How do you ensure gender equity at work?
To be sure, making our way through the pandemic has required real focus; for many leaders, keeping the lights on has been priority one. And yet, I’ve noticed that great leaders have managed to reach the light at the end of the tunnel without losing sight of the gender gap. They understand the advantages of inclusivity and gender equity. Unfortunately, they remain the exception, rather than the norm.
Consider this: prior to the pandemic, the percentage of men and women employed in the U.S. was almost equal, and yet the ranks of leadership remained male-dominated. Women remain underrepresented in positions of power and status. The highest-paying jobs are the most gender-imbalanced as organizational barriers and managerial actions limit opportunities for even the most promising women.
In the new book Glass Half-Broken, authors Colleen Ammerman and Boris Groysberg share their research on the gender gap. They reveal how women are squeezed from the leadership pipeline through their entire careers, and for a wide variety of reasons.
According to the authors, “The gender imbalance at the top still remains, even in many women dominated industries such as health care and education, where men are still more likely to be found in leadership and executive roles.”
Fortunately, many organizations have made great progress in bridging the gender gap. They fairly value the capabilities and contributions made by women. Why?
Successful Gender Equity
Successful organizations—and leaders—understand that gender equity at work is advantageous for everyone. Here are just a few of the advantages:
- Improved thinking and decisions.
- Increased focus and innovation.
- Greater access to talent.
- More resilient workforce.
In order to make progress in gender equity within organizations, you must be systematic. This begins by addressing inequities in key areas of talent management.
The Obstacles Women Face
- Inadvertently disqualifying female applicants.
- Over-reliance on personal networks or referrals.
- Poorly written job descriptions.
- Blind spots. Often hidden or unknown, gender bias affects how we screen and evaluate resumes.
- Inadequate integration.
- Lack of challenging assignments.
- Non-standardized/informal/irregular performance assessment.
- Inequitable compensation and promotion.
- Failure to retain female employees.
Fortunately, more organizational leaders are being held accountable for advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). But, are they prepared?
Gender Equity Allies
Men are a crucial and often over-looked ally of gender equity. To be an ally to women means having an interest and investment in the advancement of women—at work, and in life. It is understanding the imbalance in opportunity, and working to change it.
Men who are allies to women recognize the challenges and biases women continue to face, and take action to create an environment where everyone has opportunities to succeed and advance. They act as allies even when women are not in the room. So why don’t more men ally with women?
Gender Issues and the Big Myth
Ammerman and Groysberg point to scientific research on how some men believe that it isn’t their place to speak up about gender issues. This psychological standing refers to whether an individual feels they have authority or legitimacy to take action for a cause or issue.
However, studies find that attempts to bridge the gender gap are more effective when men participate by speaking up with ideas, volunteering to improve gender imbalance, or serving as equality champions. The key is invitation: ask men to participate.
Regardless of their position or role, men can:
- Understand the experiences and perspectives of female colleagues.
- Amplify what women are saying.
- Empower women. Ensure they have a seat at the table.
Simultaneously, there are steps leaders can take to address, prevent, and mitigate barriers.
Explore Existing Processes and Practices
- How do you attract strong candidates, both male and female?
- Do you work with a recruiter, and if so, what are their methods? If not, how do you ensure you have gender diversity in your pool of candidates?
- Are job descriptions clear, written with gender neutral language void of superlatives? What about qualifications?
- How do you determine which applicants to interview? Do you use a weighted scoring system? Is screening and interviewing done by a gender diverse group? If not, what is your methodology?
Consider this: blind auditions, that is to say, resumes that are anonymized by omitting names or any indicators of gender, increase the number of female applicants who advance in the process.
Day-to-day processes also require review for potential barriers to women. For example, when task segregation occurs—when women are expected to complete less-rewarding work—they are denied access to more challenging and career advancing work. Being transparent in the promotion processes, including career development, is critical.
Ammerman and Groysberg share that women who move up into leadership positions, “tend to be those who have mentors and sponsors earlier in their careers.”
Managers and Gender Equity
Great managers fully support gender equity initiatives and programs. As allies, they help address talent management inequities in three key areas.
Equitable Evaluation: Performance evaluations are often based on criteria other than employee results and behaviors. Ultimately, managers use their judgment. Assumptions, likeability, and group think (if calibration meetings are utilized within your organization) can influence the outcome of performance evaluations.
Equitable Pay and Promotion: When managers provide clear information—when communication is consistent and reliable—compensation and promotion is much more equitable. Here are a few questions to consider:
- Do all employees have access to median salary information for every position?
- How much flexibility do managers have in awarding compensation and promotion?
- Are employees aware of this? If not, why not?
- Do all employees have access to performance feedback? If not, why not?
- Is performance feedback tied to specific business outcomes?
- How do managers provide insight into what individual women need to do to advance?
Team Culture: Day-to-day practices greatly affect retention and workplace gender equity. Consider the stigma of WFH (work from home), flex schedules, and other family or accommodation policies. In many organizations, extreme dedication has become the team culture norm.
According to Ammerman and Groysberg, “Women working flexible schedules tend to be seen as less committed and less motivated than those working standard hours, even when their actual performance is identical.”
Examining team cultures, and working with managers to intentionally shape them, is critical to gender equity at work.