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Get the Facts: Collecting Data on Women in the Workplace

Larry Alton

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In recent years, women have been hard at work breaking the glass ceiling across a range of fields, but despite their growing visibility, we still know remarkably little about women's experiences in the workplace. What we do know, though, is that data is power, and when inequality is revealed, it puts pressure on institutions to change.

If we want to improve the conditions of women in the workplace, we need to assess sexism and discrimination, as well as bias in data collection itself, and the tools are at our fingertips.

Seeing Bias Clearly

One of the primary things we know about women in the workplace is that they're struggling to find their place. As Caroline Criado Perez describes in her new book Invisible Women, statistics show that women are paid less, do more unpaid work around the home, and experience higher stress levels.

Women are also subject to institutional failures; for example, car companies only used male dummies in crash tests until recently, putting all women at risk and demonstrating to those working in the industry that they were not valued. Bias in safety testing also underscores the fact that women are likely to be placed at risk, at home and work, because their needs aren't taken into account by product designers.

Finding Connections

In response to mistreatment in the workplace, many women have turned to social media to create connections. Of course, social media is a key networking tool for any professional. It's a powerful way to assert yourself as a thought leader, engage with an audience, and get feedback. In this age of increased social awareness though, raising awareness and organizing around discrimination is its own form of leadership, and women have become experts at leveraging these platforms to collect important information.

Defeating Workplace Bias

So how do we learn more about women's workplace experiences? It starts with expanding our research base—and companies don't need to hire consultants to get the job done. Using programs like DragnSurvey, for example, businesses can collect information, as well as access real-time data analysis. And DragnSurvey is easily deployed via social media, meaning businesses and researchers can access a larger group of women workers and use existing networks and tags to engage with those who are already interested in issues around gender and employment.

The Benefits of Big Data

Though many people don't think of it that way, social media is—if not its own form of big data—a powerful source of it, which is why it's important that researchers use these platforms; it's a means of meeting a potential target audience where they are. Tags, for example, are a useful source of pre-culled information, while the overall volume of information is also beneficial. On Twitter, for example, researchers have access to constantly multiplying data streams characterized by volume—there are hundreds of billions of tweets total, velocity—people send hundreds of millions of tweets each day, and variety—tweets contain text, images, and links.

Social media may not be a perfect source of information, but it's a powerful way for researchers to find their audience and learn more about their experiences, and that information is critical. We just don't know enough, and as a result, women aren't just being paid less, but they're getting hurt. Elevating a few select people to positions of leadership isn't enough if women don't participate in developing research and policies that make sense for everyone.

We have to remember that leadership doesn't stop at the corner office door—it needs to benefit those lower on the pyramid if it's to have any meaning.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in tech, social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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