In a 21st-century workplace, ‘gender equality in the workplace’ should be one of the guiding principles for employers. Men and women are equal.
And it’s not just for the sake of making headlines, earning a few words of admiration in newspaper columns, or making a company appealing for talented professionals.
Achieving gender equality in the world of business is a shared responsibility of all those who have been fortunate enough to lead from the front.
On the plus side, there’s also a strong business case for doing it.
Here are some of the ways employers can improve gender equality in the workplace.
Educate your team about gender equality and stereotypes
Research on gender stereotypes and workplace bias shows that gender-based generalizations are widespread and consistent across culture and context.
Male workers are often associated with characteristics such as competence, ability to lead, capacity to make rational decisions, being autonomous, and ‘wired to achieve more.’ Women workers, on the other hand, are associated with characteristics such as empathy, emotional sensitivity, polite submission, and affiliation tendencies.
Such gender stereotypes are often subtle; many people are not even aware that their actions and behaviors in the workplace are guided by unconscious biases which are based on gender-based generalizations.
Negative performance evaluation or unequal opportunities to grow within an organization are common outcomes of gender stereotypes.
Women, who try to counter such stereotypes in a hostile work environment, can be considered ‘competent but unlikeable.’
For instance, women employees in a male-dominated sales team which performs duties that are ‘assumed’ to be better handled by men, may not be credited for joint-successes but often blamed for joint-failures.
A company promoting male workers on potential but allowing female workers to move up the organisational hierarchy only if they have a proven track record of performance is also a form of gender-discrimination resulting from intentional or unconscious gender-biases.
With no relief in sight, female workers may hire an employment law attorney and file a gender discrimination claim.
Employers should work towards beating gender stereotypes by holding seminars and workshops. Such events should focus on making each employee, including those in leadership roles, aware of their unconscious gender stereotypes and biases.
Even the board of directors or senior executives of a company should be encouraged to participate in such events.
Measure and remove the gender pay gap
The World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2018 said that the global gender pay gap between male and female workers may take up to 202 years to close. This is a slight improvement from an earlier estimate of 217 years in 2017.
Governments and employers across the world have made great strides in reducing the gender pay gap but the Global Wage Report 2018/19 still shows an ‘unacceptably high’ global wage gap of 20 per cent.
One of the best things an organization can do to improve gender equality in the workplace is to offer the same salary and incentives to all employees, be it males or females, who work at the same level, perform the same set of duties, and have the same level of competence.
Organizations should have a pay range for each position, with the allowance or additional incentive provided in specific scenarios.
Businesses that are serious about reducing the gender pay gap shouldn’t ask women candidates how much they were paid by their previous employer as it is likely they were short-changed at their previous job.
A simple audit of payroll will help employers understand if they are paying female employees fairly based on their position and contribution.
No special privileges based on gender
Employees should be able to do what’s expected of them, without using gender as an excuse for not getting something done.
Sometimes, companies allow female workers to head home early. This is unfair to male workers.
When such a gender-specific privilege becomes a norm, women workers may also perceive it as a company’s way of saying — “We expect less from you all because you are women.”
Regardless of whether the employee is a male or a female, he or she should not be granted gender-specific privileges in the workplace.
Yes, employers should ideally factor in variables such as the ability of women workers to get home safely and comfortably in the evening, in a particular locality but they should consider adjusting shift-timings to do that.
Rethink hiring practices
Research shows that gender diversity leads to better business outcomes and enhances the overall productivity of an organization.
If a company does not have a gender-diverse workforce, it should try to address the root cause of the problem.
More often than not, hiring processes driven by conscious or unconscious gender biases are responsible for a lesser representation of men or women in different types of organizations.
For instance, men may be less likely to be hired for support-oriented roles and women may be less likely to be considered for leadership roles even if they are competent enough.
One of the best ways to reinvent hiring practices to create a gender-diverse workplace is to have a gender-neutral resume screening and interview process.
Hiring managers who conduct preliminary reviews of resumes should not be aware of the gender of a candidate. All candidates appearing for a position should be asked the same set of questions. Using personality tests can be a good way of screening for different personality types without gender bias.
Employers can also have a policy of having both males and females in interview panels to reduce hiring biases.
Zero tolerance for sexual harassment and gender discrimination
Various countries have enacted laws and laid down rules to discourage and penalize workplace sexual harassment and gender discrimination, but employers need to voluntarily step in and prevent such practices in their organizations.
Mostly, women are at the receiving end but men should not be overlooked.
Implementing a strict policy of zero tolerance for sexual harassment and gender discrimination is the most crucial step towards promoting gender equality in the workplace.
A workplace devoid of gender-equality can turn toxic and hit an organization’s bottom line in more ways than one.
More than just a legal or moral responsibility, employers should look at the goal to achieve gender equality in the workplace as a step towards business success.
Disclaimer: This is not legal information. No attorney-client privileges are substantiated from this article.