How to build a gender inclusive workplace where women can contribute and thrive

Wednesday, March 8th is International Women’s Day (IWD), a global day to acknowledge, highlight, and celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. This year, IWD’s theme is #EmbraceEquity which seeks to represent the differences between equality and equity, how equity is much more inclusive, and how equality can actually exclude, rather than include.

Along with a number of other critical areas of focus, one of the IWD’s 2023 missions is: “to forge inclusive work cultures where women’s careers thrive and their achievements are celebrated.”

While the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Report indicates improvement, statistics show that, at current rates of change, we won’t reach gender parity for 130 years! We are all responsible for creating – and accelerating – that change, this is the area we are focusing on.  

So how can employers and leaders build gender inclusive work cultures? As highlighted by the IWD, there are a number of ways to do so, some of which we explore below.

#EmbraceEquity: Recognize the difference between gender equality and equity

Equality treats everyone the same, regardless of their diverse identities and how those intersect. The same practices that support and benefit men don’t necessarily benefit women, particularly women of colour. Equity goes beyond a binary focus on men versus women/male versus female and looks at their many intersectional identities. An equality approach to hiring for gender diversity and reducing bias, for example, might be to implement blind resume/application screening. An equity approach would be to gather data, work to understand the barriers (systemic and otherwise), and put in place initiatives to directly impact that. For other examples, refer to Crescendo’s article about equity versus equality.    

Work towards pay equity and transparency

In part due to pay equity requirements for federally regulated organizations and in part as a call to action for more equitable and inclusive workplaces, pay transparency is becoming increasingly common. When pay transparency doesn’t exist, it can lead to biased pay discretion, which often negatively impacts women, people of colour, people with disabilities, and others from marginalized groups. Research carried out by Tomasz Obloj and Todd Zenger found that the gender pay gap was reduced by 45% when pay transparency was introduced, and pay inequity overall was reduced by 20%. Pay transparency can also lead to many other positive impacts on diversity, productivity, employee wellbeing and trust. Candid discussions about how employees can impact their pay, and how employers can support them to get there, facilitates empowerment, engagement, and retention.

The above said, there are challenges to be aware of, particularly if your organization isn’t ready for pay transparency. It’s not something you simply start doing with your next hire. Some of the downsides (as noted by CNBC) include slower overall wage growth, diminishing negotiation power, hiring challenges, and potentially harmful impact on morale and organizational culture. Obloj and Zenger also found pay transparency significantly weakened the link between pay and performance (which can have pros and cons). The key to a successful pay transparency program is to implement strategically and intentionally – ultimately, ensuring your organization is ready for it and proactively addressing the unintended consequences.  

Help address the gender retirement savings gap through your benefits plan

A related issue to pay equity is the gender pension/retirement savings gap. According to Statistics Canada, for every $1 of retirement income a man receives, a woman receives $0.82. This number becomes much higher when looking at the intersection of race, the widest gap being between West Asian females and Caucasian men. For every $1 that a Caucasian man receives, a West Asian woman receives only $0.36! Not surprisingly, it follows that the number of women 75 or older living with a low-income status in 2020 was 21%, compared to just under 14% of men of the same age.

One of the major contributing factors here, as outlined by Benefits Canada, is that women take more, and longer, leaves of absence related to childbearing and family responsibilities – resulting in less contribution overall to their plans. Employers can help mitigate this by allowing employees to make contributions while on leave and/or “buying back” their time upon return.

Break and don’t tolerate gender bias in your workplace

In our 2022 post and coinciding with the 2022 IWD theme, #BreaktheBias, we discussed the varying types of gender bias seen in the workplace. Research carried out by Lean In shows that 60% of women regularly experience gender-related microaggressions in the workplace and many find it difficult to get related support. That lack of support is no surprise given Catalyst’s report that only 8.2% of CEOs at S&P 500 companies are women. Recent Canadian data indicates that only 15% of named executive officers (e.g., CEOs or CFOs) within mid-market companies are women. In fact, Harvard Business Review’s research has found that, if there’s only one woman in a pool of candidates (which is often the case, if any at all), “there’s statistically no chance she’ll be hired.” 

As an employer, you can start by being aware of these statistics, choose to not tolerate overt bias in your workplace, and work to fight and break it. Consider starting with Lean In’s free 50 Ways to Fight Bias workshop and embrace equity!

Step up and address menopause stigma in the workplace

Recent statistics by the Menopause Foundation Canada estimate that approximately a quarter of Canada’s current labour force (about 4.75 million out of 19 million) are either transitioning into or are post-menopausal, and about 2 million women are between the ages of 45 and 55 (when most women will reach menopause). Research further suggests that between 80 and 95% of women will experience overt symptoms and up to 60% will have extreme symptoms for up to 8 years. These can include – among other symptoms – hot flashes, insomnia, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and brain fog.

Despite these staggering statistics, menopause isn’t talked about at work. This is due, in large part, to lack of understanding/lack of personal experience, and the ongoing stigma and cultural taboo of menopause. Given the reality of today’s demographic and that the vast majority of women will feel the impacts of menopause at some point in their working lives, employers need to start with awareness and their own education. From there, develop practices/policies, training, and support mechanisms, and ensure it’s a safe place to have honest and open discussions about the realities of menopause. Stay tuned for a future Jouta blog post where we will explore this topic further.

Understand the reasons why women leave the workplace

If, as an employer/leader, you’re not aware of, and are not focusing on, all the reasons women may not have equitable opportunities within your workplace, start there! According to the Women in the Workplace 2022 survey report, more women are leaving jobs than ever before. Primary reasons cited include lack of flexibility, negative impact on their wellbeing, and lack of diversity, equity and inclusion practices and values. As Lean In Co-founder and CEO Rachel Thomas outlines: “Women are not breaking up with work. They’re breaking up with their companies…”.  

Where women work and how well their employers and managers support them makes all the difference. What do you want to be known for?

It doesn’t matter how strong your opinions are. If you don’t use your power for positive change, you are indeed part of the problem.”

Coretta Scott King, American author, activist, and civil rights leader

Let Jouta’s HR Consultants help you and your organization be the positive change we all need to see in our workplaces.