August 26 is Women’s Equality Day in the US. This day honors the women’s suffrage movement and the ongoing work of women who strive for equality.
If you’re not quite ready to break out the champagne to celebrate, that’s understandable. The working world has traditionally been a challenging (and sometimes downright inhospitable) environment for women. Women have routinely faced a significant wage gap, fewer promotion and advancement opportunities and double standards that punish them for behaviors men tend to be rewarded for. And this was all before the pandemic.
McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report describes the impact of the pandemic on a few groups of women: “Working mothers have always worked a ‘double shift’ – a full day of work followed by hours spent caring for children and on household labor. Now the supports that made this possible – including school and childcare – have been upended. Meanwhile Black women already faced more barriers to advancement than most other employees. Today they’re also coping with the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Black community.” In response to these new challenges, women have been leaving their jobs in record numbers – nearly 3 million women dropped out of the workforce in 2020.
In light of this sobering information – and in honor of Women’s Equality Day – perhaps we need to focus our attention on equity rather than equality. Equality gives the same opportunities to everyone, which doesn’t necessarily help those who were disadvantaged to begin with. When we strive for equity, on the other hand, we aim to account for those disparities to truly put everyone on equal footing. Let’s explore a few ways you can promote equity for the women in your organization.
Understand the nuances of women’s experiences and needs
Creating an equitable work environment first involves understanding the nuances of women’s experiences and needs. Mothers, trans women and women of color are just a few of the intersectional identities that fall under the umbrella of “women,” yet they will not necessarily have the same concerns and priorities.
Consider the following:
Mothers and women who have caretaking duties for other family members may be struggling to balance caregiving and work expectations. McKinsey reports that less than a third of companies have adjusted their performance review criteria to account for the challenges created by the pandemic.
Trans women may feel uncomfortable or even unsafe if there are no policies in place that support them. This can include access to healthcare benefits and gender-neutral bathrooms and protocol around sharing names and pronouns. Research shows the presence of trans-supportive policies was positively related to participants’ openness about their identities and their decreased experiences of discrimination at work.
Any women who identify as the “only” one of their group are more likely to experience microaggressions and feel obliged to provide additional evidence of their competence.
If you’re not sure what matters most to the women in your workforce, you can take steps to learn more. Use employee surveys to gather data about your employees’ biggest concerns and needs. You can also work with your employee resource groups (ERGs) to get more input and direction.
Close the pay gap
The gender pay gap is still a very real part of the work experience for most women. Hired’s 2021 Wage Inequality in the Workplace Report finds that, on the whole, women expect to earn less than men. Race also contributes to expectations. While white women expect to earn 8% less than their male counterparts, Black and Hispanic women expect to earn 10% less.
These expectations are often confirmed by lived experience. Hired finds that the gender wage gap is as high as 10% in some locations.
There are a number of steps you can take to address the pay gap. Connect with the appropriate teams to conduct a pay-gap analysis at your organization, then open up the conversation to readjust unfair salaries during compensation reviews. Create clear compensation bands so new hires and tenured employees alike know what to expect based on their role and experience. And consider instituting a non-negotiation policy for candidates. This can help counteract some of the negative effects women tend to experience when negotiating.
“We put a lot of thought into our approach to compensation and we have created a structured process to provide our best, and most equitable, offer for each role. We take a look at what the market is paying, what is fair in comparison to a candidate’s potential peers and ensure the offer is commensurate with the candidate’s experience and skill,” says Maria Beshalske, People Operations Manager at Greenhouse. “This means we don’t lowball and expect candidates to negotiate up and we don’t offer more to candidates who are better negotiators than others. By doing our research, we equip ourselves with the information to have the utmost confidence in what we are offering and can ensure we have an even playing field for all candidates.”
Create workplace policies that address women’s needs
Based on what you learn from surveys, conversations with employees and data analysis, you may choose to update some of your workplace policies. This will vary depending on the specific needs of your employees, but might include:
Providing mentorship and professional development opportunities to prepare women to take on leadership roles
Offering workshops or other educational benefits to build specific skills requested by women like conflict management or negotiation
Enhancing your benefits to accommodate the needs of your workforce, such as expanded parental and family leave, mental health resources and fertility and adoption benefits
Supporting new parents as they transition back into the workplace with resources, community groups and part-time schedules
Providing more flexible work schedules and instituting required company-wide paid time off
Creating and advocating for safe spaces by supporting ERGs
Taking an inclusive approach to developing your own product by considering how your customers’ identities and circumstances inform their experience
As you can see, when you commit to promoting equity in the workplace, you’re taking the first step of a long journey. It’s not just about a single day on the calendar, it’s about taking a holistic view of women’s experiences. This might involve making changes to your official policies, unofficial practices and even fundamental aspects of your company culture. But it’s absolutely a step in the right direction. And that’s something that’s worth celebrating.
Looking for more tips for advancing equality in a distributed workplace? Watch this on-demand webinar.