There’s been a renewed focus on employee mental health and wellbeing since the Covid-19 outbreak. While organisations must remain committed to big issues like the gender pay gap and empowering women in the workplace, real and authentic change comes from a comprehensive action plan that looks at all aspects of women’s experiences in the workplace.
Authentic changes require committed leadership to transform cultures, improve processes, tackle hidden biases and a systematic focus to shift deeply ingrained attitudes and mindsets.
Having a diverse workforce gives businesses a financial advantage and enhances agility, innovation, productivity, decision-making and customer relationships. Gender balance is a key component in the creation of diverse teams that allows organisations to provide collaborative environments where different styles of thinking can come together. At a time when businesses are undergoing huge transformation, exacerbated by Covid-19, it is vital for business leaders to recognise the role that gender parity plays in driving company success.
The uncomfortable truth
Unfortunately, Covid-19 has arguably had a bigger socio-economic impact on women. Recent research from the University of Exeter Business School found that women were 96% more likely than men to have been made redundant because of the pandemic. The same research also indicated that around one in four women had experienced an anxiety attack in the previous two weeks, compared with around one in seven men – a difference of 81%.
A variety of factors could be leading to such alarming figures, such as the sectors women are more likely to work in, thus impacting redundancies, and women performing more childcare duties during lockdown, affecting their mental health.
When organisations across all sectors prioritise gender equality in the workplace by being consciously inclusive, they should in turn be creating a workplace that promotes wellbeing, and attracts and progresses the careers of female talent. Doing this means that the disproportionate effects we see on women in society do not need to be inevitable. For example, at Fujitsu whilst we have seen an increase in overall employee engagement levels during the pandemic, this is even higher for female colleagues, reporting 11-percentage point increase for UK female colleagues between December 2019 and July 2020. This is attributable to the way we have supported colleagues’ unique needs during this time.
Start with addressing the gender pay gap
A key starting point that demonstrates the organisation is serious about this is placing a strong importance on eradicating the gender pay gap. Even though this year’s reporting requirements were suspended as a result of pandemic, at Fujitsu, we chose to publish our 2020 pay gap anyway. Organisations need to set the benchmark and we need to know whether what we have in place is truly making a difference, and gender pay is a strong indicator of this.
In fact, Fujitsu reported a four-percentage point drop in its figure for the median hourly pay gap, down to 11.6% in favour of men – the most significant annual decrease to date. We are also achieved 38% female representation on the UK leadership team, which is above the UK average.
It remains clear from these figures, however, that Fujitsu, like many businesses and particularly those within the technology sector, have a long way to go to improve gender parity. At the end of the day, actions will always speak louder than words.
How empowering women begins
It begins with inspiring women of the future. Organisations should look at ways to engage future generations and stimulate their interest. Take Fujitsu’s ‘Girls Days’ where children can participate in STEM activities and stimulate their interest in technology careers. Another method to reach younger audiences is for organisations to attend careers fairs and run community and educational events, demonstrating that all career possibilities are open to women.
It’s also important to provide role models that young people can relate to. If a young person visits an organisation’s web page or social media and only sees an organisation championing men, this will not attract the diversity we need. Gender diverse advertising and social media, on the other hand, encourages female role models to share their experiences and attracts other females to the business.
How empowering women sustains
While there are other methods to attract women early on in their career to a business, for instance through apprenticeships and graduate schemes, organisations need to ensure there is no unconscious bias in the recruitment process. First off, research and language specialists have found that men and women will respond differently to the way recruiting ads are worded. A diverse workforce must begin with an inclusive recruitment process, starting with using gender neutral language in the job specification itself.
At the next stage, businesses must establish a gender-diverse interview panel, host unconscious bias and inclusion training for all managers and hiring managers, as well as advertising roles with flexible working options wherever possible. Although flexibility benefits everyone, research from LinkedIn found that roles including flexible working attracted 26% more female applicants.
Retaining female talent
Support for female staff must be equally extensive. Women – and all employees – have to be recognised as integral to an organisations’ success. Everyone should be valued for the contribution they make and supported to integrate their work and life priorities.
Sharing knowledge and experiences is what makes us united and empowers us. Women’s network groups are a great way to give female employees a voice, to showcase role models internally and foster networking and personal development. Networks provide women with a platform whereby they feel fully supported in the workplace and can voice their opinions. This insight can then inform where businesses need to take action to better recognise the priorities and needs of its female workforce, in order to retain its female staff.
Nevertheless, organisations can’t place women in a secluded diversity box. All employees, regardless of diversity characteristics, must be recognised as individuals. Covid-19 has shown us that no one’s work and personal circumstances are the same. Being consciously inclusive is all about understanding everybody’s unique situation. Organisations must set the foundation so they can learn about an employee’s needs on a one-to-one basis: this includes managers conducting regular one-to-one check-ins with their people.
When we understand individual cases and create the best possible working environment, like increased flexible working for everyone, we help to sustain an employee’s wellbeing. This flexibility benefits both the individual and business, leading to greater agility and trust. The more people feel included and able to be completely themselves at work, the more likely they are to experience positive wellbeing and produce better results.
Ultimately, business dedication to diversity should be unwavering, but the approach has to be agile. Humans drive allegiance and, as we don’t get things perfect straight away, it requires constant trial and error and iteration.
An example of trial and error at Fujitsu includes a scheme we once introduced for our recruitment partners to deliver 50/50 gender balanced shortlists. In some instances, we found this led our recruitment partners to focus on meeting targets, as opposed to the quality of the candidates. We have since relaxed that measure, aiming for a minimum of two people from the under-represented gender on each shortlist (e.g. two women in roles where men are more prominent and vice versa). This led to an improvement in candidate quality and we are now seeing a much higher conversion rate of female applicants to offer.
At the end of the day, we’ve found that any action that operates in isolation will never make a difference. Authentic changes require committed leadership to transform cultures, improve processes, tackle hidden biases and a systematic focus to shift deeply ingrained attitudes and mindsets. It’s not only a business benefit, but it ultimately helps drive the much-needed societal change on how women in the workplace are perceived.
Interested in this topic? Read Gender equality: why the Covid-19 pandemic has created a careers crisis for women.