5 tips for creating an equitable workplace

Expert tips for creating an inclusive and fair workplace seeking out inclusion beyond IWD

With the theme of International Women’s Day 2023, #embraceequity, aiming to shine a light on the importance of equity in the workplace, all leaders should prioritise diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I).

While working toward equal opportunities is important, recognising that the variety of employee backgrounds means that not everyone is starting on an even playing field is vital for leaders. Understanding each employee’s unique needs and experiences will help leaders offer tailored and appropriate support to help all employees reach their full potential. 

Here, five experts share their tips on what to consider and how to achieve equity in the workplace:

1. Broaden career pathways beyond the traditional 

Lewis Maleh, the founder and CEO of Bentley Lewis, a boutique executive recruitment firm.

So much of what we are taught early on in our careers is centred around completing formal higher education before making your way up the corporate ladder. Beyond this, for many roles, team management represents progression. Organisations automatically exclude talented individuals with a less-conventional career trajectory when career progression is viewed in this formulaic manner.

“Non-linear career paths bring great value to organisations. Women who have children and then return to the workplace, be they full-time, part-time, freelancers or entrepreneurs, bring unique lived experiences, additional skills and diversity of thought. Senior leaders should recognise and celebrate the uniqueness of each individual’s career path.” says Lewis.

When leaders are proactive and supportive in crafting personalised career paths and value the lived experiences of individuals beyond formal qualifications, individuals will feel more confident to advocate for themselves and seek out and make the most of learning opportunities.

Lewis challenges aspiring leaders to think about the aspects of the job they love, the things they are good at and whether the typical people management path is the right one. “If your strengths lie somewhere else, that is ok too; many people build great careers without going down the traditional route,” he says.

2. Understand the difference between equal pay and the gender pay gap

Rameez Kaleem, the founder of rewards consultancy 3R Strategy.

A big frustration for HR teams is the confusion between equal pay and the gender pay gap (GPG). While equal pay is about men and women being paid the same for equal work, the GPG measures the average and median difference between men’s and women’s average earnings across an organisation or a labour market. 

‘‘The GPG exists because of many reasons, such as women being overrepresented in low-paying roles and a difference in experience due to women more frequently taking time off or working part-time around child care in comparison to men. Both of which can stifle pay progression,’’ says Rameez.

‘‘To attempt to close this gap, employers should offer more flexible working hours and hybrid roles, as well as creating part-time and flexible working opportunities at senior levels to become more inclusive and encourage pay progression among women.’’

Addressing the disparities in the pay of men and women in organisations will help employers identify changes that need to be made to create a fair workplace where everyone has an equal chance to progress and flourish. 

3. Be mindful of the menopause in the workplace

Gillian McMichael, transformational coach and founder of Full Circle Global

Menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace, and many of these women may be struggling to manage the psychological and physiological changes their bodies are going through. 

Gillian comments, “A quarter of menopausal women will experience symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats and increased anxiety – and for some it forces them out of the workplace completely, leaving them with low self-esteem, lacking in confidence and lacking self-worth.”

“The challenge for employers is that every woman has their unique experience, and this is where the problem lies. Each stage of the menopause offers something different. To support a woman going through it, you have to implement strategies to accommodate and enable them to navigate themselves healthily through this life change.”

To achieve equity in the workplace, employers need to create an environment where women can feel supported through this time of transition. For example, by reducing stress in the workplace by re-evaluating job roles, implementing health and safety risk assessments and raising awareness by educating fellow staff members on menopause to enable them to become more considerate towards others around them. Organisations could also introduce a menopause champion, so there is a direct point of contact for all employees to access information and support.

4. Aim to create a place where people feel they belong 

Samreen McGregor, executive coach and author of Leader Awakened.

For Samreen, equity in the workplace means one where employees feel they belong and can influence the conditions for fairness. This means an environment where everyone’s differences are accepted and supported, and such security encourages people to wield more personal agency in their work and in voicing their preferences.

“For women to feel accepted – permission and parameters to question and disrupt established norms upholding the status quo are critical”, says Samreen, emphasising the importance of facilitating ways for women to advocate for themselves and question existing circumstances.

At the same time, wider workforces need to be active in creating a culture of acceptance, and their efforts should be acknowledged.

“For people to feel understood – leaders, teams and communities need to be explicitly rewarded for their time, their curiosity and the actions they take to integrate with peers who are different, less expressive and underrepresented in the dominant culture”, Samreen says.

Equity in the workplace is based on relationships and a mixture of empowering and facilitating others’ needs, as Samreen explains: “For people to relate with each other and their workplace culture, organisations need to learn how to strike a humane balance between granting freedom and inviting agency and accountability.”

5. Don’t place a burden on marginalised employees

Judith Germain, Principal Consultant of The Maverick Paradox.

DE&I storytelling is often used in organisations as part of DE&I strategy to educate the workforce on the experiences of others. While this is well-intentioned, it is vital to protect marginalised employees’ wellbeing as a priority. For example, placing any pressure or expectation on one Black female employee to speak on her experiences to her colleagues may compromise her psychological safety if you have a largely white male workforce. 

Judith says: “It is always important to consider the psychological safety of the employee when asking them to speak on personal experiences as part of a DEI strategy. Before allowing this person to make themselves vulnerable and potentially recall upsetting experiences, consider how psychologically safe your workspace is and what kind of response they will get.

‘‘A leader must be positive that the employee feels entirely safe and comfortable sharing their story and it is not a burden to them, and that it will be received with curiosity and respect by those listening.’’

Ensuring you are not placing an emotional burden on employees from marginalised groups is key to creating an equitable workplace where each individual’s specific experiences are respected. It is not the duty of marginalised groups to share their experiences, and they must only be encouraged to do so in the workplace if they demonstrate enthusiasm and the workspace is safe enough.”

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