Women's Equality Day is celebrated in the United States on August 26 each year and commemorates the 1920 adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment (Amendment XIX) to the United States Constitution granting women the right to vote. While women’s equality has come a long way since the Nineteenth Amendment was adopted 100 years ago, women aren’t yet designing the workplace that fits their unique needs and as a result, there continues to be gender inequality in the workplace.
We know from Bureau of Labor Statistics data that women working full time in the United States are paid 81 to 82 cents to every dollar earned by men. An even wider pay gap exists for minority women, with black women receiving 62 cents and Hispanic women receiving 54 cents for every dollar earned by men. Additionally, women only hold about 7% of Fortune 500 CEO roles and 29% of senior management roles worldwide.
Surprisingly, in recent months, this situation has only become worse for women, who have been disproportionately impacted by layoffs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. While men’s unemployment increased 9.9 percentage points during the peak time period of jobless claims between February and April, women’s unemployment rate rose 12.8 percentage points. In many cases this is because more women work in heavily impacted industries such as retail, service and hospitality. Pandemic-related layoffs can have a long-term, devastating impact on the workforce gains women have made in recent years by increasing pay and promotion gaps.
Supporting women in the workplace – and gender diversity as a whole – is not only the right thing to do, but it can also drive positive revenue results for your organization. Data from McKinsey found that the most gender-diverse companies are 25% more likely to experience above-average profitability. In honor of Women’s Equality Day, here are some best practices to help your organization support women and create an equal workplace for all.
write inclusive job descriptions
Building a gender diverse workforce starts as early as the recruitment process. Think about the job descriptions you’re currently using to attract talent for your open roles. You might be inadvertently turning away certain job seekers based on the language in your job descriptions. Or you may also be attracting more people who are like those you currently employ, narrowing the diversity pipeline unintentionally.
Try to limit adjectives that might imply bias toward one gender or another. A study from LinkedIn found that if the word ‘aggressive’ is included in a job description, 44% of women would be discouraged from applying to the role. Alternatives that are less likely to discourage either gender might include ‘motivated’ or ‘energized.’
Gender-biased language, while often unintentional, is so common that several job description analysis tools include features that score job descriptions based on gender bias. The more you can omit such language, the better chance you’ll have of attracting a diverse set of job applicants for your open roles.
hire job applicants with transferrable skills over experience
Sometimes, correcting gender bias in the workplace begins with thinking differently about talent acquisition. With some industries – such as retail, hospitality and travel – impacted by pandemic-related layoffs more than others, many job seekers are looking to switch careers or industries. But many, especially women, might be hesitant to apply to positions if job descriptions indicate they need direct industry experience. A widely shared study conducted a few years ago by Hewlett-Packard found that men apply for jobs when they only meet 60% of qualifications while women only apply for jobs if they meet 100% requirements.
Given the recent spike in unemployment, many individuals are looking for new roles that might be outside their comfort zones. To support these job seekers, instead of requiring candidates to have direct industry experience, consider listing preferred skills and competencies in your job descriptions – and try not to overlook candidates from outside industries when it’s time to review applications.
For example, a retail sales associate impacted by layoffs likely has several skills that would translate well into an inside sales representative or business development manager position in an office setting. Or, a restaurant manager could be an ideal fit for an office manager or customer service manager role on your team.
As some job seekers might be hesitant to apply to roles for which they aren’t 100% qualified, try softening the language for your skills and requirements by using phrases such as ‘familiarity with’ or ‘any combination of these skills.’ This way, potential applicants who would otherwise be qualified for the role aren’t discouraged from applying.
offer workplace flexibility
Outside of work, the pandemic poses a unique set of challenges for women in caregiving roles. Recent data from McKinsey found that women handle an average of 75 percent of the world’s total unpaid-care work, including childcare, caring for the elderly, cooking and cleaning. The time spent on caregiving has only increased for women during the pandemic, as many are working from home while childcare centers are closed, children are learning virtually and other family members – such as elderly parents – require care as well.
To support female employees with these increased caregiving responsibilities, consider offering workplace flexibility options like time-shifting. This has the potential to increase engagement and retention, as employees will appreciate these benefits and will be reluctant to seek employment elsewhere as a result.
One option might be placing less importance on holding meetings at specific times and requiring all team members to attend. For example, you can offer online, on-demand training so employees can complete sessions on their own schedule. Collaboration tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams can also help your team communicate effectively, reduce live meeting time and allow employees to consume the content when it works best for their schedules.
Another option is encouraging employees to block time on their calendars when they might have personal or caregiving conflicts – such as getting children set up for the day with virtual learning or taking an elderly relative to a doctor’s appointment. Creating this culture of flexibility will help ensure women and other employees with caregiving responsibilities are given equal access and visibility and not be punished for not ‘showing up.’
support internal talent mobility
Given increased responsibilities outside work, some women might have too much on their plate to consider taking on a new role such as a promotion. An exhausted mom trying to juggle a meeting and getting a third grader on a Zoom is unlikely to consider herself ripe for promotion. To help these employees continue to gain exposure across your organization and make an impact, you can tap into other talent mobility options that don’t necessarily require taking on a new role like internal gigs or project teams.
The pandemic has caused organizations to rethink their business needs and priorities. As a result, many employers are turning to redeployment to move current employees to other internal roles or assignments, either on a temporary or permanent basis. By offering all employees equal opportunities move into new projects, you can help support your overall business needs and enable individuals on your team to broaden their skills and get more visibility without going to the extent of changing jobs. This will also help women stay on a level playing field when it comes to career growth, even if they’re currently dealing with added responsibilities in their personal lives.
Whether your employees are looking to move into different roles or are striving for promotions, it's beneficial to offer employees a strategic roadmap to reskill and upskill. Instead of simply providing a long list of courses to choose from, an impactful strategy combines access to online courses and job market data – such as projected job growth, salary and required skills – with personal guidance from a career coach, a career concierge and a certified learning advisor to help adult learners stay on track and reach their skilling goals.
Recent data found that women are 21% less likely to get promoted than male coworkers. While the factors behind this statistic are complicated, an inclusive company can make a small difference by offering all employees equal access to redeployment opportunities and tailored skilling plans. This can help you close skills gaps and enable your team members to reach the next level in their careers – all while supporting your broader business needs.
create internal and external support networks
Community and connection are important to all workers now, especially those under the most stress. To support ongoing conversations around women in the workplace and creating a more gender-diverse workforce, your organization can embrace internal and external support networks. Some benefits of these networks include facilitating mentorship programs, highlighting professional development opportunities, amplifying the voice of women internally, increasing diversity and supporting recruitment, advancement and retention of women.
Randstad USA has a dedicated employee resource group called Women in Randstad Supporting Development (WIRED), which focuses on encouraging female employees to develop themselves as leaders, both personally and professionally, through mentorship and giving back to the community. Externally, Randstad USA provides career-readiness training and job-placement services to underserved and at-risk women through its Hire Hope program. These are just a few examples of support networks and you can consider developing similar programs to support women inside and outside your organization.
A Randstad USA survey found that more than half of employees (51%) believe their employers could do more to promote gender equality. By making this a priority, you can support a more diverse workforce that is better positioned to drive positive results for your business.