Gender inequality isn’t just about representation

Efforts to address diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace are typically disconnected from supporting employee health and wellness.

It’s about making organisations inclusive, flexible, supportive, and equitable for women.

Leadership that reflects the world’s gender balance can give companies a competitive edge. Organisations with diverse workforces enjoy increased financial performance, innovation, creativity, and decreased attrition and related costs. However, efforts to address diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace are typically disconnected from supporting employee health and wellness.

Many employees today, having worked remotely for an extended period, are demanding different requirements from their employers in how they approach post-pandemic normalcy. While many workers may miss the ability to collaborate with colleagues in the office, many others credit the remote work environment with making them more efficient and effective. Also, they undoubtedly appreciate eliminating their daily commute, allowing them to reduce their carbon footprint and spend more time with their family. They may want to remain 100% remote, operate in a hybrid mode, or create another flexible arrangement that capitalises on the fact that technology allows virtual collaboration with colleagues located anywhere in the world, promoting greater diversity of thought and talent.

Bias against women persists even in female-dominated workplaces

It would be natural that once industries achieve gender balance, bias will decrease, and gender gaps will close. We tend to think that having more women present is all that’s needed to promote change. But simply adding women into a workplace does not change the organisational structures and systems that benefit men more than women.

Research by Harvard Business Review shows gender bias is still prevalent in gender-balanced and female-dominated industries.

Having balanced or even greater numbers of women in an organisation is not, by itself, changing women’s experiences of bias. Bias is built into the system and continues to operate even when more women than men are present.

How to reduce bias?

It’s critical for business leaders to address employees’ total well-being to enact meaningful change in their lives. Also, as with gender representation, having a broad balance of ethnic, racial, religious, and other cultural expression helps companies make good decisions for their workforce and customers and achieve more significant innovation and faster production. Without fear of judgement or self-sabotage, an employee feels free to contribute with creative and strategic ideas that help the company grow beyond its established processes. By training its leaders to stay mindful of cultural or behavioural biases and actively work against those biases, an organisation can source a broader talent pool that feels free to power innovation.

These are some gender-equitable practices and environments that leaders can apply:

1 – Replace competition with cooperation

Dominant, competitive leadership has the unintended belief among subordinates that progress can be made only at the expense of others. Such environments disincentivize workers from helping or supporting their colleagues. Top leaders should model cooperation and incentivize collaboration and teamwork.

2 – Measure success by goals, not by time spent in the office or online

As distributed workforces and remote work have taken hold, measuring performance by time in the office or spent online is irrelevant. But giving people freedom and responsibility to choose when they work can make managers anxious. One way to address this is to specify more and micromanage less. Leaders need to specify the goals and how success is measured and allow employees to creatively and freely pursue their objectives.

3 – Implement equitable reward structures, and provide remote and flexible work with autonomy

While systems like billable hours may seem equitable, they paradoxically increase gender inequality. It’s better to implement cooperative reward structures that recognize all contributions toward organisational goals. One way to do this is to measure business units on their own performance and that of peer units, thus encouraging employees to actively help their colleagues. While remote work isn’t an option for all jobs, flexibility can still be given where possible. To boost motivation and performance, employees need to have the autonomy to decide where and when their work gets done. Companies that refuse to offer autonomy, flexibility, or remote work when possible are risking lower employee morale and increased turnover.

4 – Increase transparency in decision making

Transparent decision-making has been linked to increased employee trust, happiness, and engagement, fostering innovative thinking. Discussion and decisions should occur when stakeholders are present instead of informal conversations. Leaders should ensure that everyone has a voice in meetings and that all perspectives are heard and considered. When people feel included, they will speak up and go the extra mile, boosting organisational performance.

All employees expect and deserve fairness, respect, and safety. It is enriching to see different people who do different things to achieve a single goal. It is about promoting individualism while ensuring teamwork.

Organisations that put diversity, equity, and inclusion at the centre of their growth strategies are the ones that lead!


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March 14, 2022
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