Though we live in an era where women have a stronger voice than ever, there is still lots of room to improve workplace equality for women. Fortunately, progress and change are on the horizon.
With this, comes a strong element of corporate responsibility. It is on business leaders to ensure that modern workplace dynamics change with the times.
You don’t need to mimic what companies have done in the past. Instead, you need to create workplace policies that promote gender equality, are forward-thinking and all-encompassing in their scope.
The workplace should be an environment where every employee is empowered to achieve their maximum potential, regardless of gender identity. For this to happen, we need to create an inclusive workplace, free of gender stereotypes, biased language, and discrimination to ensure women have equal opportunities to thrive. Here are 7 ways to do just that.
1. Increase flexibility
If this sounds familiar, it’s because you have heard it time and time again – flexibility is one of the most attractive perks for employees in every demographic group.
Flexible schedules and the ability to work remotely increase employee satisfaction, productivity, and engagement. This results in lower turnover and higher profitability for companies.
Providing all employees with the ability to shift their schedules allows talented women to participate in the workforce. It also allows working fathers to contribute more evenly to household and childcare responsibilities. All without feeling torn between personal and professional obligations.
It’s a win-win for everyone; that doesn’t cost a corporation anything but promotes a better work-life balance for all.
2. Lead with action for workplace equality
Any leader is the driving force when it comes to setting the tone and atmosphere in their workplace. Use your voice to model positive behaviour. When someone at the top acts in a certain way, it tells everyone else that it is acceptable for them to follow their lead.
Something as simple as bringing your child to work when school is closed tells employees that this is also an acceptable option for them, and improves workplace equality. Making it ‘okay’ leads to a shift in the culture and understanding of how employees can work.
Now take it further. Create a safe, comfortable room for mothers to pump. Get in little desks for children to colour in alongside their working parents. Put juice boxes in the fridge. Allow early morning conference calls to be done from home, so family routines aren’t disrupted.
Do what you can to lead with action to create an inclusive culture that empowers female employees in your workplace.
3. Focus on skills, not qualifications
It’s time to redefine what ‘qualified’ means. Previously work history and experience were used to define if someone is qualified for a role. However, when you emphasise skills, it levels the playing field to ensure that more women get a fair chance.
Historically, minorities have had less access to opportunities that look good on paper, and women have had trouble securing management-level roles. If you just emphasise past experience, you hire the same people who already have access and ignore everyone else. This perpetuates the cycle of locking people out of opportunities to advance their career development.
When you look at skills over experience, you understand what an employee can accomplish in the future. It allows for unbiased decision-making when considering who to hire and promote. This will reduce unconscious gender bias in your hiring process, giving female candidates a fair chance to break through the glass ceiling, and creating a more diverse team.
4. Conduct regular performance evaluations
Fortune magazine reviewed performance evaluations across industries and found that criticism related to personality, but not job-related skills, appeared in 71 of the 94 annual reviews received by women. Of the 83 reviews received by men, personality criticism only showed up twice.
But when businesses conduct much shorter, highly frequent reviews focused on specific projects, the personality criticism vanishes. And the perceived performance gap between men and women is nearly non-existent.
Yearly reviews rely on overall impressions, which allow for gender biases to influence all aspects of the review. While monthly or quarterly short, objectively focused evaluations eliminate feelings-based, grey-area assessments, overcoming gender bias. Frequent performance reviews reduce gender bias, allowing for constructive feedback that is skills-based and specific.
5. Eliminate unconscious bias when hiring
Women continue to face many forms of gender discrimination during the hiring process but making small changes can have a significant impact on hiring practices. Building “blind hiring” or gender-equal interviewing requirements into all hiring practices goes a long way to ensure that qualified candidates aren’t excluded from consideration.
Small details in job descriptions might be sending subtle messages indicating what gender recruiters imagine for a role. Using tools like Textio can help craft gender-neutral job descriptions that are inclusive.
Are your hiring practices equitable? Do they give candidates a fair shot regardless of gender? If not, it’s time to make essential changes.
6. Adopt a zero-tolerance policy about harassment
We are in the middle of a cultural movement that sees corporate leaders who behaved inappropriately, or those that enabled them to continue their behaviour, being outed publicly.
But just because this is happening doesn’t mean that their behaviour is new. Women have long been aware of which work environments were welcoming and safe, and which ones turned a blind eye to harassment of all kinds.
It is critical to take a zero-tolerance stand on matters of harassment and assault. Whatever you need to do to root out impropriety and create a safer work environment needs to be done. And it needs to be actioned by leadership.
Women share these kinds of experiences with their professional and personal networks – both positive and negative – and word spreads quickly. Companies earn their reputation on how they take care of their employees.
7. Hold yourself accountable
Change can only happen when we hold ourselves and those around us accountable. The only way to eliminate gender discrimination is to understand how we place people in specific boxes or categories that only create separation and general negativity.
Everyone needs to work towards understanding their own unconscious bias. Once we can acknowledge and change our behaviour, we can help others become more inclusive and create a workplace that promotes gender equality and enables more women to feel supported even in fields dominated by men.
If we spend more time actively training ourselves to recognise gender discrimination in the workplace, our efforts will ripple out into other areas of society. By helping women thrive at work, we help them succeed everywhere.
Here’s to a world free of discrimination, filled with positive diversity and inclusion. Happy International Woman’s Day!