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Gender equality in the workplace — lessons for 2021 and beyond

Gender equality in the workplace — lessons for 2021 and beyond

Gender inequality can be an entrenched issue in the office. It reveals itself in pay grade differences, lack of representation at senior level, and sometimes — incredibly —  minimal intervention against gross misconduct. Reaching gender equality requires radical action in organizations. Here’s what you need to know…

HR’s role in achieving gender equality at the workplace

In 2020, we’re seeing a broader range of business models and increased diversity in the job roles they offer. But there’s still a long way to go when it comes to gender equality at the workplace.

Though the support to increase workplace gender equality and diversity may come from senior leaders of an organization, it’s the HR teams fighting for it on the ground. And as well as HR officers, it’s the job of every employee to call out the disparity, wherever it exists. 

When you think about your organization, how much gender equality do you see?

Gender parity in 2020: it’s getting worse at work

It will take 257 years to reach gender equality in economic participation and opportunity, according to the WEF’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report. In fact, the report shows that while other metrics of gender equality have improved (education attainment and health are close to parity, for example), the economic participation and opportunity metric has regressed to 57.8%. 

Why? The World Economic Forum lists three key reasons:

  1. There are far fewer women entering roles and industries that enjoy the highest wage growth (primarily the technology sector)
  2. Workplace automation has hit female roles more prominently 
  3. Women tend to have insufficient care infrastructure and access to financial capital.

What does gender inequality look like?

Workplace gender inequality plays out in a number of damaging ways. 

Disproportionate earnings

As of today, women earn $0.81 for every $1 a man makes, resulting in far lower take-home income and associated financial security. 

Lack of community and support

The old adage “It’s lonely at the top” can certainly be true for the women who do make it to senior roles within their organizations. In the US, only 21.7% of a companies’ boards of directors are women. And that number is only slightly improved in the UK, at 27.2%.

✱ Shortage of professional opportunities

42% of women in the workplace say they’ve experienced gender-based discrimination, including being passed up for important assignments, experiencing repeated, small slights, and being treated as though they weren’t competent. This makes women almost twice as likely to experience these grievances compared to men (22%).

To combat these inequalities, many women may turn to extra education to increase their opportunities for progression, but this can actually be even more of a hindrance. 57% of working women with a postgraduate degree reported some form of gender discrimination, compared to 40% of women with a bachelors degree, and 39% of women with no higher education.

✱ Increased risk of workplace harassment 

Women are far more likely to experience sexual harassment in the workplace, whether they are in a position of power or not. A survey of almost 5,000 adults found that women were three times as likely to have personally experienced sexual harassment at work, at 22% compared to just 7% of men. 

It’s also been found that 66% of women in ‘precarious jobs’ are likely to experience sexual harassment — including outsourced workers, agency workers, and those on temporary contracts.

Improving workplace gender equality in 2021 — it can be done!

There are plenty of steps that can — and must — be taken to improve gender equality in the workplace. Women make up about half the global population; representing a huge pool of talent, resources, and potential innovation. Hiring, training and investing in women makes good business sense, as well as being morally imperative. 

Here are some ways organizations can take control and make real improvements in gender equality:

embolden all members of staff to assess what’s fair and what isn’t; seeking adjustments where relevant.

1. Put an end to salary secrecy

Increased transparency around salaries and remuneration is one definitive step any organization can make. In 2020, there’s still a great deal of secrecy — and that leaves many women unable to access their fair share.

Some truly revealing research from the UK’s Fawcett Society found that:

  • Four in ten people (40%) don’t know that women have a right to equal pay for work of equal value. 
  • Only 36% of people know that women have a legal right to ask male colleagues about their salary if they suspect pay discrimination. 
  • And in the majority of workplaces, colleagues are unlikely to speak openly about what they earn. In fact, only 24% of people said salaries are discussed openly in their place of work.

One solution? A formal pay structure, making it clear how job role, seniority, and tenure affect the salaries of all the employees. Having this information readily available can help remove the taboo of discussing salary. It can also embolden all members of staff to assess what’s fair and what isn’t; seeking adjustments where relevant.

Not only could this transparency improve morale, it could also improve organizational performance, too. After all, a workforce, irrespective of gender, will ultimately perform better if everyone feels they’re being fairly compensated for their time and efforts.

2. Dismantle the glass ceiling

Lack of female representation in senior, high-paying positions only seeks to reinforce the gender pay gap. As such, this must be addressed head-on within each organization. 

Since it’s clear that women are no less capable than men to perform in their roles, this disparity comes down to mindset and learned behavior — essentially, the way that individuals are selected for promotion or hire.

Removing the glass ceiling of progression is no mean feat. That said, there are several initiatives and activities to make it easier:

  • Assessment and investment in company culture — take a long, hard look at your team dynamics and diversity today. How does your organization view and approach gender equality in the workplace?
  • Mentorship can be a crucial agent for growth and development, too; helping individuals understand what their map of progression could look like and guide them as they strive for career excellence. Avoid the temptation to pair women with women all the time, though. It may be enlightening to pair female workers with male mentors — and vice versa!
Read this next to take your first steps toward change.

Remember, workers can be biased to their own gender, as well. Female leaders may consciously, or unconsciously, fight to protect their status in the organization. It is crucial to both company culture and staff wellbeing that your female employees do not sense that top-level positions are scarce for them.

3. Remove barriers for flexible working

Lack of flexibility, or stigma, related to varied working hours can be a barrier to progression for many female workers, as women tend to take on more active parenting duties. Some women may feel they’d be counting themselves out if they were to start a family, while men are unlikely to face the same fears in a similar scenario.

Shared Parental Leave is having a mixed reception in the countries trying it, like the UK. And there doesn’t seem to be a one-size-fits-all approach — certainly not that can be achieved overnight. At the very least. At the very least, women simply need the reassurance that they’ll still be a job, and a viable route to progression, when they return back to work.

The ability to work from home or use flexi-time is key as well. This can allow parents to perform necessary tasks, like dropping off and picking up kids, while succeeding in their professional role at the same time.

 4. Stand up against violent and inappropriate behavior

Every employee should feel safe when they’re at work — no ifs or buts. That’s why strict sexual harassment and gender discrimination policies are vital for every organization. 

Create an easily accessible system for reporting incidents, and define swift, decisive actions or punishments should this behavior occur. This will help foster a culture of safety and openness; an atmosphere where every employee can thrive.

If you haven’t got the expertise or experience in-house, don’t be afraid to look for a consultant for guidance on which training will benefit your unique business. Everyone should understand exactly what is expected of them and what structures are in place to keep teams safe and protected.

5. Redefine your recruitment process

When gender equality is prioritized in recruitment, teams become more gender diverse. This new-found diversity fuels further diversification, sending positive ripples through the organization, increasing engagement, motivation, and satisfaction throughout the ranks. 

The message for recruiters? Hire to fill a role, not to replace the person who held it previously.

The message for recruiters? Hire to fill a role, not to replace the person who held it previously. This can be easier said than done, of course, as implicit gender bias lies under the surface for many (if not all) of us who work in HR-related roles. But there are ways to overcome it. 

Headstart helps promote diversity and fight discrimination within an organization — generating a 5-point increase in female hiring (while reducing cost-per-hire by 55%, too). But to see these results, you first need to be aware of the biases inherent in your recruitment teams.

Make 2021 the year for gender equality at your workplace

Through collective action, we can tackle the issues related with — and leading to — gender inequality at work. One recruiter can’t do it on their own. One business won’t reshape the status quo. 

Commit to the actions listed in this guide, to start 2021 with the right processes in place for your organization. And book your Headstart demo, to put those intentions into action.

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