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How to create an equitable workplace

Katy Orr - Contributor

When we think of cultivating an inclusive workplace the terms equality and equity are often used interchangeably. Although they sound similar, it is crucial to understand the difference between them in order to create an equitable workplace that supports everyone. 

While equality is about offering the same resources and opportunities to everyone regardless of background, equity requires us to recognise the differences in individual backgrounds and provide tailored support based on those specific needs. Not everyone starts on even ground, so leaders need to create a workplace which helps level the playing field and sets everyone up for success. 

Here are 5 tips for creating an equitable workplace that will help employees feel valued, engaged with organisational culture and motivated. 

Empower employees

The experiences we have throughout our lives create a patchwork which informs the way we see ourselves. Even if employees are given the tools to succeed within a role, self-limiting beliefs can prevent them from accessing them. Leaders have a vital role to play in helping employees feel capable of succeeding and pushing past doubts through empowering them to be confident in their value. 

Coach, bestselling author and founder of Your Life Live It Dr. Amanda Foo-Ryland explains: ‘’Our core limiting beliefs are usually installed in our psyches before the age of seven, and so have been running in our neurology for a very long time. These beliefs about ourselves can feel really unchangeable, and continuously stifle our confidence.’’

Each individual’s ethnic background, gender identity, sexuality, religion and various other factors will be significant in their experiences and leaders must recognise the ways in which these factors may have influenced how they feel  in workplace environments. 

‘‘Leaders must recognise when self-limiting beliefs are being displayed at work so that they can kindly challenge these ideas and empower individuals to reach their true potential and see their value. Notice the ways employees are talking about themselves or responding to praise or criticism. When employees are displaying negative self-talk, leaders must make a point to challenge the beliefs displayed and be constructive.’’ Amanda advises.

Support women’s health at work 

With the recent rejection of menopause leave by UK parliament, a spotlight has been shone on women’s health in the workplace. Menopause, as well as other gynaecological or hormonal health conditions such as endometriosis, PCOS or even severe periods are not new, and women have been struggling silently at work for decades. 

Lesley Cooper, wellbeing consultant and founder of WorkingWell comments: ‘’the symptoms of these conditions, which can be painful, debilitating and complex, often stifles workplace inclusion as we do not have an equitable wellbeing framework in place that accurately accommodates and supports conditions which impact certain employees.’’ 

‘’A one-size-fits-all wellbeing policy is no longer fit for purpose, and we must rethink our definition of illness and broaden reasons for absence or support to accommodate these conditions which cause chronic pain, fatigue and mental health issues.’’ 

Leaders must understand that giving additional support to those going through particular conditions does not discriminate, it helps to even the playing field for women in the workplace who are facing additional challenges. 

Navigating the legacy of personal trauma in the workplace

Trauma can cause painful emotions to arise when present events trigger past memories, leading to the past influencing the present. In creating a more equitable workplace for women, it is important to address the impact of trauma on their work experiences. Employers can take several steps to create a safe and supportive environment for their female employees.

Dr Lisa Turner, trauma expert and founder of CET Freedom advises how leaders can approach this in the workplace: 

‘’Firstly, creating psychological safety is crucial to allow employees to feel comfortable to ask questions, fail, and take time to recover. Valuing emotions and respecting the emotional state of the workforce can improve productivity, creativity, and teamwork. Employers should encourage employees to share their feelings about traumatic experiences, and offer compassion and empathy.’’ 

She continues, ‘’Secondly, employers should make it acceptable for employees to speak up about their trauma and ensure that they have access to appropriate resources to support their recovery. Trauma can lead to reduced productivity, creativity, and decision-making, but access to emotional support can help employees thrive.’’

By recognizing the impact of trauma on women’s work experiences and taking appropriate action to address it, employers can create a more supportive and equitable workplace.

Encourage self reflection

When creating a truly equitable workplace, a key part of the process will be in encouraging a culture of mindfulness, acceptance and self-examination. For Karen Powell and Lesley Heath, co-founders of A Matter of Choice and co-authors of Woman of Our Time, conscious time for self-reflective practice is a great starting point for any leader or employee wanting to both explore their own needs and preferences more, but also wanting to check themselves and their own potential biases. This can help raise awareness of women’s unique experiences in the workplace and challenge people to explore their own treatment of gender in the workplace.

“Put simply, reflective practice is a way of looking inwards to find a way past a stumbling block, life challenge or anxiety by understanding what has happened to us, or the origins of our thoughts and behaviour and processing that understanding into positive action”, says Karen.

“Reflective practice is a fantastic tool for moving worry into action and helping us make wiser choices”, emphasises Lesley. “In supporting the progress to a more equitable working world with more active support for women, self-reflection and taking time out to consider how each person can change their behaviour, check their prejudices and consciously facilitate others can make a real difference on both an individual and organisation-wide level”.

Establish regular spaces for dialogue and feedback

“If you want to create a workplace that’s fair and equitable, you need to make sure you’re addressing biases, hiring a diverse range of people, providing equal opportunities, creating a safe and inclusive environment, and listening to feedback”, says Bethany Ainsley, corporate wellbeing specialist and author of Don’t Burnout, Stand Out.

Regular spaces and channels to share ideas, provide honest feedback and explore ways to change for the better are an important part of making sure that women’s unique experiences are taken into account and responded to.

 “Creating open channels of communication and establishing employee resource groups is a great way for organisations to gather feedback and continuously improve”, explains Bethany. By encouraging dialogue, listening to feedback, and taking action to address concerns, organisations can create a culture of inclusivity and fairness. This requires ongoing effort and dedication from everyone involved”.

 Bethany also recommends implementing bias training, recruiting from diverse talent pool, objective performance evaluations and establishing policies to prevent discrimination and harassment to make sure everyone feels safe and supported, whatever gender.

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