HR and people management

Three ways you can improve gender equity in the workplace

Internal communications expert, Advita Patel, explains how to be a pragmatic ally to female colleagues and make a real difference in your firm.

Over the years, organisations have shown their commitment to gender equality by establishing policies and procedures to support women to progress.

This shift has helped women gain tremendous traction in the world of work, and many have entered exclusively male-dominated industries.

But despite these policies, women still suffer from gender-based discrimination and unconscious gender bias, which has stemmed from outdated traditions, values and culture.

Slow progress towards pay equity

According to research, it'll be 257 years before we achieve pay equity across the globe for women.

In 1970, the Equal Pay Act received royal assent in the UK, meaning employers were prohibited from paying women less than men for the same job.

But data shows that globally, women earn 68% of what men earn for the same position.

Some argue that the issue of gender equality is not a valid discussion as opportunities should be given based purely on experience and merit.

This would be fair if systemic biases did not exist, and people were given equitable access to training and development in their workplace.

But we have a long way to go before saying there's no unfair bias in the workplace.

This bias includes things like:

  • inadequate performance reviews, which are stereotypically masculine in terms of the way the criteria are set
  • leadership development programmes determined by the – often male – CEO
  • working practices that do not allow for flexibility

How do we solve the problem?

One of the top challenges facing gender equity and equality is that groups created to support some of these initiatives often exclude men.

But research clearly shows that when men are intentionally engaged in gender inclusion programmes, 96% of organisations see progress, compared to only 30% of organisations where men are not involved.

Organisations also spend a significant amount of time and budget focusing gender initiatives on changing women – from leadership programmes to boosting confidence training.

As helpful as some of these programmes can be, they can also hinder progression as women are effectively told that they are the problem, rather than the systemic structural issues.

So, what needs to happen to involve more influential decision-makers and senior stakeholders in supporting gender equity?

Step one – check your bias

Scales iconIt's essential to understand your role in supporting some of the systemic biases in organisations.

For change to happen, the mould needs to break; this includes anything from stepping in to stop someone from sharing a sexist joke to amplifying voices of women and non-binary people who are achieving great things.

To address these microinsults and microaggressions, you need to be tuned in to your bias and understand why you allow certain behaviours to occur and why you ignore inappropriate comments in a team meeting or even with your friends.

Admitting you contributed to some of the challenges facing women in your organisation can be uncomfortable, but rather than withdraw, address the uncomfortableness and plan what you need to progress.

Step two – get educated

Research iconIt's not the responsibility of under-represented groups to shoulder the burden of educating you or anyone else on the struggles they are facing.

Supportive male allies will continually educate themselves on female colleagues' issues and listen to their lived experiences without judgement and without getting defensive.

The biggest pet peeve for many women is when comparisons are made between different lived experiences.

Just because you have several sisters, your mum is an advocate for women’s rights and your best friend is a woman, that doesn't mean you know the answer to everything about the challenges some women face in the workplace.

Every person will react differently to situations – and comparing can be harmful and cause further damage.

Keep an open dialogue and communication lines open, and if you're unsure on what to do, ask.

Step three – be an advocate

Gender equality iconEven if you’ve identified that you're not part of the problem, think about how often you have advocated for a woman at work.

Have you supported women in rooms where they do not have a voice?

Have you championed their ideas to your leaders or mentored them, so they feel supported and included?

Male allies can play a significant role in championing women in the workplace.

And even if you don't hold power to influence critical decisions on things like policy change you can still make a difference.

For example, celebrating achievements, passing on opportunities to speak at events, recommending women for promotions and pay uplifts, and not shying away from difficult conversations about gender issues with other men – these small everyday things can make a massive difference to someone's life.

 

In conclusion, being an ally or an advocate for gender equity is a continuous learning process that involves being curious, education and having a sense of self-awareness.

Building your knowledge and understanding is a critical process to help you effectively empathise with the challenges facing women in the workplace.

Remember, you have the privilege to make a difference, not only to women but to all marginalised groups within your organisation.

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