Four Ways to Advance Equality for Women in the Workplace
Fostering a culture of inclusion is a highly complex, long-term process. The corporate world and other players in private sector need to do their part to maximize opportunities for all genders.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses to rethink how they interact with workers, customers and the wider community. Development finance and civil society organizations are working together to build sustainable businesses and deliver impacts. However, issues of gender inequality and diversity have remained on the fringe.
Even though advocacy efforts for gender equality in the corporate world have intensified over the past few years, only a few organizations have translated this into real change in the workplace. While there is a consensus that gender equality is important, it is considered too difficult to address or is reduced to a check-the-box training requirement which brings little real change.
Based on our experience and information from companies, entrepreneurs and other private sector clients in Central Asia, we have compiled four practical tips to drive change.
Use the business case. In the war for talent, companies that fail to invest in women will lose their competitive edge. A growing base of evidence shows that gender equality can be a smart proposition for businesses and a bulk of evidence speaks to that.
The companies that have diverse teams outperform their peers; study by Credit Suisse revealed that investors in companies with strong gender diversity strategies receive excess returns of 3.5%, on average; diversity in teams, perspectives, inputs and education spurs long-term innovation and creativity resulting in increased productivity.
However, the first step is persuading companies to see beyond corporate social responsibility to the business case for advancing women’s opportunities in the workplace, supply chain, distribution networks, and as customers.
Tools and resources are available to help companies advance in their gender equality efforts and several national and local governments are incentivizing women’s empowerment in programs and legislations. For example, a gender equality scorecard helps companies track gender impacts, identify areas for improvement and tie results to incentives. In countries like India, government provides incentives to provide financing to women at better terms and interest rates.
Address gender stereotypes for creating new opportunities. Despite mounting evidence, organizations are unconvinced that advancing gender equality can boost their businesses. An IBM study found that over 40% of corporate managers are unsure that providing women greater opportunities in business has commercial advantages. Positive messages about potential financial benefits are drowned out by prevailing stereotypes about women’s leadership capabilities.
The first step is persuading companies to see beyond corporate social responsibility to the business case for advancing women’s opportunities in the workplace, supply chain, distribution networks and as customers.
The study found that most in the corporate world still believed that women’s presence in leadership roles is limited because women are more likely than men to prioritize family over their careers. Reasons commonly given for lack of progress on gender diversity include the potential cost of family-friendly arrangements, and that suitable women candidates are difficult to find.
While these explanations are often rooted in real experiences and challenges, executives need opportunities to dive deeper into the root causes and tackle unconscious biases. Uncovering the root causes requires providing opportunities to people to delve into beliefs, norms, practices, and policies and understanding what it is achievable and at what pace. Such awareness raising is often underrated but is important in building sensitivity and changing attitudes and behaviors that reinforce inequalities between men and women.
Engage across the organization. Companies that have a more equal workplace for men and women have engaged people from across the organization: both men and women, top and middle level executives, and people from across the company; not only human resources but also marketing, finance and strategy departments.
It is important to have broad representation of genders, cultural diversity and perspectives in discussions and decision-making. Too often gender equality actions are considered a mandate of human resources when it is equally important in other areas of business such as design of products and services, building an investment pipeline or developing a marketing strategy.
Encourage peer learning. Diversity, and how to achieve it, needs to be driven by business leaders, like any other business opportunity. Gender equality discussions need not be led by development practitioners or gender specialists. Getting business leaders to share their journeys is important, particularly those who have struggled with the same questions as most in the room, pushed the boundaries in their own organizations and experimented with different approaches that advance inclusion and non-discrimination.
A worker or executive illustrating what has effectively worked or not worked is more likely to be heard. A representation of both business and gender experts in discussions grounds dialogues in both practice and theory.
Fostering a culture of inclusion is a highly complex, long-term process. The private sector needs to do its part in maximizing opportunities for all genders. But development organizations can play a pivotal role by bringing the latest thinking in the area to the private sector, supporting integration of gender equality in business practices, convening partnerships likely to accelerate progress, and encouraging investments in gender equality.