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5 strategies to achieve gender balance in organizations 1

5 strategies to achieve gender balance in organizations

A 1% gender bias effect at a Fortune 500 company that hires 8,000 people a year can lead to productivity losses of about $2.8 million a year, found a recent study from Oregon State University.

Globally, organizations are striving to achieve gender balance because it is, without a doubt, an essential factor for the holistic growth of any organization. A diverse and inclusive workplace provides the foundation for creativity and unique perspectives, which will improve performance, processes, and productivity. However, the Global Gender Gap Report for 2020 predicts that it will still take another 100 years to achieve gender equality. And it is important to note here that this statistic doesn’t account for transgender rights and representation, which are imperative to creating safe and inclusive work environments.

One of the things about gender parity is that it is very much present in organizations, but mostly in entry or close to entry roles. As you move to the top, the percentage of women employees decreases. A McKinsey/Lean Women in the Workplace study, which reflects average demographic realities at 317 North American companies shows that an organization’s entry-level workforce is quite equal – with half women and half men. However, this proportion of women drops slightly at every level, as you get closer to the top. Only about 38% of managers are women, 33% of directors, 28% of senior vice presidents, and 21% of C-suite executives. Looking more closely at the data, it is clear that the main reasons for the drop-off of women is driven by gender disparities in promotion rates, not gender differences in hiring or retention.

To improve gender balance in the organization, we first need to be fully aware of what equality looks like; equal rights, opportunities, responsibilities, and access in the organization. The pandemic had a near-immediate effect on women’s employment with one in four women considering leaving the workforce versus one in five men. This makes it even more critical for organizations to  focus on cultural and organizational changes to reduce this gender inequality.

Achieving gender balance at all levels in the organization is critical, and it can look something like this.

1. Creating an inclusive hiring process

It starts here. From job descriptions, sourcing candidate pipelines, and conducting interviews – the process needs to include fairness, diversity, and inclusivity. Making sure that the hiring process is free of internal bias is also important. In many situations, and despite the awareness and initiatives around diversity hiring, some recruiters might display inherent, subconscious biases when evaluating candidates. The simplest way to avoid this would be to include more people in the hiring process, at every level of seniority. Keeping gender specific details out of the equation will level the field – age, marital status, etc.

2. Offering flexible and supportive employee benefits

77% of employees consider flexible work arrangements a major consideration when evaluating future job opportunities; 36% consider leaving their current employee because a flexible arrangement is not an option. The McKinsey study found that employee burnout is one of the largest stressors currently impacting women in the workplace.  Studies show that since the pandemic, women are disproportionately affected by burnout, stress, and exhaustion compared to their male counterparts. Gender equality in the workplace also widens considerably after women have children. Offering comprehensive benefits (flexible working, childcare support, elderly care) can help reduce stress and enable a better quality of work-life balance, overall improving the gender equation in organizations.

3. Creating fair compensation and promotion procedures

Here’s the key – offer employees equal pay for equal work, regardless of their gender. It’s not just the most obvious way to create a gender balanced workplace, it is also a good way to attract and retain talent. Organizations should also put in the effort and focus on promoting qualified women within the company, by creating promotion procedures that are inclusive and gender neutral. Everybody benefits from transparent evaluation and promotion procedures, not just women and minorities.

4. Building an inclusive culture and improving gender equality awareness

To have gender equality embedded in the organizational culture, it needs to start at the top. Leaders, through their words and actions, implicit and explicit –  need to consistently reiterate their commitment at promoting gender equality and exemplify that when hiring executives. Managers should aim to provide equal responsibilities to all those on the team, regardless of gender. Another aspect to this section is training initiatives. Incorporating regular gender inclusion training programs is imperative in enabling an environment where employees respect, and support, one another. Training sessions like this will also help employees become aware of and overcome subconscious biases, if any.

5. Strict policies against workplace harassment

At any workplace, on an average one out of four women have been either physically or mentally harassed. The importance of having a strict policy against workplace harassment cannot be ignored or sidelined. Because workplace harassment can take on many forms, having a clear policy means that organizations can employ the necessary steps to create a safe workplace.

Conduct annual training sessions to apprise employees on racial harassment, workplace bullying, and other forms of harassment. All forms of workplace harassment are illegal and can have major implications on an employee’s productivity, comfort, and safety at work. It’s important to clearly lay out the policies against workplace harassment in order to avoid hostile work environments, irrespective of how small or large your organization is.

To sum up, organizations do not employ enough women in high-ranking positions; the lack of gender diversity at the top of an organization often perpetuates a culture where women are not encouraged or mentored to reach leadership roles. When companies do hire more women, they must be committed to retaining them. If companies want to truly create change, they must make a concerted effort to create a workplace where both men and women can reach their full potential and succeed as leaders within their organization.

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Anushree Thammanna

Anushree Thammanna

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