2nd March 2020
While the corporate world has made progress in advancing women’s careers in leadership positions, there is still a long way to go in achieving true gender equality in the workplace. By investing in the skills and talents of an organisation’s entire community, regardless of gender, we can unlock true prosperity.
Gender parity encompasses everything from equality in maternity/paternity leave, to progression opportunities and skills development. Equality across all of these indicators is vital to fending off workplace discrimination.
The case for change
The Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 has been a leap forward when it comes to addressing pay inequality amongst men and women. It shined a much-needed spotlight on an issue that continues to exist.
According to the ONS, women earn less than men across all major occupations - in fact, in the UK, women earn £12,000 less on average than their male colleagues, But gender parity is closer in some areas than others. For instance, it’s expected that we’ll have equality in education by 2030. On the other hand, The World Economic Forum estimates that it will be more than 200 years before gender parity is reached. 200 years!
Quest, an American non-profit research centre that focuses on early-career female talent, conducted research that indicates a breakdown in hiring and developing women for managerial and leadership roles once they cross the early stages of their career. According to their research, employers make assumptions that limit young women’s careers and professional advancement opportunities, such as women may be unwilling to travel or that starting a family will lead them to opt out of challenging roles.
The benefits of diversity
There is a myriad of benefits for companies to foster a more diverse and inclusive workplace. With the Millennial and Gen Z generations being most diverse in historyit is important now more than ever to get serious about inclusion in the workplace. The upcoming generation of workers will be the most diverse talent pool yet, and for businesses and organisations this means they have to look at the benefits inclusion can bring to their workplace and consider how they can benefit from diversity.
A growing body of research shows that increasing the number of women leaders can be key to your company’s future success. This might be because a more inclusive workplace is a more innovative and productive one. Recent research from Fast Company suggested that organisations with above average diversity levels outperform those with lower levels of diversity by 46-58%.
Better talent, higher levels of productivity, and more innovation all result in better products or services for clients and consumers and increased company profits as a result.
But, although research suggests that overall diversity increases creativity and performance, there can be negatives, including discomfort and greater interpersonal conflict.
It’s not always obvious to people that being inclusive means accepting decisions that you might not like. But this is how communities function and how strong organisations succeed.
Making diversity an integral part of an origination’s culture and celebrating it can help people understand this.
One problem is that the more diverse an organisation gets, the greater range of viewpoints, motivations, desires and beliefs you’ll find, and the harder it can be to unite people under a common purpose.
When asked what workforce characteristics would require the greatest change in HR strategies over the next three years, 60% of HR executives responding to an Economist Intelligence Unit study cited employees’ lack of interest in assimilating organisational values.
As businesses work toward gender parity in the workforce, statistically there will be more LGBT+ women in the workplace. As such, businesses cannot be truly representative until they are more diverse, and the experiences of different genders and sexual orientations can be extremely varied. We need new perceptions, stories and experiences at the table. The more diverse our visible LGBT+ communities are, the more interesting our conversations will become, and the more impact we will have as networks that stand for all forms of gender identity and sexual orientation.
Five recommendations for a gender-equal workplace
Align diversity with your business strategy
Set out how diversity and inclusion supports your business priorities and ensure your strategy reaches beyond your workforce to include customers, suppliers, investors and wider society. Set a clear message and tone from the top that diversity and inclusion is a business imperative, not a corporate social responsibility program.
Set realistic objectives and a plan to achieve them
Set measurable goals, decide how they will be achieved and assign business leaders who are accountable for meeting these goals. Commit to hiring at least at levels that reflect demography.
Pay attention to women’s career advancement needs and put policies and practices in place to move them along. That includes development initiatives, networks with other aspiring leaders, and coaching and sponsorship — all of which should include male and female champions.
Use data: what gets measured gets done
Use data to diagnose potential areas for focus, set targets and measure progress. Workforce surveys, tracking the career paths of high potential individuals, and exit surveys can help gauge why talent is leaving. As an example, if you observe a gender bias in the interview conversion percentages for a role, probe further. Review the job description and analyse the composition of your interview panel.
Make sure everyone is heard
As leaders and managers within an organisation, it is important to encourage every individual to speak up and to not let the loudest voices be the only ones that are heard. It’s not only women that don’t always dare to speak up or get talked over. Some individuals – men and women – might be introverted, not feeling that their opinion is valued due to their hierarchal position or English might not be their first language. How are you meant to get the most out of diverse opinions, if those employees don’t feel comfortable enough to speak up on certain issues or situations?
Recognise gender bias: tell it like it is
Acknowledging that the playing field may not be equal plays a big part when trying to empower women in the workplace. It’s often easy to overlook and sometimes it goes unnoticed in unconscious ways. For example, if you are more lenient on a man coming in late because of traffic and not a woman because of childcare then you need to evaluate your policies to ensure gender bias isn’t taking place. Those at the top need to start conversations with women and other employees to ensure their voices are being heard and that they feel included in decisions that affect them.
When working towards creating a more diverse workforce, it’s important to be mindful of the difference between having a diverse team and being inclusive. If you have a diverse team but people don’t feel included, some may see this as a metric highlighting a failing diversity and inclusion strategy. Inclusion is a vital component of any diversity strategy because without inclusion it’s difficult to then reap the benefits of diversity.
In a truly diverse team, everyone is an individual, and we must recognise how they can bring their very best to work, feel comfortable in their own skin, and work with other very different people to create something better than they could do on their own.