5 workplace strategies to address gender bias

Women in business are half the population but one-tenth the voice. This is why gender balance is a critical factor in building an effective and competitive business

Updated: Apr 13, 2023 12:53:46 PM UTC
While companies in India have started their journey towards a more equitable workforce, we still have a long way to go. Image: Shutterstock

It’s difficult for women to play catch-up in the workplace when fewer and fewer women make it to compete in the big leagues. The evidence is in the numbers. Only ten percent of the Fortune 500 companies today are run by women. According to a 2022 study by McKinsey, 48 percent of entry-level employees are women, but only 32 percent are vice presidents, and fewer—26 percent—are C-suite executives. An average career of a person lasts approximately four decades. Then, a steep decline in representation of women at less than half at the entry level to only about a fourth getting to the top management level, showcases the challenges women continue to face in the corporate world.

This is despite the fact that research has shown that firms in the top 25 percent in terms of inclusion performed 15 percent better financially compared to the bottom 25 percent on the same scale. This was especially true in companies with higher diversity at the senior leadership levels.

Women leaders are as ambitious as men, but at several firms globally, they face unconscious biases which prevent them from advancing their careers. Women leaders are more likely to experience belittling microaggressions such as having their judgement questioned and being less recognised for the same amount of work. It is also increasingly important to women leaders that the companies that they work for prioritise flexibility, employee well-being, diversity, equality, and inclusion.

Also Read- Need of the hour: Family-focused policies to help advance gender parity at a faster pace

Companies that do not act risk losing not just their current women leaders, but also those who could become one in the future. Women today place high premiums on working in an organisation that supports them. They are also well prepared to leave for better opportunities and support systems. This is especially true in a country such as India. Achieving a workforce with gender parity had the potential to add $700 billion to India’s GDP over ten years, from 2015-2025, per a report.

Bridging the existing gap, therefore, becomes key, towards which several facets need work. Here’s a look at 5 key things a company can do to address gender bias.

Strategy 1: Gender Proportionality Principle

Several organisations see high gender parity at entry-level roles, but rarely at the senior leadership levels. The Gender Proportionality Principle (GPP) is a simple actionable concept that helps increase gender-equal representation across the organisation.

GPP states that any level of an organisation should aim to reach the gender composition of the level immediately below it. For example, in an organisation, if 48 percent of entry-level personnel are women, and only 40 percent of management positions are held by them, the goal should be to reach 48 percent at a managerial level within a stipulated timeframe.

Strategy 2: De-bias your workplace

Unconscious bias is everywhere. Iris Bohnet, a behavioural economist at Harvard Kennedy School, compiled a list of 10 evidence-based recommendations to de-bias the workplace.

One of the recommendations is to evaluate comparatively. Structured skill-based interviews minimise unconscious bias by enabling direct comparisons. For performance reviews or promotions, rather than evaluating candidates individually, consider several candidates at the same time. The focus, therefore, remains on comparing past performances rather than letting gender bias creep in.

Also Read- Ashwini Deshpande: Fixing gender parity one data set at a time

Another recommendation is to introduce programs where women mentor men. Mentoring in the workplace is invaluable in helping junior employees grow. Having women mentor men could benefit both parties by allowing them to inherently learn different working and leadership styles.

Another important step would be to build processes that design bias out of our existing systems, so women can accelerate in their careers.

Strategy 3: Be transparent about wage gaps

Women earn 20 percent less than men across the world, as per the International Labour Organization. Pay gaps exist everywhere, across all levels. Measure wage gaps within your organisation and set timelines to close the pay gap. Review these regularly. Publish the compensation data internally within the organisation, if not publicly. Being transparent and tactical about wage gaps will lead to less biased behaviours.

Strategy 4: Appoint accountability partners

Diversity at workplaces requires buy-in and accountability at all levels. It can easily become an 'organisation’s initiative, rather than my priority'. Specific targets should be set for all senior leadership to achieve their gender parity numbers. Appoint partners who audit, assure, and ensure that governance practices are stringent in the diversity and inclusion space.

Strategy 5: Bring flexibility to the work environment

Lastly, offer flexibility in working part-time or providing the opportunity to work from home. Studies show that the biggest drop in women's employment numbers comes post-childbirth. The International Labour Organization also reported that mothers are offered significantly lower salaries than women without children. However, fathers are not penalised for the same, suggesting that unconscious gender bias has a large role in reducing workplace effectiveness. This can also be tackled by having shared parental leave policies which offer equal time off for men and women, allowing both to share childcare responsibilities.

While companies in India have started their journey towards a more equitable workforce, we still have a long way to go. Actively driving change is the only way forward. Every entrepreneur, every founder, every co-founder, every investor, every CEO, every CHRO, and every working individual, has a huge role to play in bridging the gender divide.

The writer is the co-founder and CEO of Runaya.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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