How To Nurture Inclusion In The Workplace and Remove Biases Against Women
Women should be given equal opportunities and treatment in their chosen careers. From a business perspective, it also benefits the company's success since gender-inclusive businesses are 15% more likely to perform financially above average.
What is often overlooked is that inclusion doesn't happen naturally. Bias and also unconscious bias against women are embedded in society. Intentional action needs to be taken for a company to be truly inclusive. Since inclusion is layered, your approach to removing gender bias should be layered too.
The different layers of inclusion
Company culture and values
When creating an inclusive culture for women, first turn to the company's culture and values because the whole workplace environment is determined by them. They should embolden inclusion, not block it. Do your culture and values make women feel included? Do they unite the workplace, encourage collaboration and celebrate diversity? How are your written culture and values put into practice?
It might be worth putting your stated mission, vision and values to the workforce and asking for their thoughts. What inspires change and encourages action from a leadership point of view might not resonate throughout the organisation. Evaluate your current state to know how you can improve.
Policies and processes
The company culture and values then inform the policies and processes of the business, such as recruitment.
Overt examples of bias against women are an all-male interview panel or asking pointed questions about childcare and maternity leave. Less obvious examples encompass the way job descriptions are written, the promotion vs prevention interview styles and the differences in negotiating styles. Checks and balances can ensure the hiring process is inclusive.
What about post-hiring processes? In the UK, the average gender pay gap is still 5.45%. To tackle this issue, businesses with more than 250 employees have to report their gender pay gap. So it's in the interest of companies to maintain a fair salary scale, but not just to satisfy regulatory requirements; to retain and attract better talent, to appeal to their customers and to boost their brand.
The policies around performance reviews are another area that should be considered with inclusion in mind. The KPIs that determine performance could be biased against women. Analyse performance by gender to see if there is a disparity.
To set an example of gender inclusion and add female perspectives at the top, the company's C-suite should include women. Beyond the official guidelines, a diverse leadership team will bring insights into the company's running and highlight issues or ideas that wouldn't have otherwise been brought to the table.
Leadership buy-in is essential to company-wide buy-in. It demonstrates a genuine commitment to inclusion, encouraging employees to embrace the new working style. It will prove to female employees that upward mobility is possible within the organisation. Champions, in the form of male and female leaders, and similar programmes would support the progression of women throughout the leadership ladder, creating merit-based opportunities for career progression.
Moving down the organisational hierarchy, most employees in larger organisations have the most contact with their direct manager. Managers deal with day-to-day issues and ensure inclusion on the ground. So all managers need to be aware of biases and how to behave inclusively.
While the company culture and values, policies and processes, and leadership team will influence managers' approaches, manager-specific training is worthwhile. It will educate them on avoiding bias in their managerial style and handling discrimination in their team. Change doesn't happen overnight. It needs to be nourished with long-term training opportunities.
Initiatives on the ground
This further extends to employees on the front line - employees at all levels should be supported to behave without bias. Bring the whole workforce together to embed inclusion in the workplace environment. Opportunities for all employees to be heard are essential. Employee feedback gives insight into what's working and what isn't. Creating a feedback loop is ideal because inclusion is always a work in progress.
Creating a diversity committee is a great way to monitor inclusion. It comprises a range of employees and focuses on eliminating bias and promoting inclusion. A concerted effort across formal barriers like department and seniority will collect the most accurate insights into inclusion and make the most significant impact.
Initiatives should extend beyond marking International Women's Day or inviting women speakers; inclusion is a cultural element that needs to be embedded into the day-to-day. Gender inclusion should be an open discussion and make its way into regular conversations. Company expectations of behaviour towards women, including behaviour that won't be tolerated (such as mansplaining and interrupting), should be made clear from onboarding and onwards.
HR should make it known how to raise issues as they arise and what processes will be followed to resolve them so women and witnesses feel comfortable reporting incidents, allowing intervention before problems escalate. As well as dealing with the bad, cultivating behaviours that make an inclusive workplace should be encouraged.
Inclusion in the workplace is too nuanced to be an overnight transformation. Create a plan that addresses all levels of workplace inclusivity. Then after specific initiatives have been introduced and training is given, continue to evaluate outcomes and ask for feedback. It's a continuous process to create and maintain a non-biased environment. Following strategies and responding to close monitoring, the whole workforce can come together to empower women and achieve success on an individual and company-wide level. There's no time like the present to take action towards gender inclusivity.