Based on findings from the Global Gender Gap Report 2021, achieving gender equality in North America could take at least another 60 years if current progress rates remain steady. Therefore, as the COVID-19 pandemic starts to wane and business priorities start to shift back to more of a typical agenda with less emphasis on pandemic-related issues, it is imperative that diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts for women+ in the workplace become a priority again. In focusing on these efforts, it is important to consider multiple facets including progress metrics, measuring differences in salary, position and benefits, and other opportunities for advancement.
Looking at Women+ in Board and Management Positions
Often, a business may look at the number of women+ members of their board of directors as a highlight for their progress towards equality. North America overall has improved the number of women in board positions since 2015, but in the U.S. only 21% of board positions are held by women. Additionally, while S&P 500 companies have an almost 50/50 split of employees across positions, women only account for fewer than 25% of top earning employees, board position holders and CEOs. And, there are only 41 women CEOs on the Fortune 500, though this is an increase from the 33 women CEOs in the year prior.
Many more women+ than men have experienced gender discrimination in the workplace, through situations such as being passed over for difficult assignments or receiving belittling treatment and comments. Therefore, promotions, team structuring, and other retention efforts are important for improving diversity, equity, and inclusion for women+ in a company, looking beyond recruitment practices to emphasize gender equality. An investment in improving company culture through efforts such as a mentorship program can help more women+ gain valuable experience to become effective business leaders. Women+ holding executive and senior management positions can also reduce bias and help companies face problems that could be difficult or potentially expensive to correct in the future.
Defining Metrics for Improving DEI for Women+ in the Workplace
Only considering parity quotas in the lens of a 50/50 split is not completely effective in reaching gender equality. These gender quotas often do not consider quotas across the levels in an organization and instead look at the larger overall workforce, which usually leaves women out of top positions. Additionally, a 50/50 metric can exclude gender non-binary or gender-fluid employees, pushing them out of conscious consideration for gender equality though they also face gender discrimination and inequity.
Pay equity audits can also be used to analyze pay gaps, as salary transparency gains more support to ensure that women+ are being paid fairly. Organizations can use regression analysis with factors that could lead to a salary difference, looking at operational data to ensure that pay is more objective than subjective. Ensuring data collection is consistent and comprehensive can help address any issues early before they become bigger problems. Companies in a wide variety of industries have faced lawsuits for equal pay, and this can have harmful effects a brand’s reputation – so it is better for both the employees and the company to operate with more transparency.
Diversity can be tracked through recruitment demographics, promotions, and other changes that can be monitored to understand a company’s progress over time. Inclusion can be looked at in terms of pay gaps or how well anti-harassment policies are implemented and enforced. Surveys throughout the year can also help take a snapshot of qualitative information about diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Additionally, it is important to consider the gender diversity of company event speakers, since this may be overlooked though it can be important for helping to send the right message in support of gender equality.
Considering Work Flexibility and Other Business-Led Adjustments
One element of gender equality highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic has been the positive outcomes of allowing flexible work or work from home policies. This has allowed women to better balance their professional jobs with childcare or other caretaker roles, since over 25% of women say they may either reduce their work responsibilities or leave the workforce entirely to better focus on caretaking, especially as a result of professional burnout. A board made up with more than 30% women has been found to have more likelihood of a work-from-home or flexible work policy, showing the correlation and importance of this benefit for women.
Another important element for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace for women+ is providing a sense of community. Hosting events that include not only women+ but also involve allies of women+ can help the allies offer support and directly observe conversations and concerns for women+ to better move toward gender equity. This can amend unhelpful organizational efforts such as “women’s empowerment,” which tends to progress patriarchal or sexist viewpoints by requiring women to adjust their personalities to fit more masculine leadership styles, avoiding the real problem – the unfair design of an office culture that has been designed around men. Additionally, women+ can benefit from psychological safety in the workplace as it leads to better communication and performance. These efforts can be supported through clear company roadmaps for change, unconscious bias trainings, and designated affinity groups. Affinity groups can also be especially helpful in recognizing intersectional inequalities and better address a group of women+ with a variety of backgrounds and experiences.
More and more, investment criteria have started to consider a company’s efforts for gender diversity, with over 15 publicly traded gender-lens equity funds launched since 2015. Shareholders are also playing an important role in pushing for diversity, equity, and inclusion. This means that not only will these efforts help employees feel accepted and safe in the organization, but they can also have positive benefits for the company’s bottom line. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is a process that needs to become integrated into a business’s culture to help attract and retain top talent for the future success of both the company and its employees.
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Contributions by Courtney Loughran