Ever wondered what it would be like to swap sexes in the workplace?
That’s exactly what two workers did when the male employee inadvertently used his female colleague’s signature on emails from a mailbox that they shared.
The two decided to keep up the exchange for two weeks. While he struggled to gain respect from clients, she breezed through, able to complete tasks much more quickly as a result.
In the words of her colleague she swapped places with: “By the time she could get clients to accept that she knew what she was doing, I could get halfway through another client.
“For me, this was shocking. For her, she was used to it. She just figured it was part of her job.”
Data for the UK and other western countries show that some of the most important explanations for the gender pay gap today are differences in how much time is spent on the job, bias in pay negotiation and negative stereotypes regarding women in the workplace.
There’s a lot that companies can do to rectify this.
Not only is it the right thing to do, but eliminating gender bias is vital to attract and keep top talent.
In fact, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform their competitors financially.
So, here are 10 steps to take to help eliminate gender bias in your company.
1. Be transparent
Report on your gender statistics transparently. This is the law for companies over a certain size in the UK.
Accompany it with a clear action plan on the steps you are taking as an employer to close the gender pay gap, with clear targets and milestones.
Communicate this openly and honestly with your workforce, explaining the tangible progress you plan to make.
2. Support women into more senior roles
Accenture, Barclays, Credit Suisse UK and KPMG have all set gender targets, broken down by business lines and functions.
They have clearly defined interim milestones and deadlines, so they can continually measure themselves against their targets.
Furthermore, managers and decision makers are held responsible and accountable for meeting those targets.
3. Implement gender-neutral recruitment processes
Carefully word your job adverts.
Research shows that adjectives such as ‘competitive’ and ‘determined’ put off women. On the other hand, words such as ‘collaborative’ and ‘cooperative’ tend to attract more women than men.
Standardize interviews, anonymize resumes and use blind evaluation processes.
Unilever and Vodafone have found that blind evaluation procedures — including work sample tests and neuroscientific tests of an applicant’s aptitude and skills — have helped them recruit from more diverse backgrounds.
4. Review salaries and standardize pay
Frequently review salaries for parity between genders and races.
When recruiting, set the pay range offered on years’ experience with some leeway for special achievements, not on how well the candidate negotiated their last pay package.
5. Provide training on unconscious bias
Educate employees about their own unconscious bias.
Although this does not guarantee that attitudes will change, it does help employees to understand their biases and to work towards eliminating them.
6. Have a clear policy on discrimination
A Unilever study found that women and men struggle to acknowledge gender discrimination and inappropriate behavior (most likely sexual harassment) in the workplace.
67% of women said they feel pressured to get over inappropriate action. And most women (64%) and slightly more than half of men (55%) said that men don’t confront each other when witnessing this behavior.
Create a clear, unbiased, non-retaliatory discrimination policy that ensures employees have a proper way to comment or report on inappropriate treatment in the workplace.
Make sure everyone knows and understands the policy. Implement severe penalties for sexual discrimination and harassment.
7. Provide flexible working and destigmatize shared parental leave
Shift your company mindset to assessing workers’ performance on their delivery and achievements rather than time spent in the office.
This not only benefits working moms but dads too, those caring for elderly parents and everyone in general.
Even millennials, perceived to have fewer responsibilities at home, are increasingly valuing and looking for flexible working.
Telstra, the Australian telecoms firm, has made flexible work the default option.
In the UK, parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave, and up to 37 weeks of pay between them. Ensure your employees are aware of policies like these.
8. Diversify the board
Set targets for gender diversity on your board and look beyond your existing talent pool.
A growing number of companies are eschewing traditional board candidates — retired chief executive officers, who are predominantly older white men — and opting for diverse members, many of them first-timers with no experience.
9. Ensure you’re actively encouraging women to progress
Make sure that female employees are applying for promotions and asking for pay rises.
At KPMG UK, when a promotion is advertised, line managers are encouraged to check whether their high potential female colleagues have applied and if not ask why.
Martin Blackburn, People Director at KPMG UK explains: ‘Where the men would apply for a role if they had 80% of the [required] skills, women would think they were missing 20% and not bother’.
10. Promote a culture of meritocracy
Promote a culture where great ideas come from all levels, genders and races and all voices are welcome and respected around the table.
When President Obama took office, two-thirds of his top aides were men. Women had to elbow their way into important meetings. And when they got in, their voices were sometimes ignored.
So, female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called ‘amplification’. When a woman made a point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to her.
This forced the men in the room to recognise the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.
It’s no surprise then that during Obama’s second term, women gained parity with men in the president’s inner circle.
Staggering statistics demonstrating the shocking impact of gender bias in the workplace
The global gender pay gap will take 100 years to close at the current rate of change.
Globally, women make up just 22% of ministerial and parliamentary roles. They take up just 15% of all board seats.
And 76% of people globally tend to think of men as better suited for careers and women better suited as homemakers.
Companies shouldn’t be simply waiting for change; they can play a vital role in eliminating gender bias in the workplace today.
Editor’s note: This article was first published in November 2020 and has been updated for relevance.
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