The theme of International Women’s Day 2022 is, “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”. In the world of work, the advent of COVID-19 threw into question, like never before, the idea that the world is making steady progress towards gender equality in the workplace. In reality, women were harder hit on many levels during the pandemic and gender equality, across the board, has been set back by at least a decade. Rather than resuming business as usual, in the post-pandemic era, organisations should recognise that there are invaluable lessons that must be learnt from the last two years in terms of championing women in the workplace.
Women need recognition and support to overcome the roadblocks and challenges they face
Instead of expecting women to fit into workplaces historically designed for men, we need to fundamentally rethink the world of work.
- One of the major hurdles that the pandemic exposed for women is navigating caring responsibilities. Women make up the majority of primary caregivers and, as such, are disproportionately affected by having to spend what are seen as extended periods of time away from the workplace to take care of family commitments.
“Flexi-time or part-time working hours scheduled around meeting personal commitments should not hinder women’s success and advancement.”
Fortunately, while flexible work arrangements used to be seen as an employee benefit available to the few, organisations now recognise these as an effective tool to reduce turnover, increase productivity and attract top talent. Managers should adjust their focus and success metrics from the amount of uninterrupted time an employee spends at their desk to their productivity and quality of work. Flexi-time or part-time working hours scheduled around meeting personal commitments should not hinder women’s success and advancement.
- The wage gap continues to plague women. According to The Institute for Fiscal Studies in the UK: In 2019 – before the pandemic disrupted data collection – women were paid 16% less per hour than men on average. The gap in average annual earnings was even larger, at 37%, since women are much more likely to work part-time. The wedge between women’s and men’s pay increases sharply after women have their first child. Women often choose jobs closer to home, limiting their options for well-paid jobs, and there are pay penalties for part-time work and time spent caring. However, even before they have had their first child, women are paid less than similarly-qualified men. At age 25, the average male graduate earns 5% more per year than the average female graduate. *
One simple way companies can remedy the gender pay gap is to conduct pay equity audits. Look for discrepancies between pay rates and ensure all employees of equal experience and in similar roles are paid the same – no matter their gender or race. Managers with a say in pay and raise decisions, should evaluate your team members and ask, “Who is doing equivalent work, and are they being paid equally?” Co-workers at the same level should be compensated fairly compared to each other. **
- Women face unconscious bias in the workplace
In today’s society, gender bias is often used to refer to the preferential treatment men receive and describes the prejudice against women solely on the basis of their sex. Gender bias is most prominently visible within professional settings.
- Performance support bias: occurs when employers, managers and colleagues provide more resources and opportunities to one gender (typically men) over another.
- Performance review bias: occurs when employers, managers and colleagues review an employee of one gender differently from another gender — even when the evaluations are purely merit-based.
- Performance reward bias: occurs when employers, managers and colleagues reward an employee of one gender differently from another gender. Rewards may be in the form of promotions, raises or other merit-based rewards.
A major result of these biases have contributed to the creation of the “glass ceiling”. The glass ceiling is a metaphor for the evident but intangible hierarchical impediment that prevents women from achieving elevated professional success. ***
Ways that women can champion each other at work
Women can be powerful allies at work for other women. Together we can level the playing field and go further, faster.
- Make sure fellow women’s ideas are heard. When you advocate for your female co-workers, they benefit—and you’re seen as a leader.
- Challenge the “likeability penalty”. This “likeability penalty” often surfaces in the way women are described, both in passing and in their performance reviews, when a woman speaks in a direct style or pushes her ideas and is described as aggressive and overbearing.
“Women can be powerful allies at work for other women.”
- Celebrate women’s accomplishments, and point out when women are being blamed unfairly for mistakes.
- Support and encourage female colleagues and friends to “Go for it”. Women are prone to more intense self-doubt than men, and it is not because we’re missing a special confidence gene.
- Give women direct feedback. Look for opportunities to give the women you work with straight-forward and impartial input that can help them learn and grow.
- Mentor and sponsor other women. Mentorship and sponsorship are key drivers of success, but unfortunately women often miss out.
- Photo by cottonbro