Smashing barriers to gender equity in workplaces
|6 minute read|
This year’s International Women’s Day theme of ‘Cracking the Code: Innovation for a gender equal future’ highlights the need to disrupt built-in codes of behaviours, beliefs and systems that foster inequality to ensure access and inclusion for women around the globe.
Defined as fairness between all people, regardless of how they identify, incorporating gender equity in a workplace will provide a level playing field for all employees on all levels of business, and will address health and wellbeing issues faced by Australian women today.
According to Monash University’s Women’s Health and Wellbeing Scorecard published in November 2022, health, employment and economic resources are basic human capabilities that give individuals the freedom and capacity to participate in society, with good health, meaningful employment and a decent level of income and wealth allowing individuals to fully contribute.
However, although Australia ranks first for women’s education, it is only ranked number 70 on the scorecard on women’s economic security and opportunity.
The report stated that women disproportionately had lower income and less engagement in the labour force, as well as poorer health, even in a high-income country like Australia.
“This inequality costs $72 billion in lost gross domestic product, just associated with women’s labour force absence in Australia alone,” the report said.
“Removing the structural barriers that prevent equality is an urgent priority.”
Deep diving into gender equity and the workplace, CEOs for Gender Equity Executive Officer Ashley Speers said it could be implemented from the early stages of recruitment.
“In an ideal world, we are looking for gender balance at all levels of leadership and in all role types,” she said.
“Gender equity through an inclusion lens is the extent to which people from all genders feel respected and connected, and that they are collaborating and progressing.”
What does gender equity look like in the workplace?
Ms Speers said gender equity could take on many different forms in the workplace, from programs and initiatives to practical items.
“Making sure you have gender neutral wording in your job advertisements, at least one male and one female on the recruitment panel and, ideally, you don’t want to have any gender pay gap,” she said.
“Provide equal parental leave for all employees regardless of gender and take away the primary and secondary carer distinction.
“We also need to break down gender norms and stereotypes, which prevent men’s engagement with flexible and part-time work, as well as women.
“Some really practical things are making sure there are appropriate ablutions for all employees and some companies have introduced new ranges of personal protective equipment to consider the needs of all genders.”
Clarity Simplicity Success for Women Founder and Author Jacqui Alder said her concept of gender equity in the workplace centred around organisations that operated fairly for all employees regardless of their gender.
“Gender equity in a workplace is where the employers understand how and what they are doing might have unintended unfairness built into it, and the organisations are trying to do something to realign and represent the world as it is today,” she said.
Ms Speers said, in the short term, there were some quick-win strategies that could be incorporated within a workplace to help gender equity, but these should be tailored to the specific needs of an organisation.
“Essential for any company that wants to improve gender equity, they need true chief executive officer commitment and active leadership in the space,” she said.
“You need to understand where you are at with gender equity in your organisation, and what your employees are thinking and feeling – this will help you decide which short-term initiative to prioritise.
“To get things rolling, organisations can do a gender pay gap audit, which will highlight some key areas for attention.
“You can do a quick review and make improvements in your policy to support flexible working, and support for parents and carers to drive gender equity.
“Finally do a basic audit of your language and imagery on your website, in your job advertisements and in annual reports, as these aspects, especially imagery, can be overlooked but are so powerful in the message they send.”
Ms Alder said progress over recent decades towards achieving gender equity had profoundly altered society and, as a result, organisations.
Her view is that this change needs to be factored into the formulation of future gender equity strategies.
“What got us this far isn’t necessarily sufficient or appropriate to achieve progress in today’s context,” Ms Alder said.
“One of the most fundamental things organisations can do is to step back and rethink what it is they are doing and why.
“We want people who are in our organisations to work as best as they can together and as best as they can for the organisation, as well as in a way that is healthy for them.
“Realise that we aren’t trying to fix people – what we are looking at is whether we have the right design in our systems, in our processes and in the things we use to bring people into our organisation and have them function as well as they can.
“Do we have them designed right, or are we unaware that we are using concepts, principles, data and tools that are designed for the organisation of the past?”
To implement longer-term gender equity strategies, organisations need to base them off short-term initiatives, which could see stronger progress.
“If you can get some foundations right in the short term, it can help build momentum because the main thing about gender equity is you need the chief executive officer leading and driving things,” Ms Speers said.
“To change the culture, which is one of the long-term strategies, you need your employees to be actively engaged, motivated and changing their attitudes, behaviours and language.
“Another long-term consideration is the pipeline of talent for the future. The best way to invest and engage is through school engagement programs in both primary and high school.
“You also need to measure where your starting point is with gender equity and how it is tracking.
"The most powerful way to do that is not just looking at what the company’s percentage of gender make-up is but bringing it to a deeper level and tying it to things that really matter – linking it to customer satisfaction and innovation.”
Ms Speers said all research pointed to the improvement of gender equity resulting in the improvement of a business’s performance.
Tips for smashing gender equity barriers in the workplace
Ms Alder said it was important for an organisation to continuously step back and look within itself when assessing gender equity progress in the workplace.
“Ultimately it’s about reminding ourselves of the principle behind the ‘why’ and being aware that just because you have statistics of women in certain roles, it only indicates you have women occupying those jobs – it isn’t necessarily a measure of whether they truly are able to give their best in those roles,” she said.
Ms Speers said before companies started investing time and money into their gender equity progress a company needed to go out and talk to their employees, whether that be in group settings, one-on-one conversations or anonymously to get some honest feedback from them.
“Another step in the process, which is often overlooked, is the need to allocate resources to make advancements in gender equity,” she said.
“It takes people – it needs people power behind it and you need some money.
“You also need to monitor and review the value of what you are doing, so it needs to be a constant moving ball where you looking back, assessing and making tweaks appropriately.”
Ms Speers said joining an independent association, like CEOs for Gender Equity, or undertaking research and training courses could be a great way to find new initiatives and programs to take back to a workplace.