7 surprising places gender imbalances in male dominated industries show up in daily life
Despite the well-evidenced benefits of gender equal workplaces, progress on key indicators has stagnated, with the pandemic disproportionately negatively impacting women. In addition, women’s under-representation in male-dominated industries (notably STEM) is well established, and if this trend continues in growing professions such as AI and machine learning, there is the risk that of these gaps further widening.
As the former global leader of Talent Management at a FTSE10 business with an 81% male workforce, I’ve seen how it is possible to dismantle the barriers preventing women and organisations from reaching their full potential.
The arguments for action are compelling from a business viewpoint. A recent study found a 10% or more increase of women on boards and women in key executive positions, leads to an increase in market value of around 5% and 6.6% respectively.
But workplace inequality can also have unexpected consequences. Here I highlight some of the ways male dominated industries, such as STEM, can affect daily life outside the workplace for all of us. Surprise: not only women are affected!
1. Car accidents
Women are a shocking 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a car accident and 17% more likely to be killed. This is because the male-dominated motor industry still uses crash test dummies based on male proportions and physical attributes. Women also tend to adopt a different seating position to men while driving that puts them more at risk in the event of a crash. Essentially, cars are designed to be safer on average for men than women.
2. Medical treatment
Despite increases in women in the medical profession, specialist medical roles are dominated by men. Women are still less likely than men to get immediate medical attention when they report physical pain. Studies have shown that women wait longer to see a doctor in A&E and are less likely to be classified as urgent cases, sometimes with lethal consequences. In a notorious case in France in 2018, a Black woman’s abdominal pain was brusquely dismissed by the emergency services operator, who made a joke about her condition. When she died after a five-hour wait for treatment in hospital, the event led to widespread outrage. Unfortunately, it is not a rare occurrence for Black women to be met with disproportionately worse health outcomes, leading to the British Medical Journal to call for urgent action tackling what they called systemic biases contributing to unequal mortality outcomes in ethnic minority women.
3. AI and software
Voice recognition software has a much higher rate of failing to recognise women’s voices than men’s. It also shows a lower rate of successful voice recognition for people of colour. The majority of programmers working on these AI voice recognition tools are white men. One company even went as far as to suggest “Women could be taught to speak louder and direct their voices towards the microphone…” to get around the problem. Essentially, to speak more like men!
4. Family life
Male dominated workplaces often don’t prioritise work-life balance. Increasingly, men want the flexibility to spend more time with their children and be more involved at home. When men spend less time at work and are able to share housework and childcare, their children do better in school. Their children have lower rates of absenteeism and higher rates of achievement. They are less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, see a child psychiatrist, or be put on medication.
5. Men’s health
Male dominated workplaces can have negative effects on men’s health, particularly when long working hours prevent men from taking part in family activities. When men partake in housework and childcare, they are healthier. They smoke less, drink less, and take recreational drugs less often. They are also likely to be in better physical and mental health, with lower rates of depression, or the need for prescription medication.
Many employers are required to provide workers with personal protective equipment (PPE) to do their jobs safely. This can range from goggles to body armour. A lot of PPE equipment is designed for male face and body shapes, meaning it can often fit women less well. For example, dust masks or goggles may not fit women as well, and body armour used by women police officers can be uncomfortable and cumbersome. This can make workplace injury or even death more likely for women. When it came to the pandemic, the one-size-fits all protective clothing initially ordered was too big for many women healthcare workers, leading to a potential compromise in protection for up to 77% of the NHS workforce.
7. Smartphones and essential tech gear
Many modern smartphones are too big for women’s hands. As phones have got bigger, with wider screens, women have found the devices harder to use. Women's hand circumference is on average one to two inches smaller than men’s. Mobile phone design is a male dominated field. While smaller devices are available, they tend to be more low budget models, which are less powerful, so less capable of running up to date applications.
While there are three overarching barriers to workplace gender equality – societal, organisational and personal – organisations hold the power not only to directly remove the barriers within their control but, through cultural shifts, to influence the others too.
It can be difficult to identify gender-unequal working cultures, especially in industries with fewer women or where this culture is accepted as “just the way things are”. Dismantling the barriers that impede gender equality at work is not only better for women colleagues, but healthier for men too. In addition to the direct impact of gender equality to the bottom line, diverse and inclusive organisations also benefit from lower turnover and a workforce who are more motivated and engaged, better able to fulfil their full potential.
Ensuring that all employees have an accurate picture of gender inequality and encouraging men to become allies in the cause of their colleagues is a powerful way to address this. Join our mailing list to be the first to hear about our upcoming Men as Allies programme.
And be sure to follow us on social media:
Sharon Peake is the founder and CEO of Shape Talent Ltd, a gender equality coaching and consulting business established with the sole purpose of getting more women into senior leadership roles in business. We work with organisations to remove the barriers to women’s progression and we work with individual women, helping them to achieve their career potential.
References  https://www.weforum.org/reports/gender-gap-2020-report-100-years-pay-equality/digest  Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre (2020). Gender equity insights 2020: Delivering the business outcomes.  Invisible Women”, Caroline Criado Perez  https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/feb/23/truth-world-built-for-men-car-crashes  https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20180518-the-inequality-in-how-women-are-treated-for-pain  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-44037834  https://www.bmj.com/content/372/bmj.n152  https://hbr.org/2019/05/voice-recognition-still-has-significant-race-and-gender-biases https://www.ted.com/talks/michael_kimmel_why_gender_equality_is_good_for_everyone_men_included/transcript?language=en https://www.ted.com/talks/michael_kimmel_why_gender_equality_is_good_for_everyone_men_included/transcript?language=en  https://www.tuc.org.uk/research-analysis/reports/personal-protective-equipment-and-women  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-52454741  https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/smartphone-size-design-for-woman-hand/