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5 Things Employers Can Do To Improve Gender Equality In The Workplace

Despite the strides that have been made in improving gender equality in companies, female workers are still paid significantly less than their male counterparts, and women continue to be underrepresented in senior management roles. While discrimination and unequal pay is illegal, the facts show that there remain to be tremendous obstacles in equal opportunities, and employers play a vitally important role in overcoming these hurdles in their workforces. The latest research report from Accenture has identified 40 workplace factors that help to create a culture of equality within a company. The “Getting to Equal 2018” report details the most effective actions that leadership teams can implement to accelerate advancement within the organisation and help close the gender pay gap among employees.

The research report surveyed more than 22,000 women and men in 34 countries (more than 700 in Ireland) to identify the factors that contribute towards equality in their workplace cultures. Below, we’ve outlined 5 of the key elements mentioned in the report that is linked to gender equality advancement within an organisation.

This topic arose quickly during a major transformation a company I previously owned was undergoing. We had been doubling in size (revenue and headcount) each year since our inception but began to suffer from the inevitable growing pains all organizations face. We were outgrowing legacy systems and processes, needed a culture upgrade, new talent acquisition strategies, new divisions, new software programs and a new approach to sales and marketing. The list goes on.

And while we knew that research points to the fact that the majority of major organizational change efforts fall short of meeting their intended objectives, we remained vigilant. But some of the major hurdles most companies face during transformations include resources being stretched thin, competing priorities, new systems to learn, fear, fatigue and managers facing issues they’ve never dealt with.

So when I proposed that we pile on leadership development programs and emotional intelligence training to better equip ourselves to successfully lead through change the eyes really started rolling!

“Do you really think that is a priority right now?” one senior executive asked.

“Budget’s are super tight right now with the increase in headcount and investment in the new software program – not to mention the training everyone needs for these new systems,” a board member exclaimed.

1. Re-evaluate job specifications for the senior management team

In the case of companies not hiring women for senior level roles, they should identify what barriers they have constructed which has led to fewer job applications from women. That doesn’t mean the requirements for the position need to be changed, but asking if 15 years of management experience is required when ten years may do is a positive step towards opening the role up to more people. Companies should also consider whether including other types of experience that broadens the pool of applications is equally beneficial to the position.

2. Remove the gender pay gap (and be transparent about it!)

The gender pay gap can only continue if a culture of secrecy is encouraged within a company. A new culture of transparency needs to be introduced which challenges a company to investigate the pay gap between women and men and stops asking candidates what they were paid for their last job. Instead, each position should have a pay bracket that outlines the salary for that role. Buffer, the social media management platform is an excellent example of a company that has embraced transparency across the entire organisation. Since 2013, they have shared their salary details for each member of staff and provided a salary calculator to allow anyone to quickly calculate what they could earn at Buffer and see the compensation for each role. While going to these lengths is not ideal for most companies, the pay brackets for each position should be outlined to eliminate any bias.

3. Make work/life balance a priority for your employees

While research has shown that the gender pay gap is narrowing for young workers, it is widening among working mothers as they are effectively suffering a pay penalty for taking time off. One of the most significant hurdles that currently prevent women from reaching the top of their career is the lack of available childcare support. Companies should consider helping to pay for child and elder care and ensure they don’t oversell how family friendly they are to job candidates if such options are not already in place as this can lead to frustration and early exits from the company. To relieve working mothers, parental leave for fathers should also be promoted as this will not only allow mothers to invest more time into their careers, but research has shown that fathers want to be and should be more actively involved in childcare duties.

Companies need to play a vital role in supporting mothers by working together to agree on a fair and balanced workplace that will promote productivity, while also allowing flexibility and the option to work remotely where possible.

4. Make mentors available to everyone

The availability of an experienced mentor to help guide you through the different channels you’ll face throughout your career is invaluable, and it should be an opportunity that is open to everyone. Mentors should expect to be questioned on how to ask for pay rises within a company and advice on how to tackle any issues relating to inequality.

Although it may be tempting to resolve gender inequality within a company by focusing only on women, gender inclusiveness needs to focus on both men and women as initiatives involving only part of the workforce will likely have reduced results. Companies with mentor programs also shouldn’t insist on same-sex matches though as in companies with few senior-level women, they’re 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 widespread harassment and discrimination, but unfortunately, it has also resulted in some repercussions 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; this includes working alone, mentorship, travelling and socialising for work.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, warned of a backlash some time ago. This lack of interest in mentoring female colleagues “undoubtedly will decrease the opportunities women have at work… The last thing women need right now is even more isolation. Men vastly outnumber women as managers and senior leaders, so when they avoid, ice out, or exclude women, we pay the price,” wrote Sandberg, who co-founded LeanIn to promote gender equality in the workplace.

“Doing right by women in the workplace does not mean treating them with just respect. It also means not isolating or ignoring them – and making access equal. Whether that means you take all your direct reports out to dinner or none of them, the key is to give men and women equal opportunities to succeed,” wrote Sandberg, who just launched #MentorHer to encourage men to mentor women in the workplace.

5. Harassment needs to be identified and immediately stopped

At some point in their career, one in four women has been subjected to harassment at work. Management has a responsibility to ensure they step in early to both identify and stop harassment, but unfortunately, in many companies, cases of it happening are often ignored. If there are any signs of harassment taking place within your workplace – no matter how big or small – you need to stamp it out immediately and ensure a proper process is implemented to prevent such cases from happening again.

Such activity being overlooked is a clear indication that more profound gender inequality is happening within the organisation, so you have the responsibility to take ownership of the problem.

To read more about the workplace factors that create a culture of equality within a company, you can download the “Getting to Equal 2018” report from Accenture.

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