Improving women’s experience in the workplace is an important endeavor for companies to undertake to for multiple reasons. When executed meaningfully, it leads to an abundance positive outcomes for both individuals and businesses.
The benefits of equal opportunities and diversity in the workplace
As well as contributing towards goal in the fight towards gender equality, closing the pay gap, and helping women progress their careers, investing in women’s progress in a corporate context has been found to lead to more creativity, greater innovation, and better problem solving across teams.
Gender-diverse tech companies were found to return on average 5.4% more on an annual basis than their less gender-diverse peers and companies with more than 33% female executives see a net profit margin more than 10 times greater than those companies with no women at this level.
And a study of 22,000 firms across 91 countries by Peterson Institute for International Economics corroborated the fact that having more women in senior roles was shown to make a company more profitable:
"A profitable firm at which 30% of leaders are women could expect to add more than 1 percentage point to its net margin compared with an otherwise similar firm with no female leaders. By way of comparison, the typical profitable firm in our sample had a net profit margin of 6.4%, so a 1 percentage point increase represents a 15% boost to profitability."
Profit aside, there are tangible benefits to all employees’ wellbeing when workplaces commit to dismantling gender inequality. Another study showed that a higher percentage of women in the workplace led to:
More job satisfaction
More meaningful work
These organizations were more likely to have employees of all genders cite a positive and meaningful culture, including having enjoyable work, a job that fits well with other areas of their life, and opportunities to make a difference.
Uneven percentage of women in executive positions
Though the numbers show that high visibility of women in the workplace brings communal benefit to the workforce as a whole, increasing companies’ likelihood of achieving Workforce Success, only 10.9% of senior executives among the world’s largest 500 companies are women.
And this trend is reflected in senior leadership across the board. The reason for this disparity is the ‘broken rung’. That is, the biggest obstacle women face on the path to senior leadership occurs at the first step up to manager.
For every 100 men, only 72 women are promoted and hired to manager, which ultimately results in more women hitting a wall at entry-level positions, and fewer progressing beyond. As a result, men end up in 62% of manager-level positions, while women hold just 38%. This is has a knock-on effect.
So if it’s clear that having greater gender diversity across all levels of seniority in the workforce serves everyone, what measures can you actively take to support women in your workplace? How can you work to bridge the ‘seniority gap’?
How to empower women in the workplace
1. Deliver unconscious bias training
Unconscious biases are based on stereotypes about certain social and demographic groups, that are formed outside of an individual’s conscious thought processes.
Unconscious bias seeps into every aspect of the work lifecycle, from hiring decisions and feedback, to salaries and promotion.
For example, it’s well noted that when female leaders are assertive, though they are deemed competent, their likability among employees decreases. The same is not true of male leaders. This is because men are expected to ‘take charge’ (be strong, assertive and decisive) and women are expected to ‘take care’ (be emotional, nurturing and communicative). Conversely, If female leaders are less assertive, they are more liked but deemed less competent. This is known as the ‘double-bind’.
If women are repeatedly met with certain stereotypes about themselves, and other women, over time these stereotypes become internalized. This means both men and women are complicit in the perpetuation of stereotypes, and it requires a combined effort to dismantle them. In a recent UN report, it was found 90% of men and women hold some sort of bias against women.
A good place to begin addressing unconscious biases is by simply acknowledging that it exists and that overcoming them requires conscious mental effort. Start by opening up the dialogue on how unconscious biases may be impacting your workplace.
To really help women reach their full potential, offer unconscious bias awareness training. This type of training is integral to any Workforce Success training program.
Workforce Success dictates that your workforce can’t be successful unless the individuals it’s comprised of are being actively empowered to perform at their very best. And every individual can’t perform at their very best if a large part are subconsciously being put at a disadvantage.
What can individuals do to help?
You may be reading this all and thinking “I’m just one person - I can’t change the entire system!”. But wide-scale, meaningful change is often made up of smaller, incremental changes.
One simple thing you can do to uplift women in your workplace is speak out when you hear remarks that perpetuate biases. A good way to identify if something is said from a place of unconscious bias, is to apply it to the opposite sex.
Would the remark feel off if used in relation to a male colleague? If so, don’t let it slide.
2. Improve your parental leave policy
The disparity in the parental leave afforded to men and women is stark.
In the U.K. statutory maternity leave is 52 weeks, which is comprised of ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’ (first 26 weeks) and ‘Additional Maternity Leave’ (last 26 weeks). Pay is only received up to 39 weeks, and at a reduced rate after the first 6.
Paternity leave pales in comparison - new fathers might be eligible to take 2 weeks off after the birth of a child, but employers are not obligated to compensate them for this time off at all.
In the U.S., matters are far worse. As a new mother working for a company with more than 50 employees, you are entitled to 12 weeks, unpaid leave. In a company with 50 or employees or less? Bad luck! You have no legal right for leave - unpaid or otherwise - to care for a new child.
This falls below the 16 week minimum that the World Health Organisation recommends. And new fathers in the U.S. aren’t entitled to any leave at all.
These discrepancies in the time allowed to each parent write the subconscious expectations we have of new mothers vs. new fathers as a society into law. If the time a new father is allowed to spend with a newborn is limited, it sends a signal that it’s less important for new fathers to spend time with newborns than it is mothers. And the responsibility becomes shouldered by mothers exclusively.
These facts may seem demoralizing, but certain companies are already trailblazing on this front, and actively working to change things, like Accenture - who doubled its paid maternity leave, and saw nearly a 40% reduction in mothers leaving after birth or adoption. Google made similar amendments to their maternity leave policies after Laszlo Bock, their former Vice President of People Operations, realised women, particularly new mothers, were leaving at twice the rate of their male colleagues.
Originally, Google’s paid maternity plan covered new mothers for 12 weeks, but Bock extended it to 21 weeks. The result? A 50% reduction in churn for female employees that had recently given birth. And churn is not something employers want to incur, seeing that replacement can cost 33% of the churned employees salary.
While beneficial short-term, simply changing the amount new mothers are compensated, or the length of their leave, won’t fix the underlying issue - the broken rung mentioned earlier.
In fact, if you amend new mothers’ leave, and leave new fathers’ as is, it only reinforces expectations, exacerbating the problem by putting the onus on solely women to take time off after the birth of a child. To make true strides, your paternity leave policies - or a shared parental leave - must be also be looked at.
As soon as childcare is viewed as something that both parents should take responsibility for, and you reflect this tangibly in your policies, you are helping to enforce real change for women in the workforce.
At eduMe, we’ve introduced enhanced parental leave for both primary and secondary caregivers, extending both the time off allowed, and also increasing pay. It’s important that these enhanced policies apply to both men and women, rather than simply increasing maternity pay, to avoid reinforcing the gender stereotype that only women raise children.
Our policies refer to ‘primary caregivers’ and ‘secondary caregivers’, to ensure that no assumptions are made regarding the gender of the parent taking time off for their child, and new parents can make the childcare decision that best suits their personal situation.
3. Provide flexible working hours
It’s also important to have policies that allow for a good work-life balance, with flexible working hours, and opportunities for remote working. Again, for both men and women.
Flexible working used to be considered a ‘female-friendly’ policy; but flexible working actually just gives new parents more opportunity to split childcare more evenly.
At eduMe, we’ve been working fully remotely since March 2020 and offering flexible working hours throughout. This won’t change once offices re-open either - we’re committed to making work work, for all our employees.
Alongside flexible remote work arrangements, providing childcare at work is another way to ensure that women (and men) can continue to work, without the financial burden of childcare at home for days they have to come into the office.
Google, Goldman Sachs and Addison Lee are all pioneers in their respective industries in this regard. All three have introduced creches, where children can be brought in to stay during the day while parents work.
4. Reduce the gender wage gap
Although most assume that they are being paid equally, and most employers also assume there are no stark wage gaps between men and women in their workforce, it’s highly likely that unconscious bias has given rise to a wage gap that you’re unaware of.
The gender wage gap in the U.S. is narrowing but persistent - in 2018 women earned 85% of what men did, up from 80% in 2017.
The good news is that you can take proactive steps to ensure you’re not unconsciously contributing these statistics.
How can I ensure equal pay for equal work?
Undertake an internal wage gap audit of your payroll - Glassdoor has a great guide on how to work out your unadjusted (average female salary vs. average male salary) wage gap, and your adjusted (which takes into account different roles within the company) wage gap.
At eduMe, we’ve addressed wage gaps by creating and implementing a progression framework model across all departments, where there are salary bands for different levels within teams.
We’ve implemented this as studies show that men are more likely to negotiate salary when compared to women - with 55.1% of men saying they would, compared to 42.1% of women. Similarly, the same study showed that only 42.6% of women feel comfortable asking for a pay rise, compared to 64.1% of men.
By using a framework like this, we ensure salary is not defined by gender, and instead is defined by the job that you do and the responsibilities you have.
By having this universal framework in place, this removes the need to negotiate salary upon joining the company, and pay-rises are linked with progression up the scale, rather than arbitrarily based on who asks and who does not.
Gender wage gap by occupation
Some may believe men are paid more highly on account of the fields they tend to go into. For example, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). But it’s important to ask - why aren’t there more women in tech?
There are many contributing factors. One is that aspirations are often formed during adolescence. Given this, one way your company could encourage more women in STEM is by offering training or work experience to young women in ‘shortage subjects’.
At eduMe, we work with clients Sheva to provide mobile technology training to women in Guatemala, a country where 50% of smartphone users only use their phone to call or text. The training involved teaches them how to better access information using their phone, improving digital literacy and facilitating access to life-enhancing tools.
Internally, we are making an effort to run recruitment campaigns that specifically target women.
One of which is our partnership with GirlCode - a ‘female career-focused online community and consultancy on a mission to both support and inspire female software engineers throughout their careers, whilst adding real value’, and are committed to increasing the number of female software engineers we have on our team.
We’ve chosen to partner with GirlCode as not only do they represent a community of current female engineers, but they also partner with coding bootcamps all over the world, to help encourage women to get into engineering.
Ultimately, having more women in the workforce, in more prominent positions and in typically male-dominated roles, has been proven to benefit the workforce collectively.
But despite this - the playing field isn’t level quite yet. There’s still a way to go.
Looking to improve gender diversity in the workplace?
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