Failing to make diversity and inclusion a priority for your business isn’t just bad for company culture; it’s bad for the bottom line.
It’s International Women’s Day on Wednesday 8 March, when we celebrate the progress gender equality has made – and lament how far it has to go. It’s easy to be complacent about the topic, but complacency leads to trouble, particularly in a business, as Uber is discovering. A failure to make diversity and inclusion a priority within a company doesn’t just make it an unpleasant place to work, it can be bad for the bottom line.
Addressing workplace inequality is often regarded as something that ought to be done, but is just a bit too much like hard work. Yet research shows that gender-diverse companies outperform their competitors by 15pc. So if you, as a business decision-maker, are looking around the office and wondering where all the women are, or asking why there are so few in senior positions, here are some actions that you could consider taking in the coming year.
Pay women equally
The pay gap between men and women in full time employment is 9pc. It’s slightly less for those in their early 20s – more for those over 45. This isn’t proof that it’s fading out, unfortunately, but simply that we’re now paying young men less. By simply paying people equally, your company would be starting a revolution.
Measure the workforce
So often we believe that because we’re good people, we won’t be unconsciously discriminating against anyone. In fact, it’s the companies that don’t consciously measure their HR data that suddenly find themselves looking at an office filled with men.
Keeping accurate retention and compensation records allows a business to understand better why people leave and what it needs to do to keep the good ones.
Don’t assume that women won’t want to return after parental leave
This is where many companies find female employees leaving the company. Often it’s because they’ve seen their pay cut and opportunities for promotion denied, so they’ve decided to move elsewhere – rather than because they want to stay at home. Remember: if you lose a talented female employee after maternity leave, she has probably gone to one of your competitors.
Treat fathers like mothers
The uptake of shared parental leave has been disappointing. This is partly to do with the financial costs involved, but young men also fear that it would harm their career prospects.
Managers need to treat prospective fathers as they do prospective mothers; men may well want to take several months with their child. They might want to try flexible working. By ignoring fatherhood, businesses make life more difficult for both men and women.
Make sure that everyone speaks in meetings
If the women in Obama’s White House found it difficult to make their voices heard in meetings, then you can almost guarantee that the women in your organisation are feeling the same. There are some simple ways to manage this. When a woman makes a point, understand that people may talk over the top of it, so make sure that you acknowledge her point and try to add to it. Don’t let someone hijack it and claim it as their own.
Find role models – and champion them
It’s very hard to be what you can’t see. If the women in your company are looking at the board and seeing only men, you’re subliminally telling them that there’s no place for them at that level. When senior positions do appear, make a conscious effort to try to create more gender balance.
Businesses always want to hire the best person for the job, but if the best person always seems to be a man, questions should be asked about where it's looking.
Implement unconscious bias training
We all have biases – and while most of us wouldn’t want to admit to being outright sexists, unconsciously we do tend to think of certain job roles as being male or female. So invest in some training, talk to your staff about this, and be honest about your own biases. Once we all start talking about them, we can challenge them.
Ask the women in your organisation what they would change
And then listen. If you do just one thing to make your organisation more equal, this is it. Don’t ask them if they’re okay or whether they think the company discriminates – they’re going to tell you that everything is fine. Instead, ask for constructive criticism and then accept what they tell you. It’s as simple as that.
Harriet Minter is a journalist and broadcaster who writes a regular newsletter about workplace issues for women