Covid-19 has changed numerous things for women, with many struggling with additional burdens of children missing school, isolation, anxiety about their family’s health and finances; with burnout and severe stress real issues. As a crisis often presents opportunities, to mark International Women’s Day on March 8th, Serenity in Leadership identifies 10 things businesses need to address to dramatically improve gender equality and meet the needs of what women want in the workplace in 2021.
Flexibilityin working hours
Many of us have proven we can work well from home, but women have carried the burden of the constant changes faced during the pandemic to a large extent. Leaders need to readdress preconceived ideas about how to get the best out of all employees whilst appreciating how much women are having to balance, and also offering their male employees the opportunity to redress these balances. The more a workplace enables its employees, the more this will be rewarded with loyalty. We all want to be judged on outcomes, not the numbers of hours spent at our desk, but this is particularly pertinent for women currently.
Women want equal status and pay but also equality in possibilities and opportunities and decision making. Rejecting positive discrimination, women want to initiate, lead and influence purely because they are the best person for that role.
Breaking gender barriers
Gender diversity is still not widely believed to be a priority as we continue to see an alpha culture and a persistent leadership gap in senior roles and pay. In addition to gender becoming a non-issue, women want a safe environment far removed from microaggressions, harassment and misogynism.
Fostering an inclusive culture
Women tend to be good champions of other women including those of other races and ethnicities but embracing a positive gender-inclusive future means businesses need to tackle discrimination and diversity in 2021 head-on.
Ensuring an ability to progressdespite career breaks to have children
The pandemic amplified biases women have faced for years: being penalised for choosing flexible work options, higher performance benchmarks and glass ceilings, male preferential treatment and feeling pressure to work more than their agreed hours and to repeatedly prove themselves.
Many women feel they need to provide additional evidence of their competence rather than being valued and judged on their skills and work outcomes. Women want to be trusted, respected, listened to and recognised for their contribution.
Ensuring women do not have to conform or act like men
Women also don’t want to have to act like men in order to belong or to conform to a patriarchal stereotype of belonging or success.
The unfettered expression of ego isdetrimental in the workplace. It causes harassment, micro-aggressions, poor decision making and stifles creativity. This behaviour is seen less in women leaders. The workplace should not be about winners and losers, roles and powerplay.
After the pandemic we will be at a crossroads as most employees are now clearer about what is important to them. They may seek out career changes if there is not merely a shift in flexibility but also in support.
Voices being heard without the need to shout. The successful leaders of this pandemic have been humble and empathetic and ultimately have demonstrated respect for the ‘feminine’. Let us make it so that women are not patronised or seen as ‘soft’ if they use empathy and compassion in how we act and relate to others. Equally, this change needs to be applied to men.
Ways to Action Better Gender Balance in the Workplace
- Speak out if you see bias or discrimination – Most people are unaware that they are being biased unless it is pointed out to them. Speak out to strive for an equal workforce, to help to prevent workplace harassment and to diminish bias. Having strict, clear and effective policies against harassment in the workplace is key.
- Allow flexible working for employees –Part time work remains heavily female-dominated due to unbalanced childcare responsibilities supported by cultural stereotypes. Assumptions still exist that women may not be able to handle as much work as men because of family commitments so men are given more opportunities and responsibility. Endorsing flexible working hours will encourage a positive work-life balance regardless of gender, whilst also normalising hands-on fathering and enabling the best person to be employed for the job.
- Understand that gender equality is not a women’s issue and men must play a critical role, including rejecting the notion that childcare and looking after the home are demasculinising. Balances need to be redressed so that women’s talents can be equally fully utilised. It’s often argued that men need to be drawn into the conversation, but it would be better still if they were as active as their female colleagues in leading change in gender equality.
- Close the gender pay gap– On average women earn about 20% less than men. Help to close the gender pay gap by reviewing working practices and salaries across your team to ensure that all employees are being paid equally for the work they do.
- Promoting an inclusive gender-diverse workplace – including at leadership level. Any recruitment process should reflect diversity in the interview panel, job descriptions should promote gender equality and induction processes should have blindness to difference built in. Don’t let bias cloud your judgement; ask the same questions in the same way to all candidates.