We would like to believe gender inequality in the workplace is a thing of the past. Something belonging to the era of Mad Men and a pre-Title IX world. But gender bias in the workplace, whether conscious or unconscious, is still very much alive.
7 Ways to Dismantle Gender Bias in the Workplace
Toxic work cultures and microaggressions continue to plague the workplace, making it hard for some employees to bring their full selves to work while achieving their desired career progression. But there are things organizations can do to help combat the problem.
1. Educate Your Workers on Gender Bias
The first step is education. If your employees aren’t aware that there’s an issue, they won’t make changes. Make sure your organization knows what gender bias looks like (the outright and the subtle) and how to avoid it in the workplace. Showcasing some examples and going through exercises can help to illustrate the point. Also make it clear that gender bias works both ways, not just towards one gender. With clear education and definition, workers can be better prepared to identify bias when they see it or hear it.
2. Evaluate and Standardize Pay
We’ve all heard about the gender pay gap. This purports that women are paid less than men based on the same amount of work. In 2020, women still make 81 cents to every dollar a man makes. This might be the case in your company, it might not. It’s best to evaluate your current pay structure to make sure you’re aware of any discrepancies that might fall in line with this national average.
People should be paid the same amount for the same job, period. Women should be encouraged to go after raises just as much as men. By evaluating your compensation trends, you can be aware of any patterns, inconsistencies or obvious bias that might exist. By acknowledging it, you can take steps to make your compensation system more progressive and reflective of equal pay for equal work.
3. Review Your Recruiting Process
Specific things like the wording of a job description can affect who applies and who gets hired. While selecting certain words to convey a role or responsibility is often done with little intent towards gender, certain words can have connotations in the world beyond intention or lack thereof. It’s best to review job postings with an inquisitive eye before you make them live.
When writing a description, avoid using words that have a masculine connotation like:
To remove overtly feminine tones, avoid words like:
The mind tends to associate words like this with specific genders. Try to refrain from using gender-charged words in your recruitment and hiring practices.
4. Stand Up to Gender Bias in the Workplace When It Happens
Whether it’s a brushed aside opinion or a bad joke at lunch, gender inequality, bias and microaggressions need to be called out when they occur. It’s how you increase awareness of what gender bias looks like and sounds like. This doesn’t not mean berating colleagues or superiors. It can present an opportunity to teach someone else what is preferred treatment in the workplace.
This doesn’t mean it’s an easy task. It’s often awkward and uncomfortable for all involved, but the more it is called out and dissuaded, especially by managers and leadership, the more likely an organization is to eliminate gender bias in the workplace.
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5. Offer Flexible Work Options
Work is moving further away from the physical office every day. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance and current necessity of remote work now more than ever. But remote work isn’t just safer, it can also minimize gender bias, allowing men and women to optimize their working hours from the location of their choice and during the time that works with their other responsibilities.
Flexible work schedules are no longer beholden just to matters of parental leave. It encompasses a range of flexibility that includes working remotely and adjusting the usual working offers to capitalize on people’s available and productive hours of the day. It can be additional remote working options during the week or flexible work hours that allow employees to set a schedule that accommodates their other responsibilities (childcare, parental care, or continuing education). For those employers with contingent or hourly workers, this could mean more predictable and consistent scheduling to allow women greater control to work around life’s obligations. Family-friendly policies and flexibility allow employees to maintain autonomy and consistency, improving satisfaction and engagement for female employees.
6. Establish Mentoring Programs
Sometimes, it’s not enough just to encourage women within the workplace. A lot need extra guidance and knowledge in order to achieve their career ambitions.
Research suggests that mentoring programs make for a more diverse work hierarchy. They give minorities and women a brighter spotlight, and help them climb the professional ladder with the help of networks, skills and organizational knowledge.
Mentoring relationships can pair women with senior leaders or colleagues who can illuminate steps and knowledge needed to get to their next promotion or transition. These mentors don’t have to be of the same gender. It is beneficial for men to mentor women, as men still hold the majority of senior leadership positions in companies across the globe. Whether it’s mentoring circles, flash mentoring, or high potential mentoring, modern mentoring imparts a feeling of inclusivity that can help women feel more connected and engaged with their place of employment.
Often times, it’s the lack of high-profile assignments and top-level advocates from within the company that keep women from advancing to that next level of growth or the illusive C-suite. Sponsorship, the relationship in which senior, powerful people use their personal clout to highlight, advocate for and place a more junior person in a key role, can elevate women at a quicker rate than current national standards.
For example, women (and men too!) who had a sponsor at work were significantly more likely to ask for a raise or to request assignment on a high-visibility team. Increasing sponsorship of women within your organization can help to move women past the toughest stage of their careers—the mid-career marathon.
As an individual executive, a good place to start is by taking stock of who you mentor and what kind of help you provide. Acknowledge where you could be a better advocate for the women in your organization, suggesting someone for a stretch assignment or arranging a meetup between another senior leader and high-potential women in your department, team or function.
Sponsorship is something best not mandated, but it should be actively talked about and exemplified to lead the rest of your organization in recognizing the opportunities for sponsorship around them on a regular basis.
Although it might be hard to see big strides, organizations are taking steps to establish solutions to gender bias in the workplace. If we ever want to reach or get close to gender parity though, we will need to work diligently and consistently. Work should be safe and motivating for all. Use the seven tips above as a starting point for your organization. As you see how your organization responds, build onto the initial steps we’ve provided and grow your own strategy to eliminate gender bias in the workplace and beyond.