Despite efforts to create more inclusive workplaces, outcomes for women throughout the pandemic show there is still a sizeable gap. Recent figures from HMRC reveal that six months after the UK’s Covid Job Retention Scheme was introduced, 126,900 more women than men were on furlough, even though they make up only 47 per cent of the UK workforce.
It is worth noting that the figures do not account for non-binary or trans individuals, but this data suggests a certain amount of bias still exists in the workplace, unconscious or otherwise. There are a lot of areas to consider when it comes to addressing the balance – but unfortunately it is not as simple as hiring in equal numbers and promising equal pay.
Gender bias in the workplace is a systemic issue, linked to deep-rooted traditions. For example, how many women were placed on furlough because employers assumed they might prefer to have the time to care for and home school their children?
There are several ways for businesses to support women, and other underrepresented groups, in the workplace including opportunities for development, workplace conditions and allyship:
- Create inclusive hiring processes
While simply hiring more women will not solve gender imbalance in the workplace, ensuring a good mix of genders and backgrounds amongst candidates creates a better and more inclusive hiring process.
While you want a diverse pool of talent for interviews, you might want to remove identifying information when it comes to shortlisting candidates. Three in five businesses have now adopted blind hiring processes, and it is a great way to ensure that a candidate’s characteristics do not contribute to or inhibit their success.
- Address any gendered language and practices
Removing gendered language from job descriptions has been shown to increase the number of applications from all genders. Applying this consistently in workplace communications and educating staff of gender-inclusive language helps to create a better environment for everyone.
Increased diversity in the workplace means that more employees are likely to have non-binary gender identities. Encouraging pronoun sharing helps to create a more comfortable environment, without the risk of misgendering. Even sharing preferred pronouns on email signatures is a helpful step in the right direction.
- Offer gender-neutral benefits
Some claim the reason for there being fewer women in senior positions is linked to the time they take off to raise their families but, with the introduction of shared parental leave and other initiatives, this type of thinking is taking a back seat.
Not only can partners now share leave, in some cases companies are offering all new parents the same parental leave benefits and making it clear that they are strongly encouraged to take up the offer.
Initiatives like this send a clear message on inclusivity by eschewing traditional gender role, removing entrenched biases, and creating better balance between genders in the workplace.
- Level the progression playing field
When employees take time off, they often need additional support when returning to the workplace to re-engage. More employers are offering better training to workplace returners to help them re-join or remain on their path to promotion, balancing out some of the effects of taking time out.
Being transparent about promotions – requirements, time frames and expectations – can also help to remove any unpleasantness or rumours about negative discrimination or biased practices, helping to maintain workforce morale and satisfaction.
- Encourage allyship
Gender stereotyping is sadly still alive and well in office environments. For example, it is often assumed that a woman present in a meeting is in a more junior or less skilled position. Encouraging all employees to act as allies, and politely point out this type of stereotyping, helps to educate the workforce and reduce this type of bias going forward.
As an employer, you can also create a more inclusive environment by addressing issues pertinent to underrepresented groups. Many companies are starting to arrange activities surrounding awareness days and months, but this type of initiative can be more effective if continued throughout the year.
When well-publicised and possibly traumatic events happen, businesses and employees can act as allies by checking in on those who may be affected and creating safe places for education on the issue.
While these things will help to establish an inclusive workplace, it is also crucial that you allow under-represented voices to be heard in safe spaces. Allowing employees to share with anonymity or in a way that feels comfortable makes it more likely that you will hear about their lived experiences of your workplace, giving you more reliable insights on areas where your business could improve.
Finally, when you have good processes in place to address gender imbalance and create a culture of inclusivity in your workplace, be transparent. More of the candidates we are working with are looking for an employer whose values align with their own, which means that inclusive companies can attract more diverse talent.
Robert Half was recently recognised as being one of America’s best employers for women in Forbes, demonstrating our commitment to creating an inclusive workspace for everyone.
We are proud that many exceptional women have chosen to build meaningful careers at Robert Half and we remain dedicated to supporting their professional growth and maintaining a culture of gender equality. Find out more about our commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion here.