The changing dynamics of gender in the global workplace
As we progress into the 21st century, society is becoming increasingly self-aware of the gender disparities that persist in the workplace. According to the American Association of University Women, women are paid on average just 80 percent of what men earn in the same position. Even in Iceland, which has long been the World Economic Forum’s top-ranked country in the world for gender equality, a pay gap of about 18% persists (though not for much longer). When it comes to paid maternity leave, the United States is dead last among industrialized countries in the benefits it guarantees to expecting mothers.
I am not surprised by these statistics. Gender bias, sexual harassment and glass ceilings are all still very real things in the modern workplace. And in my experience as an HR professional, these issues are still very much at the forefront of the fight for gender equality at the workplace.
However, thanks to a variety of international initiatives alongside the pioneering efforts of gender equality-focused companies like Google, Etsy and Gap, workplaces around the globe are finally moving in the right direction and beginning to see significant strides forward for professional women.
Recently, the United Nations set the tone by instituting Planet 50–50, a global initiative that aims to close the gender gap by the year 2030. Encouraging countries around the world to set national commitments that will spur these changes, the influence of Planet 50–50 has impacted policies, laws, national action plans and investment across 93 countries. In India, there is still much progress to be made, with just 27% of women older than 15 participating in the workforce — the lowest rate among BRICS countries.
Notably, these changes aren’t happening only on a national scale. Many companies, inspired by this groundbreaking UN initiative, are instituting their own 50–50 rules and pushing change on a more micro level, ensuring that they maintain an even balance of men and women on their teams. Even some podcasts, such as Master of Scale, hosted by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, have committed to a 50–50 gender balance in the guests invited to the program. These initiatives to increase opportunity equality are clearly indicative of a sweeping push towards a workplace that is more inclusive for women. As part of its core values, Flock too remains committed to fostering a more balanced workplace where employees are rewarded and applauded not on the basis of their gender, but on the basis of merit.
In the quest to bridge the gender gap, employers are placing a new emphasis on encouraging their female employees to thrive and advance in industries traditionally dominated by their male counterparts, such as science and technology. As Google’s Senior Vice President of People’s Operations, Laszlo Bock, discovered a few years back, women are often less likely to put themselves forward, whether that means speaking up in a meeting or putting one’s name forth for a promotion. This mirrored academic studies that showed women to be hesitant to speak up or raise their hands in collaborative settings, despite demonstrating a higher rate of success when they did. Bock found that by simply making women aware of these studies at the time that they could apply for promotions, Google saw a higher rate of female applications for open positions. Experiments such as these show the vital importance of communication, as companies strive to eradicate the harmful impacts of institutional sexism.
When it comes to paid maternity leave, India is one of the few countries that now offers its female employees 26 weeks of paid maternity leave, a significant improvement on the 12 weeks previously offered. This is a huge stride, as the availability of adequate paid maternity leave for new mothers contributes significantly to the health, both physical and mental, of mothers and their newborns, reduces income disparity between genders and ultimately renders these women happier and therefore, more effective employees.
As companies move forward and seek new ways and work tools to bridge the gender divide in the workplace, the above are all significant ways in which leaders can turn their business environments into more inclusive and equal places where collaboration and innovation transcend gender stereotypes. In my experience, some other effective measures include implementing initiatives to bring more women into leadership positions, offering flexible schedules that emphasize performance rather than hours clocked and allowing women more opportunities to influence company culture. I am proud to share that Flock already offers many of these benefits to women, including increased paid maternity leave and enhanced flexibility.
Among the most successful initiatives, perhaps, are those that seek to instruct employees on their unconscious biases and how to recognize them. Companies that have implemented such initiatives are taking an important step to eradicate sexism, curb sexual harassment and teach their employees to overcome implicit biases in the workplace, such as asking personal questions about a woman’s plans for children in interviews, giving women diminished responsibilities or less important projects than their male colleagues and harboring ingrained notions of positional bias (i.e. the kinds of work that men and women are each best “suited” for).
No one, man or woman, should be content to accept their traditional roles in the workplace. As businesses move towards a more inclusive and equal workplace, everyone is benefiting from an environment that promotes efficacy, collaboration and respect. I believe that the initiatives discussed here are important steps in bringing about an enduring shift in the global mindset when it comes to women at the workplace.
Authored by Margaret Dsouza, one of the fiercest proponents of change at the workplace. She also believes men, women and bots make the world go round.
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