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International Women's Day: Facing the gender gap in the workplace

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Despite the popular belief that women have nearly closed the gender gap in the workplace, men continue to land the majority of high-paying jobs. Learn how we can close the gap.

  • Although the gender gap is slowly closing, women still only make 84 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make.
  • As a business leader, you can help close the gender gap by creating fair and transparent hiring, compensation, evaluation, and promotion policies.
  • Bridging the gender gap can improve employee engagement, retention, financial returns and innovation.
  • This article is for business owners, managers and employees who are interested in bridging the gender gap in the workplace.
Despite increased publicity and discussions surrounding the inequalities women face in the workplace, there remains a tremendous amount of work to be done to close the gender gap. According to a McKinsey study on women in the workplace, corporate America has made important progress improving women's representation over the past few years, especially since the start of the pandemic, but there is still more progress to be made. The research shows that women are underrepresented at every level, and women of color are the most underrepresented group of all, lagging behind white men, men of color and white women. The study revealed that the underrepresentation of women in high-level roles isn't due to lack of education or attrition rates. Mandy Price is the co-founder and CEO of Kanarys Inc., a platform that gathers and analyses cultural and demographic data to help organisations build more inclusive work cultures. At Kanarys, she is witness to the inequality and lack of action that society still suffers from today. Price said that the current gender gap should serve as a wake-up call to our business leaders. "It is disconcerting to see that even though the business community is well aware of the benefits of a diverse workforce – such as innovation, employee retention and increased financial returns – there is still a lack of progress in closing the gender gap," Price told Business News Daily.

The current gender gap in the workplace

Although there has been some progress in women's representation over the past few years, the McKinsey study showcases the disparity between men and women in the workplace. It finds that women are less likely to be hired into entry-level jobs than men, even though they currently earn more bachelor's degrees and have the same attrition rate. As employees move up the corporate ladder, the disparity increases. For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 86 women achieve the same status. The lack of entry-level women hires results in fewer qualified women to promote from within. This creates a vicious cycle, which the McKinsey report anticipated would continue until companies take dedicated action toward gender equality. "Although companies have long pronounced commitments to gender diversity, it's important to remember that only active and intentional actions on the part of employers to enlist women in the workforce, at all levels, will help toward narrowing the gender gap," Price said.

Equal Pay Day

Equal Pay Day represents how far in the year women must work in order to make the same amount of money men did in the previous year. Since women typically earn less than men, currently 84 cents on the dollar, they would need to work 42 days longer to earn the same amount of money. This wage gap is often even greater for women of color. Equal Pay Day was started in 1966 by the National Committee on Pay Equity as an act of public awareness to demonstrate the wage gap between men and women. Employees are encouraged to wear red on Equal Pay Day to support the movement. This color symbolises how far women are in the red with their salaries. Did you know? Equal Pay Day isn't always on the same date. In 2022 and 2023, Equal Pay Day will fall on April 2. However, in 2021, Equal Pay Day was on March 31.

How to create gender equality in the workplace

Legal changes aside, companies can focus on cultural and organisational changes to reduce gender inequality. It is not enough to simply hire more women, although that is a start. Businesses must make an effort to both close the gender gap and make their workplaces truly inclusive, since diversity alone doesn't create inclusive workplaces.

1. Focus on diversity during your recruitment process.

Creating gender equality in the workplace starts with your recruitment process. Work toward a diverse and equitable workplace by creating accurate and inclusive job descriptions, sourcing a gender-diverse candidate pipeline, and conducting fair interviews. It's important to ensure your hiring process is free of internal bias. These measures should be taken for every level of seniority; however, they are especially important for executive positions. McKinsey's statistics show that men currently hold roughly 60% of manager positions, while women hold only 40%. This representational disparity increases with each step up the corporate ladder. For example, in the C-suite, only 1 in 4 executives are women, while fewer than 1 in 25 are women of color. Businesses can address gender equality by hiring more senior-level female workers.

2. Create fair compensation and promotion procedures.

Create an employee compensation program that is fair, equitable and transparent. Offer your employees equal pay for equal work, regardless of their gender. This is one of the most obvious and easy ways you can work towards gender equality in your workplace. Offering competitive and fair pay is also a great way to attract and retain top talent. Tip: Create an employee compensation plan that includes a variety of direct and indirect types of compensation. Additionally, businesses should focus on promoting qualified women from within. Create a standard set of evaluation and promotion procedures that allow hardworking women to move up the corporate ladder. While this can reduce the current gender gap that exists, everybody benefits from transparent evaluation and promotion procedures, not just women and minorities.

3. Offer flexible and supportive employee benefits.

The McKinsey study found that employee burnout is one of the largest stressors currently impacting women in the workplace. Since the pandemic, women are disproportionately affected by burnout, stress and exhaustion compared to their male counterparts. What's more, 1 in 3 women said they considered downshifting their career or leaving the workforce. Companies can reduce stress by offering comprehensive benefits and more opportunities for better work-life balance, such as better access to child care and greater acceptance of flexible work arrangements (remote work, hybrid work and flexible scheduling). This can reduce burnout among women and allow qualified mothers to play a more active role in the corporate world.

4. Create a diversity and inclusion training program.

Train your employees on what is and isn't acceptable in the workplace. Have your employees attend a diversity training program customised to your business to address potential biases and prejudices within your organisation. This can also encourage your employees to move from awareness to action in terms of allyship. FYI: Diversity training should not be a one-time event. Instead, you should create a diversity training program that incorporates multiple lessons, events, and opportunities for continued learning.

5. Hold managers accountable.

According to Price, companies must become assertive about gender diversity and treat it as an integral part of their business strategies. She suggested tying supervisors' bonuses to diversity and inclusion objectives. "It is important for companies to track, measure, and hold managers accountable for diversity and inclusion efforts," Price said. "If this important business metric is not tracked, we may never see any improvement."

6. Build an inclusive company culture.

To bridge the gap, companies must create a culture where employees feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. They should focus on improving their cultures to increase inclusion and enhance employee experience and engagement. Along with creating gender equality, Price said fostering inclusivity can spur innovation, retain valuable talent and reduce attrition rates. Women can also benefit from working with other women. According to McKinsey, 1 in 5 women said they were often the only woman, or one of the only women, in the room at work. This was twice as common for senior-level women and women in technical roles. Women who are "onlys" have a significantly worse experience than women who work with other women, and about 80% of them receive microaggressions, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults. "Women who commonly encounter microaggressions are more likely to leave the workplace, encounter sexual harassment at work, and have their qualifications challenged," Price said. A work environment that is not only diverse but inclusive is an integral part of reducing the gender gap. Price said that for businesses to truly benefit from the myriad backgrounds in the global economy, they must make room for everyone in their companies and empower them to speak up. Companies must take bolder steps to create inclusive cultures so that women, and all employees, feel supported at their workplaces.

7. Pay attention to political changes.

There are current federal and state laws intended to eliminate the gender gap and provide equal opportunities for men and women. For example, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits wage disparity based on sex. However, as we get closer to a world with gender equality in the workplace, look out for any potential legal changes that arise.

How companies benefit from bridging the gender gap

The CNBC and SurveyMonkey Workforce Survey about workforce happiness revealed that nearly 80% of respondents believe diversity and inclusion are important in the workplace; however, nearly one-quarter of workers say their company is not doing enough to address those things. Employees want to work in an environment where they feel valued and treated fairly. Focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion to bridge the gender gap can be key to attracting and retaining top talent. A diverse and inclusive workforce fosters greater employee engagement, which in turn can increase financial returns and market share. Engaged employees tend to feel more energised and connected to their organisation, and they are often willing to go the extra mile to maximise productivity. High employee engagement is also linked to higher employee retention, which saves money on recruitment costs. Providing your employees with an inclusive and equitable space to be creative is ideal for innovation. A diverse workforce brings a unique set of ideas and perspectives to the table, and an inclusive culture that allows those voices equal opportunity to be heard is great for creating new solutions. The key to this is being both diverse and inclusive. "It is time we all acknowledge that having a diverse and inclusive workforce is good for business," Price said. "The numbers simply don't lie." 

By focusing on cultural and organisational changes it is possible to reduce gender inequality and bridge the gender gap. If your organisation is looking for an expansion within the Life Science Industry, then QTC Recruitment is here to help by introducing professionals that fit your organisation’s expectations and requirements among other factors. Find out how we can assist you here!
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