Despite the strides many companies have made to improve gender equality, the pandemic has disproportionately affected women. From March to April 2021, 3.5 million women left the workforce, by taking either paid or unpaid leave, losing their job through reductions or shutdowns, or exiting work altogether.
In fall 2020, 25% of women were thinking about downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce entirely. Fast forward to the end of 2021, and only 57.5 percent of adult women were actively working, making these statistics worse than pre-pandemic levels.
Although there are various reasons this segment of women aren’t actively working, one trend holds true: the global pandemic pushed more women out of the workforce than men.
The U.S. Census Bureau cited the two following reasons for job exits by women: “Mothers are more likely to work in service and other jobs heavily impacted by pandemic closures” with many mothers carrying a heavier burden of household chores and child care, which disrupts many mothers’ ability to seek out jobs.
However, the truth is that the pandemic has set women back as far as representation in the workplace, not to mention its impact on gender and pay equality. How do companies keep women from falling even further behind?
With today being International Women’s Day, companies should look at their hiring practices to ensure they are keeping gender equality in mind – as women continue to be underrepresented in the workplace.
In this article, hiring professionals will learn ways to create equal opportunities for women in the workplace and actionable steps to take to improve gender equality moving forward.
Updating recruitment strategies to improve gender equality is hardly new. In fact, talent professionals have taken great strides over the years to bolster efforts to improve gender equality in attraction, hiring, and retention.
According to McKinsey, organizations realize gender and ethnically diverse workforces outperform their less diverse peers. For example, in 2020, McKinsey reported that companies who were in the top quartile for gender diversity were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability.
On the other hand, gender bias in the workplace can cause damage, especially when it comes to productivity. According to Oregon State University, “a typical Fortune 500 company that hires 8,000 new employees a year with a 1% gender bias effect can expect 32 additional failed hires and many more sub-optimal hiring decisions, resulting in productivity losses of about $2.8 million per year. A 4% bias effect would lead to an additional 192 failed hires and an additional $17 million in lost productivity.”
Although 87% of North American companies state that they’re prioritizing gender diversity, there’s still a long way to go – especially in the shadow of the pandemic.
To attract and retain top talent, learn five ways to create equal opportunities for women in the workplace.
As companies continue to navigate the ‘new normal,’ offering flexible work arrangements will help with attracting women to open roles.
For example, by showing compassion and empathy towards caregivers, it allows them to support their loved ones while maintaining a career. Companies who are not considerate of this might receive bad reviews on sites like Glassdoor or have teammates leave the company. This can lead to women job seekers deciding not to interview or seek employment at a company.
Showing support to all employees ensures no one needs to sacrifice in any area of their life and maintain a work-life balance. This is proven to help retention, motivation, and participation.
When examining how to update hiring practices to increase diversity, companies need to gain actionable insight through analytics to see where they stand now. Assess what’s strong and where there are gaps regarding gender diversity.
For example, suppose there are fifty percent or more entry-level positions occupied by women, but there are no women in executive positions. Or perhaps the talent pipeline tilts more heavily male. By gaining insight into a company’s current workforce, they can set goals to eliminate gaps objectively.
Once companies know where they stand and where they want to go, they can look at their processes in more detail. For instance, are the hiring professionals using standardized interviews, treating each candidate the same? Do they incorporate pre-hire assessments? Do they offer video interviews? Have they broadened the company’s talent search through social recruiting?
Like most talent acquisition tasks, analyzing recruitment policies is not a one-and-done activity. Instead, this is a continual and evolving process, allowing companies to refine and refine again to attract and retain top talent.
Salary transparency – often called pay transparency – is a corporate strategy for talking about salaries within the organization. By keeping pay a secret, bias can creep into the process, adding to the gender pay gap.
According to Pew Research Center, the gender gap has held steady over the last 15 years, with women earning about 84% of what men do. For women to earn what men did in 2020, based on these numbers, it would take women an extra 42 days of work.
Salary transparency can take many forms. For example, companies can (and should) encourage employees to discuss salary, giving them an understanding of why they’re paid what they’re paid and what positions and salaries exist in their career progression.
Additionally, employers can disclose how much positions pay (or a range of pay) in their job ads, letting job seekers know that the company is committed to salary transparency and gender equity.
In fact, New York City has just mandated that all job openings must list the minimum and maximum pay for that role, effective May 15, 2022 – following the footsteps of Colorado, Nevada, Connecticut, California, Washington, and Maryland. The city is hoping that by publicly disclosing salaries, the gender gap will narrow, according to Bloomberg.
There are many benefits companies should consider when implementing pay transparency. This can include greater diversity, higher productivity, employees feeling more valued for their work, and cohesion amongst employees – which can help employer brand or EVP and retention.
When examining the recruiting processes, don’t forget to take a look at job postings. Often as the first exposure to a company for job seekers, the job posting gives an ideal opportunity to showcase the company’s commitment to gender diversity.
For example, mind the use of pronouns. Instead of saying “she” or “he,” focus on using “you” or “they.” Doing so can help keep pronouns neutral. And, don’t forget adjectives, such as “maternity leave.” Instead, use “parental leave,” again making the benefits neutral.
Another way to fight gender disparities is to avoid masculine terms in ads. For example, “driven” and “competitive” give insight to a more masculine culture. These masculine-coded worlds should be replaced with more neutral terms.
Additionally, LinkedIn research shows that women are unlikely to apply for a job if they don’t meet 100 percent of all required skills compared to men applying for open positions if they meet 60 percent of job requirements. Because of this, employers should limit how many requirements are actually required and which ones are nice to have, encouraging more women to apply for jobs.
A top way to attract female applicants is to showcase female-identifying employees within the organization. One way to do this is through storytelling.
Share stories, interviews, and successes of female-identifying employees on the company’s LinkedIn page, the career page, through blogs, or on other social media platforms. By doing so, female job applicants see themselves represented at the company and are more likely to apply for an open position.
Creating equal opportunities for women in the workforce leads to retention of women in the workplace. According to McKinsey’s 2021 Women in the Workplace report, “to retain the women most affected by the challenges of COVID-19, companies need to take steps to rescue the additional pressures they’re experiencing.”
Here are three ways to retain women in the workplace today:
As priorities have shifted over the pandemic, companies should prioritize work-life balance to attract top-quality candidates. Of course, the go-tos for work-life balance include remote work, flexible schedules, and more time off. But prioritizing work-life balance goes beyond the offered benefits. It must be part of a company’s culture.
For example, women are more likely to be worried about if they take advantage of options that make it easier for work/life balance (such as work from home or flexible hours) and how their career might be affected as a result. Many women are also less likely to share personal challenges with colleagues, resulting in being less likely to get support when needed.
To combat this, there has been an upwards trend in flexibility, and many companies are introducing remote work, flex hours, 4 day work weeks, etc. to help employees prioritize their work-life balance. As mentioned above, it’s paramount that a company’s culture demonstrates that women won’t be “punished” for choosing work-life balance options at an organization and won’t ever have to sacrifice in any area of their life.
Also, the benefits of prioritizing work-life balance are clear. These can include higher engagement, reduced stress, and increased productivity. Many employees who establish a healthy balance also tend to be happier, more focused, and less likely to experience burnout.
Additionally, there’s nothing like walking the walk to demonstrate the company’s transparency about wanting to make a change. For example, one way to walk the walk is to offer (and showcase) employee training on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB), highlighting the company’s commitment at each level of the organization. Employers need to be clear about the purpose of the initiatives and share expectations to employees.
Keep track of data, allowing companies to objectively showcase improvements in gender diversity over time. Show employees and the world what work that’s being done and the progress being made. This helps foster trust in an organization and showcases the culture and commitment to the team. Also, transparency invites others internally or externally to hold them accountable. When an organization is held accountable and given feedback, it offers an opportunity to learn, grow, and adjust strategies to ensure actionable change will be made.
Also, focus on employer brand, making sure that the organization is appealing to a broad spectrum of candidates – which helps with attraction and retention. Many candidates want to work for companies who share their values, and showcasing what they're doing to create actionable change is a great place to start.
Another way to retain women is to provide mentorships for all – and mentorship is not just beneficial for women early in their careers. It’s a proven strategy for women changing careers or climbing up through management and executive-level positions.
Mentorship also boosts diversity. According to a recent study, mentoring programs improved promotion rates by 15-38% for minorities and women (compared to non-mentored employees).
Today, mentorship is more critical than ever – especially as women navigate the many unknowns that the global pandemic has presented. Employees have many valuable skills and experiences, and many are yearning to learn more. Mentoring establishes a better working relationship between colleagues, shows dedication and loyalty to the employee, prepares employees for the future, increases job satisfaction and aspiration, and helps with fulfillment at work.
Creating a more inclusive workplace takes effort, but the benefits are practically incalculable. Such investments will also reflect on the company positively in its prioritizing issues that many other companies fail to adequately address. These initiatives will not be solved overnight, but with commitment and willingness to change, initiatives like these will make a difference.
Interested in updating your DEIB policies to keep gender equality in mind? We'd love to help!