Despite the strides that have been made to encourage female equality in the workplace, women continue to be paid significantly less than their male coworkers, and female employees are still underrepresented in senior management roles.
Employers have a vital role to play in changing the status quo and promoting gender equality in their companies.
Gender discrimination comes in different shapes and sizes: It can be sexual harassment (both subtle and overt) in the workplace, paying people of different genders differently for doing the exact same work, hiring and training only one gender for a certain type of work because it is deemed “man’s work” or “woman’s work” or even refusing to promote a pregnant woman simply because of her pregnancy.
Women suffer the brunt of gender discrimination the most both at and away from work. Below are some recommended approaches employers can take to encourage female equality in the workplace.
Train your managers
You should make sure to provide your management team with thorough training on gender equality. Managers should be educated about both the obvious and the subtle discrimination that takes place in the workplace.
Teach them how to identify discrimination when it takes place among their subordinates, how to deal with it when it takes place and how to prevent it from happening repeatedly.
Prioritise your employees’ work/life balance
Working mothers effectively suffer a pay penalty for taking time off. One of the most significant hurdles that currently prevent women from fulfilling their careers’ potential is the lack of childcare support from their employers. Companies should consider helping to pay for childcare and providing employees with quality, on-site childcare facilities for both the mothers and the fathers that work for them.
Work with your human resources department and management personnel to make sure that family leave is available to both men and women. Having parental leave available for fathers offers some relief to working mothers and also allows and encourages the fathers to be more actively involved in childcare duties.
Companies need to encourage female equality in the workplace by working towards building a fair workplace that promote productivity while also allowing flexibility, possibly with remote working.
Remove the gender pay gap (and be transparent about it!)
The gender pay gap is only upheld by the common corporate culture of secrecy. A new culture of transparency needs to be introduced that ensures that men and women are openly compensated equally for performing the same work.
Beyond equal pay for equal work, the policy should also ensure that both genders are treated fairly and equally in recruitment, training, hiring and promotion. Each position should have a pay bracket that outlines the salary for that role, no matter who gets to fill it.
Make mentors available to everyone
Having an experienced mentor to help guide you through the various challenges and obstacles you get to across throughout the course of your career is invaluable, and it should be an opportunity that is available to everyone no matter their gender in order to encourage female equality in the workplace.
Companies with mentor programs also shouldn’t insist on same-sex matches though as in companies with few senior-level women, they are often already spread too thin to have the time to dedicate to mentoring other staff. The #metoo movement has helped to raise voices and awareness about the widespread vice of sexual harassment that women suffer, but unfortunately, this has elicited some counter-productive reactions in the workplace.
Some men are now more wary of mentoring women as a survey from LeanIn.org found that 50% of male managers are now uncomfortable about participating in work activities with women including working alone, mentorship, travelling and socialising for work.
This lack of interest in mentoring female colleagues will undeniably reduce the few career advancement opportunities women have at work and yet the last thing female employees need right now is even more isolation. Men vastly outnumber women as managers and senior leaders in the corporate world, so when they choose to avoid or exclude women, the price is heavy for those women’s careers.
To encourage female equality in the workplace takes more than just treating them with respect and basic decency. It also means not isolating or ignoring them – and making access to resources equal for them. The key is to give both the men and women in your company equal opportunities to succeed.
Have a zero tolerance policy against harassment
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a government agency responsible for processing the sexual harassment complaints that do get reported, says nearly one-third of the 90,000 complaints received in 2015 included a harassment allegation.
However, the agency notes that that number is far too low to reflect reality. They also estimate that 75 percent of all workplace harassment incidents go unreported altogether.
Management has a responsibility to ensure they step in early to both identify and stop harassment, but unfortunately, in many companies, cases of harassment (sexual and otherwise) are often ignored.
The effects of this are devastating in terms of productivity, team cohesion and company culture.
Overlooking, tolerating or mishandling cases of (sexual) harassment is a clear indication that more profound and systemic gender inequality is condoned and encouraged within the organisation.
On the individual level, harassment often has adverse mental health effects on the person suffering it. If there are any signs of harassment happening to any employee, especially the women, within your workplace – no matter how big or small – you need to stamp it out immediately and ensure a proper process is implemented to provide justice to the wronged and prevent such cases from happening again.
Establish a policy that strictly and specifically forbids any form of sexual harassment. Either in the policy itself, or in a related human resources procedure, describe in detail the professional repercussions that will arise from sexual harassment.
You should also make sure to provide employees with an avenue for reporting such activity directly to the human resources department without any fear of retribution. Women often don’t come forward with their experiences out of fear of retaliation. These fears are very valid and well-founded.
One 2003 study found that 75% of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation.
Gender discrimination remains of the biggest shames to both our workplaces and society as a whole.
Interestingly though, whereas gender discrimination disproportionately affects women, it turns out that both men and women benefit when gender equality is practiced in the workplace.
Promoting gender equality is not difficult, but it requires management to commit fully to taking the necessary actions, establish guidelines and enforce them in order to encourage female equality in the workplace.