Although business leaders have been making a concerted effort to embrace gender diversity and inclusion in recent years, there is still much to be done. Stereotypical notions promoting gender inequality continue to plague the labor markets.
The term "gender inclusivity" goes beyond just hiring more women or offering equal pay. It is about embracing the ideas and perspectives of all employees, and recognizing their contributions and efforts, regardless of their gender. Creating gender inclusive workplaces is as much an economic imperative as it is a social or moral one. Insights from a McKinsey report show that the global economy can generate an additional USD 12 trillion by putting women on par with their male counterparts in the labor markets.
Implementing well-thought-out diversity and inclusion action plan can bring several benefits to an organization:
- Better financial performance – Companies in the top quartile of gender diversity were 15% more likely to have above average financial returns than their competitors.
- Access to a larger talent pool – Women outnumbered men at graduation level in 2016 and earned more doctoral degrees than men in recent years. Organizations that don’t have enough women in their workforce might be missing out on sharp minds and a qualified talent pool.
- Improved employee retention – Companies with good gender diversity programs and inclusive cultures are able to create a balanced and positive workplace, resulting in lower employee turnover.
- Increased customer base – Inclusive organizations foster diversity in thinking and are better placed to serve a multicultural world, thereby gaining the ability to cater to a larger customer base.
- Enhanced workplace collaboration – Evidence suggests that the inclusion of women in teams improves collaboration and responsiveness, as women exhibit higher levels of social sensitivity.
Given the significant upside gender diversity can bring, here are six ways in which organizations can promote an environment of genuine acceptance:
1. develop an inclusive and bias-free hiring process
Gender inclusivity must be incorporated in the hiring process. Careful consideration must be given while wording job descriptions, shortlisting candidates and training hiring managers. Slack, a messaging app company, has made an inspiring start towards this end. The company uses blind code reviews that wipe out all candidate identifiers to ensure unbiased candidate evaluations.
While recruitment ads and the career webpage must be designed to reflect the organization’s vision of embracing gender inclusivity, they often lack the power of human touch. Use interviews to address candidates’ gender-related concerns in person. This can make potential employees feel truly secure, welcome and valued.
2. walk the talk
Highlight your organization’s stance on an inclusive and gender-neutral workplace – both in external as well as internal communications. Follow through with rigorous enforcement of policies, including zero-tolerance policies for workplace discrimination and harassment. General Motors(GM) offers a heartening example, being recently voted the world’s best company when it comes to gender equality. It was the only company with a female CEO and an equal number of men and women on its board. In addition to offering flexible work options and clear policies on sexual discrimination, it was also one of only three global companies to implement pay equality at all levels.
3. design an inclusive physical workspace
The importance of designing physical workspaces that create a gender-neutral atmosphere is often overlooked. Setting-up gender friendly toilets, special office spaces designed for expectant and nursing mothers, and ensuring safe last-mile commute are some workplace design initiatives that can be easily implemented. One inspiring example is of Jet.com where they gather inputs from employees to understand what they would like to see in the workspace to make it more gender inclusive.
4. turn leaders into change agents
Research by McKinsey proves that companies spearheading the gender equality movement have CEOs and leaders who are committed to it. These leaders act as role models and change agents, driving healthy interpersonal dynamics that lay the foundation for innovation. Cisco, for instance, attributes its ongoing technological innovation to its diverse leadership team that comprises 50% women. Management teams can reflect true inclusivity by promoting more women to leadership roles and including them on the executive panel, moving away from “manels” or all-male panels. This can be very encouraging for women who are in the early stages of their career.
5. focus on equal opportunity and transparency
It is imperative to address not only blatant prejudices, but also subtle biases that hinder inclusivity. Exercise care by using gender-neutral pronouns, providing parental benefits/privileges to men and women, and enabling flexibility and pay parity to help women overcome “motherhood penalty”. Consider the case of Genpact and their “Returning Moms” program that offers “stork” parking, day care assistance and flexi-working schedules. Thoughtfully reworking policies can also promote desired behaviors, and provide an equal and level playing field for all. For instance, encouraging men to adopt flexi-working practices to help with childcare can influence female career progression.
6. foster inclusive training and development
Gender diversity training helps employees understand how gender inclusivity can positively impact workplace dynamics, including better team and client relationships. Periodic development interventions and coaching helps everyone at work build the right mindset and sensitivity to be effective in their own roles, while helping co-workers and external partners flourish in theirs.
If leveraged right, gender diversity can benefit not just female, but also male employees. Multiple perspectives spark novel thinking and innovative ideas, ensuring a happier and more productive workplace for all.