Gender equality can be achieved at the workplace only when employees, managers, team leads and others have a broad and open mindset towards gender parity.
In the ever-changing work environment, gender parity has become critical as organisations are aiming to construct strong, cohesive, resilient and successful workforce. Research and study reports have highlighted that gender equality is good for business and society, however, an overwhelming majority of organisations are yet to make it their strategic business priority, leaving a lot of ground to be covered.
Gender inequality in the workplace has beleaguered the global economy for many decades; it's time that organisations address these issues by integrating women as an integral part of the workforce. A strategic and focussed approach must be taken towards improving women representation as it helps bring diverse skills, ideas, improved decision-making, and diverse perspectives that are essential to harness new opportunities in the fast changing and dynamic business world.
Every organisation deals with their unique set of challenges in this area and may need curated solutions, however, here are a few practices that are useful to help organisations shift the needle significantly in driving gender parity at the workplace:
Articulating the vision and supporting it with the right structure
Management thinker, Peter Drucker famously said, "You can't manage what you can't measure". In the same spirit, gender parity goals must be embedded deeply into the business priorities and cascaded throughout the organisation by the business leaders. This topic should also be an important agenda item at the board-level meetings. In order to make a palpable impact on the ground, there is a need to establish sound cadence around assessing progress against these goals and sharing it widely within the organisation through formal and informal channels. To realise the commitments, organisations need to put in place the right structures, teams and frameworks so there is continued focus on the important agenda. Ideally, these teams should be led by a dedicated senior leader driving the strategy and holding leaders accountable for their commitments. Besides, it is quintessential to have grass-root level networks for bottom-up employee-driven actions which are local and culturally attuned.
Offering equal opportunities for leadership roles
A successful leader sets the direction of an organisation, hence, individuals with the right attributes merit leadership roles in organisations. The deserving candidates, irrespective of their gender must be granted with leadership roles, this will certainly promote gender equality in organisations. A healthier representation of women in leadership roles sets a great example and inadvertently improves gender equality in the workplace. Besides, with an increasing number of women in leadership roles, there are chances of a higher percentage of female employees entering the workforce, due to visible positive reinforcements around career advancement for women in the organisation.
Nurturing and developing careers
Organisations must strive to achieve greater gender balance by implementing targeted, data-led interventions around career growth, promotion, role rotation, and learning and development for women. These special initiatives could range from cross-company mentoring programmes, discussion circles, speed mentoring events, collaborating with external strategic partners to encourage more women to advance their careers etc. It is also observed that sharing inspirational stories and videos celebrating female role models motivates other women and strengthens their belief in themselves.
Abolishing gender pay gap through focused audits and course correction!
Organisations that are serious about gender parity must genuinely embrace pay parity as well. It is time to move from being unreceptive, opaque and disinclined towards this topic to actively fostering parity and equality at the workplace in a holistic manner, i.e., equal pay opportunities, and support system for women to advance their careers. Conducting an annual compensation audit should be considered to evaluate whether gender bias, conscious or unconscious, is taking place in an organisation. Pay must commensurate with the job role and it must be consistently understood and applied by the hiring managers at the time of hiring, and the reporting managers at the time of promotions and appraisals.
Amending hiring practices to promote diversity
Studies and research have established that organisations with better gender diversity have always outperformed those companies that had weaker diversity ratios. Hence, evaluating the company's hiring processes and practices could be an important step towards initiating a change in the organisational culture. Sometimes, organisations fail to realize that they are inadvertently dominated by a particular gender – say, technology companies may be dominated by men, whereas roles such as nursing at healthcare services may be reigned by women. To promote gender equality, organisations must have neutral job descriptions while ensuring a diverse interview panel for hiring prospective employees. Many new-age organisations are also actively tapping the latent talent of women, who may be looking at returning to work after a break or a sabbatical. This group is generally hungry to do well and prove to be great additions to the women leadership pipeline in an organisation. This is particularly relevant in today's time when Covid situation has created a win-win situation for organisations, with women opening to a plethora of opportunities in flexible working formats.
Creating an open-minded atmosphere
Gender equality can be achieved at the workplace only when employees, managers, team leads and others have a broad and open mindset towards gender parity. Often, gender bias emanates from deep-rooted societal beliefs and pre-conceived notions that gradually get ingrained in workplaces. It is unfortunate that even in today's age, we sometimes come across leaders – men and women, who continue to support outdated and disproven notions like women lack ambition, lack confidence, must be responsible for household chores, etc. These are regressive notions that curtail women's ambitions instead of fixing the system that perpetuates gender gap – it's time that leaders uncover these mindset related challenges and take proactive steps to make a real difference on the ground.
Curating flexible work formats to balance priorities and enable wellbeing
The ambitious working women often find it difficult to balance their career goals along with fulfilling their family needs. Studies show that due to the lack of childcare support facilities at the workplace, many organisations leave no choice for women but to drop out from their existing roles. It will be ideal if organisations come forward with childcare and elderly care support facilities to help women, which will potentially reduce high attrition rates amongst women especially at mid-management levels. A bolder approach towards gender parity at the workplace can be considered by modifying parental leave policies. A few progressive organisations, like Fidelity International, have evolved their parental leave policy to allow fathers and secondary carers to take the same amount of paid leave as mothers or primary carers are given through maternity leave. A large part of organisations across the globe is working from home during the ongoing Covid situation. Many surveys have revealed that women's wellbeing has taken some beating especially because they are multitasking across personal and professional demands. More than ever, it is important today that organisations give utmost priority to their women colleague’s wellbeing, so that they stay productive, preserve mental and physical wellbeing, maintain decision-making abilities and contribute effectively. Therefore, organisations must offer flexible work arrangements and tools for them to balance their priorities effectively.
It is great to see that more and more organisations are striving to achieve gender parity as a strategic agenda. Learnings from the last couple of decades tell us that organisations can achieve success in driving this agenda only when there is cohesive and structured approach to evolve the mind-set, skill-set and tool-set in the pursuit of establishing gender parity. Those who have been able to do so have truly gone beyond posturing and made a tangible profound difference on the ground.
Please note the article was originally published in the Economic Times in December 2020.
The opinions expressed are author's own. Fidelity International is not responsible for the author's opinions.