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7 ways to advance gender equality at work

Photo by halfpoint on envato

Gender equality is a global imperative.

The World Economic Forum noted in its 2021 Global Gender Gap Report that the pandemic has had a disproportionate economic impact on women; it now may take 267.6 years to achieve gender parity in economic participation and opportunity. Women’s workplace challenges over the past year have been further exacerbated by automation and digitization as well as the necessary “double-shift responsibilities” due to school closures and limited care.

The YPO Global Chief Executive Gender Equality Survey was recently conducted in partnership with the Financial Times and the United Nation’s HeForShe initiative. The research uncovered ground-breaking insights about the journeys women and men around the world took to reach the corner office.

The survey also looks at how chief executives can change this troubling dynamic, foster a culture of gender inclusiveness, and fast track gender parity in the workplace.

To inspire chief executives to develop strategies as part of their overall diversity and inclusion plans, business leaders of midmarket and large companies have shared the actions they have taken to improve gender equality and create a culture of gender inclusiveness.

1. Conduct bias training

Research shows gender bias contributes to women getting passed over for jobs and promotions. According to research from Bentley University, women experience bias at work and are 21% less likely to be promoted than men. Women also lack access to career-building relationships. In YPO’s current survey

of global chief executives, about 80% of respondents said they were “extremely” or “very effective” at

“avoiding gender bias in completing employee performance evaluations.” Even still, considering the

unique circumstances of parents who need to take advantage of flex-work options, employers should

remain sensitive to this when completing performance evaluations so as not to hinder their career trajectory.

“Be very aware and conscientious of gender bias in all levels of hiring, mentoring, advancement and job assignments.”

“Unconscious bias still exists today. It is less blatant than in the past, yet still a very real barrier.”

“We need to take the time to reflect on our own preconceived beliefs.”

2. Hire female talent

Today, companies are looking at ways to improve their talent pipeline. Recruiting more women to their ranks — especially in senior management — is a priority for some chief executives. This is good news since more women lost jobs during the last 12 months than men. Moreover, the UNWomen From Insight to

Action report notes that women’s employment is 19% more at risk than men’s. As previously stated, this is due to a confluence of factors including greater family demands on women than men during COVID-19 and an overrepresentation of women in jobs that have greater exposure to the virus and greater spikes in unemployment. The International Labour Organization reported projections citing that due to COVID-19, the equivalent of 140 million full-time jobs may be lost.

“The best way to achieve gender parity and build a company with a healthy DEI culture is to start with the

hiring process.”

“Make gender the tie breaker on comparable candidates; stop accepting the notion ‘they just aren’t out there’ as an excuse.”

“Do more blind interviews or find other ways to remove gender bias in the [talent] selection process.”

“Insist on having female candidates included in every slate of candidates for every role.”

3. Support flexible work options

Eighty-four percent of respondents said they offer flexible work options, and one-quarter noted it has made the most significant impact in creating a culture of gender inclusivity at their companies. During the pandemic, this has been more important than ever as companies shifted to remote work and economic shutdowns placed bigger burdens on women to care for their children. Chief executives need to recognize the unique challenges faced by their female employees, many respondents said. Women often have to juggle childcare and their careers. If businesses provide flexible work options, they can help attract and retain female workers and harness their potential.

“Women have a second shift they have to juggle, even those who are CEOs. The stress often prods them to leave the workforce altogether.”

“To make the workplace more gender inclusive, CEOs should promote flexible work schedules, model them and make them the norm.”

“Having a family and career causes conflicts. It’s hard to grow a business and have family responsibilities at the same time.”

4. Mentor women into leadership roles

Previous internal YPO research from 2016 found that 81% of chief executives 45 or younger believed they would benefit from mentoring. This common thread shows that leaders see that effective mentors act as role models and provide guidance to help mentees reach their career aspirations.

“An obstacle is not having enough specific programs aimed to help develop, mentor and support young women so they can move up the career ladder.”

“Performance reviews still use male stereotype characteristics to define a good leader — such

as assertive versus communicative, factdriven versus intuitive. This makes it harder for women to reach higher positions.”

“Formal mentoring and coaching for entry-level and middle-management female employees has made the biggest impact in creating gender equality and a culture of inclusiveness.”

“Organizations with more female leaders ultimately promote more women into leadership roles.”

5. Support equal pay

The gender pay gap is a systematic inequality and hinders progress to ensure economic security for

women around the world. The problem spurred the United Nations to launch International Pay Day in September 2020. Wage gap analysis can go a long way to close the divide. Doing an adjusted audit to

see where pay gaps exist between male and female employees in similarly situated roles in the company

is a start. Age, gender, seniority level, current annual base pay, bonus pay, recent performance evaluation scores and other employee data should be examined during an audit.

“Actively support equal pay and stop penalizing women for negotiating.”

“Have courageous conversations about gender and put your money where your mouth is.”

6. Communicate your gender diversity policy to the entire organization

Having a clearly defined gender diversity policy is critical if companies want to end inequalities in the workplace. Beyond diversity training, some companies have launched other programs to achieve that goal, including hosting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) roundtables that are mandatory for all employees to attend. They have also formed employee resource groups (ERGs) to support various groups within their organization. These groups provide an open forum for employees who share a common identity to meet and support one another. They aim to contribute to personal and professional development in the work environment. Both DEI roundtables and ERGs provide leaders insights into the concerns and problems diverse groups have so they can take steps to resolve.

“Talk about it, prioritize it, create a culture of inclusivity and give women and underrepresented groups a voice.”

“Maintain the same level of communication and fairness with each individual, independent from gender. Clearly underlining the ethics, vision and mission of the company as gender equal.”

“We openly discuss biases not only regarding gender but also other psychological aspects. We organize courses and workshops on these themes and offer employees counseling and coaching.”

“Stop using gender-biased language in company communications such as ‘gentlemen.’ It starts with the basics.”

7. Lead by example

As more chief executives pay attention to gender diversity issues, it is important that they become evangelists for change within their organizations. The YPO Global Chief Executive Gender Equality Survey revealed that business leaders’ attitudes make a big difference. As the business community moves to a postpandemic world, adopting new HR models, including flexible work arrangements, and addressing the unique needs women in the workforce face will be crucial to champion gender equality

“Lead by example. Walk the talk and make sure gender parity is real. Make it a natural part of the company’s DNA.”

“Be totally open and supportive to diversity, choices and opinions.”

“As a CEO, you have to be a champion in advancing women.”


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