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Gender equality in the workplace: everything you need to know

Achieving gender equality is not just important because it’s ‘the right thing to do’, it can also provide huge benefits to your business. Here’s why you need it in your workplace. 

Companies often report that they’re highly committed to gender diversity, but this commitment has not yet translated into meaningful progress. 

While there has been a move in the right direction, female workers are still paid significantly less than their male counterparts and continue to be under represented in senior management positions.  Only 5% of fortune 500 CEO's are women, and the US Census Bureau (2017) reports that women earn just 80 percent of what men are paid

This problem is not just restricted to the US, the national gender pay gap in Australia remains at 14%.  Whilst in the UK, only 7% of the CEO's in the FTSE 100 companies are women.  


Gender equality law

In the UK gender is a protected characteristic and is covered under the Equality Act 2010 (section 3). This Act brings together the previous 116 separate pieces of legislation on equality under one act.  Similarly, the Equality Act in the US prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or pregnancy. Whilst discrimination, sexual harassment and unequal pay are illegal, this doesn’t translate to women’s direct experience in the workplace. 

Women still experience discrimination in the workplace

  •   23% of women at work have faced sexual harassment - only 8% of them have reported it. 
  •   43% of mothers faced maternity discrimination.
  •   1 in 8 employers say they would be reluctant to hire a woman who they thought may go on to have children. 
  •   55% of women in senior leadership positions have experienced sexual harassment. 
  •   Hiring managers are 13% more likely to click on a male candidates application than a females. 
  •   Women are twice as likely as men to have been mistaken for someone in a more junior position.

    Discrimination can be subtle, like when someone mistakenly assumes a female co-worker is more junior than they really are. Sometimes more explicit, like when someone says something demeaning to a co-worker. Regardless, whether intentional or unintentional, it not only signals disrespect, it also represents inequality.

The benefits of gender equality 

Gender equality benefits everyone. This is one of the reasons it’s number 5 in the United Nations Sustainable Development goals. Research from Catalyst has shown that the more gender-equal companies are, the better it is for both male and female employees. The happier the labour force is, they lower the job turnover, with higher levels of job satisfaction and productivity. 

In the US, 56% of college admissions are women. This trend is not just reserved to the US, with similar patterns across the UK and  worldwide. If these highly educated women are leaving the labour force to have children, the labour market is missing out on workers with high human capital.

Accenture has found that a culture of equality in a workplace environment helps everyone advance to higher positions. It’s a powerful multiplier of innovation and growth, and innovation translates to economic potential. If people have equal opportunities, and feel a sense of belonging they’re powered to innovate even more, creating a multiplier effect.  

What can businesses do  

As Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean in: Women, work and the will to lead says ‘we can’t let the gains women have made lull us into complacency and mask the very real biases that girls and women still confront’

People are not aware of the extent that their ingrained biases have supported inaccurate perceptions about women. It’s important to study our biases and quantify inequality, so that we can understand how to effect change. Awareness is the first step down a better path. 

To help stamp out gender inequality in your workplace you can: 

1. Close the gender pay gap 
Conduct a pay audit

By implementing this process, you can identify disparities among you workers, giving greater transparency on the gender pay gap in your organisation. Patriot offer advice and steps on how to implement a pay audit. Conducting a pay audit is the first step towards achieving fair pay as it helps you identify the extent to which a pay gap exists. 

Consider the negotiation policy

Evidence shows that when women negotiate for higher salaries, people may react more negatively than they would to a man who asks for money. This helps contribute to the wage difference between men and women. 

2. Engage men

‘Not harassing is not enough. We need men to support women’s careers. That’s how we’ll achieve a workplace that is truly equal for all.’ – Sheryl Sandberg.

Gender inclusiveness needs to focus on both men and women as involving only part of the workforce will likely have reduced results. Men run 95% of the world’s companies, and need to be active participants in the process.  They have a critical role to play in gender equality efforts, and achieving equality provides benefits to them as well. 

Sheryl Sandberg launched her #MentorHer campaign to encourage men to mentor women in the workforce. Mentorship is critical to the success of women in career development, and will help conquer the under-representation of women in senior roles. #MentorHer has the backing of more than 38 prominent leaders and CEO's, including Netflix’s Reed Hastings

3. Make flexible working a priority 

Whilst the gender pay gap is narrowing for young workers, it’s widening among working mothers. One of the most significant hurdles preventing women reaching the top of their careers is lack of available childcare support, and the inflexibility in traditional career paths as well as cultural family roles.

Parental leave for fathers should also be promoted.  This is already the case in Sweden, often considered a forerunner in family change. The policy, fraldrapenning, entitles each parent to 240 of the 480 days of paid parental leave. Each parent has 90 days reserved exclusively for him or her on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis. Splitting the parental leave has numerous positive effects for women, and they have seen their incomes increase as well as their levels of self-reported happiness. 

For more information on what your workplace can do, Accenture’s ‘Getting to Equal 2018’ report identifies 40 workplace factors that help create a culture of equality. 

In the world of shifting demographics, its important that we continue with this drive to achieve gender equality in the workplace. With companies setting tangible targets to achieve greater equality it’s also important to include non-binary people, as the law firm Baker McKenzie have done by setting their staffing target to 40% men, 40% women and 20% flexible (including non-binary people) by 2025. Baker McKenzie recognise that creating a diverse and inclusive workplace environment enables everyone to reach their full potential, creating benefit for all. 

Gender equality isn’t just an ethical imperative, it’s a business priority. Comprehensive actions, that are family-friendly, support all genders and are bias-free are the best way to attract and retain top talent, providing the ultimate advantage to your business. Gender equality is in the interest of countries, companies, individuals and families. It is not a zero-sum game, it is a win-win for everyone.  

 
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