Gender Bias is Bad for Business

Be sure to participate in the next Online Poll, which asks how kitchen and bath designers and salespeople are paid, online now.

When the ringing of the phone yanked me out of a perfectly good dream early Sunday morning, my first inclination was to ignore it. People I like know enough not to call me in the early a.m., so a ringing phone at 8:30 in the morning generally means a telemarketer.

I picked up the phone anyway, and not surprisingly, it was a guy trying to sell me windows. Although I hate telemarketers, I do need windows, so I was actually inclined to listen…right up to the point where he asked if he could set up an appointment with me and “the man of the house.”

Currently, the only male in the house is a 17 pound cat, and while he has plenty of attitude, he has no disposable income, so I don’t feel the need to consult him about major purchases. I explained this to the salesperson, and believe it or not, his response was, “Well, do you have a man who can help you make this important decision?”

Not surprisingly, he didn’t get the sale.

Later, I shared this story with several female friends. Sadly, even in this day and age, every one of them had had similar experiences. Sadder still, almost all of them involved our industry. Apparently, there is a perception that women can make design and product choices, but they still need men to pay for them.

Despite the fact that more women work outside the home than not these days, women are still not viewed as money makers. Perhaps even more disturbingly, in many cases, they may be right. Most recent estimates have women making only 77 cents on the dollar as compared to their male counterparts.

The salary gap starts early – according to a recent survey, only one year out of college, women are already making only 80% of what men are making for the same jobs – and the gap only continues to widen over time.

Neither is the kitchen and bath industry exempt from this depressing reality: In last month’s salary survey, KBDN found that gender was the number one factor impacting salary – more important than years of experience, dealer location, size and profitability of dealership and professional certifications. In fact, of those surveyed, 90% of the kitchen and bath designers making less than 35K a year were female. This was true despite the fact that the median years of experience was the same for both sexes. Conversely, 100% of the design professionals making in excess of 250K per year were male.

This fact should be upsetting to everyone in our industry, regardless of gender. Women are our clients, our employers, our employees, our manufacturers, our colleagues. They make up more than half the population, and when we don’t pay them fairly or treat them as equals, we’re doing a disservice to everyone, not just personally, but professionally. After all, it should be considered basic common sense that a failure to respect more than half the population is not a smart business decision.

Neither is the gender bias exclusively the purview of men. Just as there are many men who are gender blind in their business dealings, there are many women who exhibit the types of conscious or unconscious biases that perpetuate negative stereotypes of the sexes.

Ironically, if you ask kitchen and bath design professionals if they treat male and female clients differently, the vast majority will say no. However, ask consumers and you may hear a very different story.

For that reason, you may want to give some thought to whether your business practices could inadvertently discourage female customers. For instance, when a woman comes in alone, do you suggest she bring her husband for the next appointment? With some 55 million unmarried women in the U.S., it’s never a good idea to assume your female consumers are married. Likewise, when discussing finances with a couple, do you address your remarks primarily to the man? This can be a huge turn off to women who are proud of their financial independence.

The same is true of salaries; while no one thinks they pay differently based on gender, statistics clearly prove otherwise. So, if you employ members of both sexes, it‘s a good idea to take a look at your payroll. Is there a disparity between genders? If so, why?

Unequal pay for equal work isn’t something to be taken lightly. Not only does it set you up for a potential discrimination lawsuit, it also creates an environment where female employees feel less valued…and may well respond by failing to give their best. Equally important, companies that don’t pay women fairly tend to send a subtle message to their clients – more than half of whom are female. And what woman wants to buy from a firm that doesn’t respect women?

While my bay-window-craving cat may disagree, gender bias is bad for women, bad for men, and, ultimately, bad for business. Just as you guard your firm against other profit drainers, be sure you avoid this dangerous and potentially costly business practice.

Be sure to participate in the next Online Poll, which asks how kitchen and bath designers and salespeople are paid, online now.