity at-large goes beyond equal pay for equal work. Are women being given the same opportunities for growth at your organization as men?

PayScale found that “women are significantly less likely than men to hold management roles” and that, in fact, it is an opportunity gap that heavily influences the gender pay gap.

However, companies like Intel are paving the way in revealing and solving their promotion parity problems. How do you do the same?

Pull together a quick analysis of the percentage of men and women who have been promoted to a manager role or above in the past year. If you see a disparity, dig in to understand from where that might be stemming. Speak directly to the department heads in the areas of your business where promotion equity may be an issue.

3. Micro-behaviors

This is potentially the most difficult and most overlooked example of sexism in the workplace.

Micro-behaviors are small, often unnoticed habits that reinforce subtle sexism. This includes consistently rewarding traditionally masculine behaviors, failing to recognize when men consistently talk over women in a team meeting, or relying on women to do “office housework.”

This may also be one of the toughest examples of workplace sexism to call out and resolve – it’s not data-centric and it’s (hopefully) rarely intentional. A good place to start is to share your desire to recognize these behaviors with your close colleagues and take it from there:

“I’m currently working on being more conscious of sexism in the workplace and unintentional micro-behaviors that influence that. Can you help me look out for these actions, and can we make an agreement to share with each other if either of us notice the other participating in these behaviors?”

You’ll have to be able to recognize these behaviors yourself before you can coach managers and leaders to improve.

4. Sexual harassment

It’s likely that many of you read the Uber article and thought to yourself, “Oh my gosh, that would never happen in my company.” It’s also probable that others sighed in frustration, “Yep, sounds like my workplace.”

The reality is these two different thinkers could easily exist in the same organization. Sexual harassment is not always obvious, and too often swept under the rug. As an HR practitioner, your most important responsibility in recognizing sexual harassment should include a very clearly communicated zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy. You should also have an open-door policy for all managers and HR teams, as well as an environment that builds a safe space for individuals to report harassment, be heard and trust that action will be taken.

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