Women’s Equality Day 2022: challenging bias in business

Despite progress, women face a 100-year wait to close the gender pay gap

Women’s Equality Day is rooted in the celebration of the day that the 19th Amendment was added to the US Constitution, officially granting American women the right to vote in 1920.

Globally, Women’s Equality Day is now a reminder of the incredible strides women have made over the past century. However, it’s also an opportunity to reflect on how much still needs to change.

The gender pay gap in the UK remains stubbornly high, at 17.3%, with two-thirds of women believing that bias and discrimination have hindered them when applying for jobs. As Jen Locklear, Chief People Officer at ConnectWise, points out: “Now is not the time to rest on our laurels. There is still a significant gender bias in the industry with women often expected to meet higher standards, yet still being paid less than their male counterparts.”

There is clearly still much work to be done to achieve equality in the workplace. With that in mind, DiversityQ spoke to nine business leaders to get their insights on where change is needed most and what organisations should do to make a difference.

A toxic environment

One of the biggest challenges that many women face is breaking into male-dominated spaces in the workplace, which can feel exclusionary. Even in industries where women make up an equal or larger percentage of the workforce, senior leadership is often largely made up of men.

For example, Joy Ravenhall, Marketing Director at Tax Systems, explains that: “the accounting sector appears to be one of the few industries with an equal workforce. Yet when we look deeper, we find that, although 45.5% of fully qualified accountants are female, only one-fifth of the sector’s senior roles are held by women.”

She suggests one way to combat this may be to highlight female role models. “It is essential that women have role models to look up to in every industry, and this is what is currently lacking in the accounting and tax sectors. Businesses must open all areas of their working environment to women – from entry-level to boardroom. Without this clear progression to strive for, it is easy for women to feel demotivated within their careers.”

Anne Tiedemann, SVP of People and Investor Relations at Glasswall, also notes the difficulties caused by an off-putting, male-dominated environment. “One of the main barriers to women’s equality in tech is attracting talent in the first place. At Glasswall, we aim to break down this barrier through early education in software development skills, exposure to the industry, and increased flexibility in working practices.”

She adds: “Showcasing the contribution our women are making at the company not only encourages more women to apply but highlights role models and leaders in the industry.”

Time for change

So what else should organisations be doing to challenge these biases?

A key first step is to address company culture, argues Dean Chabrier, Chief People Officer at Egnyte. “Fostering a culture of inclusion and respect for all employees must be an everyday part of our business practices if we want to achieve success.”

She also highlights the importance of being willing to take direction. “When it comes to any DEI effort, it’s often hard to know where to start and what will really create change. At Egnyte, we are working to actively listen to our employees and involve them throughout our efforts. We want to enable a community of changemakers within the organisation who will help drive further action and support.”

Gianna Driver, CHRO at Exabeam, also points to the importance of creating an inclusive culture: “Organisations need to remain vigilant and intentional to create healthy, diverse, thriving cultures; this entails actively investing in the growth and psychological safety of all employees. Embracing learning, normalising mistake-making and listening go a long way toward cultivating environments conducive to empathy and the celebration of diversity.

“At Exabeam, we are consciously leaning into and listening to the voices of trans and cis women as well as our non-binary community. We value diverse perspectives and know this translates into business results, but more, it translates into a more fun, authentic and human work experience.”

Practising what you preach

As well as working to improve company culture, it’s vital that business leaders implement policies that will make a tangible difference to the women in their employ.

Claire Hughes, HR Business Partner at Totalmobile, suggests some practical steps, such as:  “introducing flexible working hours to aid working parents, involving women in the recruitment process, supporting pay transparency and encouraging female role models and better decision making by having a diverse executive team.”

“To fix the gender gap issue, we need realistic initiatives that can be easily implemented today,” agrees Caroline Seymour, VP of Product Marketing at Zerto. Suggesting businesses should be “creating gender-neutral job descriptions, ensuring women are part of the interviewing team and interview rounds include diverse candidates. To eliminate bias, businesses should also conduct regular pay equity reviews to attract and retain candidates, offer mentorship and advancement programmes, and regularly evaluate hiring and promotion processes.”

Krishna Desai, Senior Global Marketing Manager at Cubic Transportation Systems, argues that “more needs to be done to ensure we break the subconscious bias within recruitment and promotion processes.

“Human behaviour experts have said that we have a tendency to hire people who remind us of ourselves – if 80% of people hiring are men, they will be more likely to hire men. The importance of diversity panels when interviewing and involving organisations like STEM returners programme cannot be underestimated.”

If organisations are truly serious about supporting change, they must seriously look at the factors within their business holding women back. By implementing practical policies and really listening to the women within organisations, it’s possible to make a big difference.

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