Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman. Tammy Wynette wasn’t wrong when she sang those words back in 1969 and she’s still not wrong today. When it comes to business, being a woman in the corporate world can quite literally be hard work. And unfortunately, as the data shows, there are still some staggering disparities lingering in organisations that continue to impede career development for female employees.
In the wake of the President’s Club scandal, the #MeToo campaign and the gender pay gap discussion, a lot of companies have acknowledged their equality shortcomings and are trying to put things right. Companies like Virgin Money, Innovate Finance and Deloitte have all signed the Government’s Women in Finance Charter, which requires pledges to raise the proportion of women in senior roles from 35pc to 40pc by 2020, with an end goal of a 50/50 gender balance. While these types of long-term initiatives are extremely important, so too are short-term objectives and quick wins.
Setting and achieving short term goals is crucial to maintaining momentum and achieving the greater long-term goals. When it comes to fixing gender balance in the workplace, there are plenty of small but hugely impactful changes that companies can implement to make life more comfortable for women in their organisations.
We’ve selected 5 policies that can be introduced to showcase your company’s dedication to improving gender equality.
Gender Balanced Candidate Shortlisting
Companies with more women on the board experience a better bottom line. But getting more women onto boards starts with getting more women into male dominated industries. And that starts with recruitment.
There are a number of ways to encourage more women to apply for senior roles at your company. Avoid using gender biased language in your job descriptions, allocate budget to upskill current employees or offer training to female applicants who match the majority of the role requirements but who may need to brush up on their technical knowledge.
It might sound like a lofty goal but Sky are already implementing both of these policies. A shortlist that is evenly split between men and women is required for all senior positions that come up within the company. In addition, 2016 saw the launch of their “Get Into Tech” initiative to encourage more women into careers in technology by offering free training for up to 60 women per year.
Not a doula. Not a mentor. And definitely not a babysitter. The purpose of a maternity buddy is to provide a lifeline to the organisation while female employees are on maternity leave.
The programme allows new mothers to remain in contact with the company through a buddy who provides weekly/monthly email updates as well as regular lunch or coffee catch ups – with baby in tow if required. The best part? The buddy doesn’t have to be another woman or even someone with kids.
In fact, by pairing a mother on maternity leave with a male employee, the benefits of a maternity buddy system can go well beyond helping women stay connected to the careers they have spent a long time building. These pairings can actively encourage other employees to take on a more empathetic perspective when it comes to the challenges faced by working mothers returning to work.
Flexible Working Hours
There are two sides to the flexible working hours debate. Some argue that in order for flexible working to lead to true workplace equality, men must begin to embrace it too. If only women take advantage of the flexible working arrangements on offer, then it will result in a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby women will forever be confined to part time hours and job-sharing, while men continue to work full time and climb the corporate ladder. But to be honest, that thought process warrants a whole other blog post.
The fact remains that when women are out of the workforce for various reasons, including maternity leave, parental leave, or other caregiving responsibilities, flexible working can help them assimilate back into their roles when they return to work without any undue stress. A company recently praised for taking initiative in this movement is Vodafone. The company’s widely commended maternity policy allows new mothers, who are returning to work post-baby, the option to work reduced hours on full pay for a further 6 months if needed.
Make Your Business Accessible to Everyone
The right to be treated equally should be a fundamental cornerstone in every business. Having an awareness of different religions and beliefs and understanding how this can affect your female employees is a great value for any organisation to hold. That rule of thumb applies across the board, regardless of whether you’re working in an office or building one.
Tideway London, the construction company responsible for the Thames Tideway Tunnel, recently introduced specially-designed PPE for women, including maternity-wear and innovative designs for women who observe the hijab and the burka. The latter two were designed by one of their own employees, Leena Begum, after she encountered difficulties finding protective workwear that would sit comfortably alongside her hijab.
Cultivate Courageous Conversations
A great way to make all employees feel more comfortable and included in your organisation is to let them know that you are listening. This starts at the top. If management make this a priority then employees will know that their concerns are being heard. Promoting a “Speak Up” culture in your company can help to pre-emptively tackle discrimination at work by letting all employees know that unacceptable behaviour of any kind will not be tolerated.
Lead by example and host open panel sessions to tackle difficult subjects such as gender bias and sexual harassment in the workplace. By taking a tough stance on these matters and publicly speaking out about them, you are setting the tone for the rest of the organisation to follow suit.
Speaking up in public can be uncomfortable for many people so ensure that your employees have multiple ways to register concerns about misconduct within the company. Facilitate feedback through anonymous forms, regular committee meetings and even access to external helplines where they can seek advice. Make sure these policies and contacts are visible and post plenty of signs around the office to ensure people are aware of their options should they witness any improper behaviour.
If your company values transparency, equality and parity in the workplace, now is the time to let the world know about it.
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