Why aren't women ascending in the workplace?

At Friday's ASCEND Summit in New York City, speakers discussed a new poll that found most men aren't aware of gender wage disparities in the workplace.
Mika Brzezinski hosts the inaugural ASCEND summit in New York City on Friday.
Mika Brzezinski hosts the inaugural ASCEND summit in New York City on Friday.Miller Hawkins

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By Halley Bondy

Not only are there gender, racial and wage disparities in the workplace, but according to new data, most men aren't even aware of them.

The issue was discussed at length at the ASCEND Summit in New York City on Friday following the release of a ASCEND-Morning Consult poll that found men are far less likely to know about the pay or promotion gap between men and women.

While 67 percent of polled women know that women are paid less than men for similar work, only 49 percent of men knew about the issue.

In the first panel, "Morning Joe" co-host and Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski moderated a discussion with Morning Consult features editor Joanna Piacenza and vice president of content Jeff Cartwright about their findings, which surveyed 4,400 men and women.

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According to the survey, men and women also gave different reasons behind the gender gap in executive positions. For example, 48 percent of women said that they have to prove themselves more than men, while only 29 percent of men gave the same answer.

Morning Consult features editor Joanna Piacenza speaks at the ASCEND summit in New York City on Friday.Miller Hawkins

“There’s a huge awareness gap when it comes to promotions and discrimination,” Cartwright said at the ASCEND summit, which featured leading voices on advancing women into the C-suite and on boards. “There's still so much for men to learn.”

“I’ve had a lot of male CEOs that seem well aware and want to do something about it," noted Brzezinski. "It’s about getting that information across the board.”

In terms of racial disparities, the ASCEND-Morning Consult survey found that white women were less likely to know or acknowledge the pay gap between themselves and minority women. Only 34 percent of white women acknowledged this issue, while 64 percent of black women said they knew minority women are paid less than white women.

“Women talked about challenges and obstacles, but then we add the caveat of ‘non-white’ women, and all of a sudden the awareness falls away,” said Piacenza.

Overall, women still lag behind men in leadership aspirations by 10 percent. Interestingly, however, minority women aspire for leadership positions at a much higher rate than white women. Only 20 percent of leadership-seeking women are white, while 39 percent are black, 47 percent are Hispanic, and 48 percent are other races.

Morning Consult's vice president of content Jeff Cartwright speaks at the ASCEND summit in New York City on Friday.Miller Hawkins

Piacenza offered a theory about this disparity which is also rooted in discrimination.

“In order to facilitate change you have to be in charge,” said Piacenza. “There’s also a sense that racial and ethnic minorities have to work twice as hard, so there’s this hunger to get to the top.”

The aspiration gap gets worse with age, according to the results. Among women between the ages 18 and 29, 53 percent aspire for a leadership role. This percentage drops drastically for women ages 30 through 44, which only boasts 36 percent of women interested in leadership positions. By the time women are ages 55-64, only 14 percent have leadership aspirations.

This often has to do with family obligations.

“It’s not just having kids, because when you get those kids ready to go, it’s your parents,” said Brzezinski. “That’s the social norm, that the care for parents falls on the woman. That really impacts success, and if that reality isn’t going to change, there’s gotta be a way to say to your employer: ‘This is just as important as my maternity leave.’”