For several years now, new movements for social change surrounding the rights of women have been springing up all around the world. The most famous of them, the #MeToo movement, has created an international dialogue surrounding gender discrimination and sexual assault that is long overdue. In the world of the HR professional, it’s also creating a whole new hiring and management environment as businesses everywhere begin to reevaluate their staffing decisions to close gender-related pay disparities and improve equality throughout their workforces.
To support these efforts and create a discrimination-free workplace that meets the required standards will mean a top-to-bottom review of practices throughout an organization. The good news is, there’s a growing consensus in the HR industry about which areas require the most attention that may be used as a roadmap to develop an action plan. Here’s a look at four key areas that should be addressed to promote gender equality in the modern workplace.
Improve compensation transparency
One of the major reasons that there is a gender pay gap in the first place is the opaque nature of the compensation process itself. Many believe that shining light into that process and collecting and reporting aggregate pay data is a good way to eliminate gender pay gaps where they exist. That’s the approach being taken in the UK, where businesses with 250 employees or more must now report the salary differences between their male and female employees every year. Officials there believe that making such data public will not only encourage the companies to do more to improve their performance in this area but will also arm employees with the information they need to request fairer compensation when accepting a position.
Lower job requirements for senior positions
A large and obvious facet of gender inequality in the workplace is the tendency for senior staff positions to be held almost exclusively by men. Although some high-prestige industries have made excellent strides towards promoting more women into their upper echelons in recent years, it’s clear that this is still an area that needs more work. One of the surest ways to improve the situation is to examine the job requirements and experience levels required of senior staff and to look for ways to broaden the pool of qualified candidates. Lowering artificially or unnecessarily high standards encourages more female applicants, as research indicates that female job-seekers tend to not apply to positions without meeting 100% of the stated requirements, while the majority of men will apply when they only meet 60% of those same requirements.
Establish clear anti-harassment policies and enforce them
Sexual harassment and other unwanted behaviors are extraordinarily common in workplaces all over the world. In the US, polling data indicates that 48% of women experience such harassment at work, and it has been a fixture of their professional lives for a very long time. That’s why it’s especially critical for businesses to establish clear anti-harassment policies, and provide training to all employees about how to align their behavior with them, as well as what to do if they see or experience a problem. When a problem does occur, it’s also important to make sure that the remedies spelled out in the policy are enforced without exception, and that anyone reporting a problem is protected from retaliation. That’s especially critical since 75% of harassment victims have reported facing retaliation after reporting their situations to managers.
Create mentoring teams
Another key driver of gender inequality in the modern workplace is the isolation of female employees that tend to slow their career progression within their organization. To combat that trend, it’s a good idea to create mentoring teams of experienced employees that can serve as guides for newcomers to the business. Mentoring programs serve as a support system for employees, and encourage communication and professional growth. They also help to empower female employees with the confidence and knowledge they need to work their way up through an organization. Studies have demonstrated how effective such programs can be and have even proven that they help male employees to better understand the dynamics of gender inequality within their own working groups.
Never stop listening
Even after HR professionals take steps to address gender inequality and discrimination within their organizations, their work is not complete. That’s because the most important part of the solution involves the ongoing and sometimes difficult work of making sure that the corrective structures and policies put in place remain effective over time. It’s not unusual for priorities within a business to drift, and that always carries the risk of undoing progress towards equality that has already been made. To keep moving in the right direction, it’s necessary for HR staff to keep listening to employees to determine if there are any other ways that they may improve the overall situation. Since no two organizations are alike, it’s incumbent on HR departments to take what they learn from ongoing employee dialogue and turn it into additional effective anti-inequality policies. It’s a worthwhile endeavor and one that every company should begin without delay.