International Women’s Day, held on March 8th each year, marks a day of celebration and support for women’s rights and equality around the world, as well as a call to action to accelerate gender parity. The roots of this annual event date back more than a century, yet its focus on respect and opportunities for women is just as important today.
It will take 257 years to reach gender equality in economic participation and opportunity, according to the World Economic Forum. Their 2020 Global Gender Gap Report shows that while other metrics of gender equality have improved (for example, education attainment and health), the economic participation and opportunity metric has regressed.
Even with a record-breaking new high of women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies in 2020, only 7.4 per cent of companies on the list are run by women, and women are less likely to be entrepreneurs and face more disadvantages starting businesses. Women also face various forms of discrimination in the workplace that keep them from advancing in their careers and claiming leadership positions – such as sexual harassment, the gender pay gap and lack of family-friendly policies.
A report from PwC surveyed 3,600 female professionals worldwide to get a sense of how women feel about the challenges they face in the workplace.
Interestingly, 44% of women felt nervous about the impact of having a family on their careers and 48% of new mothers felt overlooked for promotions and special projects upon their return to work.
Even the offer of flexible working arrangements post-maternity isn’t always as helpful as it could be. Over a third of women surveyed believe that taking advantage of such arrangements has negative career consequences.
In addition, there’s the issue of self-confidence. Traditionally, women have not been seen as the greatest self-promoters at work. However, of the 27% of women who’d had a promotion in the past two years, 63% had negotiated for it. Clearly, when women do speak up, they get noticed and rewarded.
Worryingly, less than half of the women surveyed believe their company is doing enough to combat gender inequality.
In 2021, women are facing new challenges at work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and advancing female participation in the workforce is experiencing a setback. The pace of progress towards gender equality must accelerate to recover from this.
What can be done?
There are plenty of steps that can — and must — be taken to improve gender equality in the workplace. Women represent a huge pool of talent, resources and innovation. Hiring, training and investing in women makes good business sense, as well as being a moral imperative.
Real gender diversity in the workplace means representing women at every level. So, what can organisations do to empower their female workforce and accelerate progress towards parity?
Enable flexible working
Flexibility, whether it’s part-time or remote working, helps people balance other responsibilities with work. It isn’t just for women of course – flexible working options and having a mobile workforce offers multiple benefits to organisations and employees. Undoubtedly, giving employees the option of greater flexibility can help people stay in the workforce when they have young children or caring responsibilities.
Technology can help enable flexible working for all genders, ensuring people stay connected and make a full contribution wherever they work or however they structure their working day.
Close the pay gap
Increased transparency around salaries and remuneration is one definitive step any organisation can make. There still remains a great deal of secrecy which leaves many women unable to access their fair share.
Implement a formal pay structure, making it clear how job role, seniority and tenure affect the salaries of all employees. Having this information readily available can help remove the taboo of discussing salary. It can also embolden all members of staff to assess what’s fair and what isn’t; seeking adjustments where relevant.
Not only could this transparency improve morale, it could also improve organisational performance too. A workforce, irrespective of gender, will ultimately perform better if everyone feels they’re being fairly compensated for their time and efforts.
Stand up against inappropriate behaviour
Without question, every employee should feel safe at work. That’s why clear sexual harassment and discrimination policies are necessary.
Create an easily accessible system for reporting incidents, and define swift, decisive action should it be required. This will help foster a culture of safety and openness; an atmosphere where every employee can thrive.
If you want to show that your company values women, create pathways into leadership. Having talented women in senior positions can help foster and grow aspirations for those just coming into the workforce or those looking to progress. Encourage women to pursue opportunities at every level.
By removing obstacles to female career progression, companies can improve their inclusiveness, better represent the communities they serve and, importantly, create better business outcomes.
Support professional development
Training for employees on topics such as implicit bias, inclusion, diversity and flexible working will continue to bring issues women face to the forefront so your company can keep evolving its training and policies.
Work to create opportunities for professional development for women. Make sure female employees have contact with senior leaders who can give them advice and guidance and on how to further their careers.
Be sure to clearly signpost paths to progress in your organisation and consider things like mentoring schemes.
Connect your network
With stronger networks, women can become better connected to seek out career support or mentors. Introduce people that can provide a pathway to the resources and knowledge that female employees may need or could benefit from.
It may be obvious that not all women are the same, but there is still gender bias regarding how women should and should not act. Let your employees know that you value their different qualities and embrace individuality across the workforce.
Do your part as a leader to help even the playing field so that women feel heard, included, valued, supported and empowered.
Workplace empowerment in practice
At Purpose HR, we’re passionate about helping to promote the gender balance agenda as well as driving wider equality initiatives within businesses. We work with businesses to develop inclusive, diverse and purpose-driven workplaces and cultures, where everyone can thrive and progress.
We asked some of our valued clients what female empowerment means to their business. Here’s what they said…
“The future should look very different for the next generation of females if companies maintain an awareness on diversity and empowerment. At Talking Medicines, two of the three Founders are female. We have strong gender diversity with 50/50 split on female/male employees with females equally in senior roles and we want to continue that trajectory. We endorse empowerment for all employees, regardless of gender, and are pleased to continue to support and recognise female employees in the roles they fulfil.”Jo Halliday, Founder & CEO, Talking Medicines
“At Exizent, we are strongly in favour of empowering everyone in our team, including the female members. When starting the company, we consciously sat down and discussed what kind of business we wanted to be and the values we wanted to live – diversity, inclusion and empowerment were key. We’ve included actions to enable these to become a reality. There’s a key focus within our Talent Acquisition team of openness and hiring for cultural/values fit. We’ve created a culture of honesty with communication at its heart and a flexible working environment for all.
For a legaltech/fintech technology company, we are doing well at attracting and retaining people that fit with our inclusive and empowered intentions. Approximately 50% of our team overall are female and we had great feedback on belonging & culture in a recent internal survey. In late 2020 we had a 80% female technology team too – something pretty unusual to celebrate!”Aleks Tomczyk, Founder & COO, Exizent
“Being a female entrepreneur with a background in science and research, I’ve found true empowerment in diverse teams that strive towards a common goal driven by their desire to learn, alignment in vision, and openness. I’m proud that at Hearing Diagnostics, we embrace the value of diverse teams – a fact that is reflected in our team, the board level and our leadership team.”Claudia Freigang, CEO & Co-Founder, Hearing Diagnostics
Whilst we are making improvements and women are gaining traction in the workplace, there is still a long way to go. Businesses and leaders must step in and eliminate bias whilst supporting and empowering female employees.
International Women’s Day marks a call to action, a day to recognise that we have to take collective action for driving gender parity and that there is, now more than ever, a need to call out gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping.
Happy International Women’s Day! #ChooseToChallenge
Get in touch to find out more about how we can support you in developing an inclusive, diverse and purpose-driven workplace to enable your team and business to thrive and grow.