Diversity and inclusion in the workplace has, in recent years, become a boardroom issue. There is a recognition that aside from the obvious ethical motivation, diverse organisations also perform better, according to almost all metrics and studies.

But it’s not always an easy thing to get right. It requires time, resources, sensitivity and expertise. In this series of guides, Redcat Digital explains the “how” and “why” of various different areas – each equally important – of diversity and inclusion.

This edition covers gender equality in the workplace. It adapts some of the findings of the most recent Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index, a survey of 380 global companies across 11 sectors, in 44 countries and regions.

The why

David Solomon, Goldman Sachs CEO, puts it this way: “I’m focused on advancing gender equality because it’s right, it’s necessary, it’s a business imperative and it’s my responsibility.”

That sums it up pretty well. On a more practical level, it’s clear that promoting gender equality will boost the bottom line. Bloomberg identifies three key ways in which this works: through what it calls “shareholder value creation” – basically, better returns, the most direct route – as well as talent retention and innovation.

Covid-19 also means the issue of gender equality in the workplace is more urgent than ever. It’s exposed existing problems in the system; a study by the US-based Brookings Institution found the pandemic has negatively affected women more than men, largely because of issues around childcare and the disproportionate presence of women in low-paid jobs.

The how

Perhaps the most important place to start is by collecting information about gender equality in your company. “Data capture, measurement, reporting and public disclosure” are all key, Bloomberg says. In the UK, companies with more than 250 employees are required to report gender pay gap information, but an increasing number of smaller organisations are choosing to do this voluntarily.

Analysing internal information about gender equality not only provides a better understanding of the bigger picture, but it can also be used to weed out more granular issues that might not necessarily be obvious, such as a poor pipeline of female talent ready to move into senior positions.

As Michael Bloomberg, Bloomberg founder said: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” This means collecting data on gender equality is a seriously important step in the process.

Bloomberg addresses five “pillars” that can be used to measure and improve gender equality in the workplace.

Pillar 1: Female leadership and talent pipeline

Conversations around gender equality often look at the board level. This is obviously important, but not the whole story: it’s necessary to track gender representation at all levels, from entry-level, through middle-management, executive level and up to the CEO.

This issue also affects employee retention. Employees want to feel they can relate to their managers, they want to know whether they have opportunities for progression and whether they’d even want to move into a more senior position. People want to see themselves represented in senior positions, or they may feel progression is unlikely – and leave.

This is one of the areas where data reporting can come in handy. By looking at all levels of the company, employers can see where employee “fault lines” are, and then address them, Bloomberg says.

The Bloomberg data shows that in entry-level positions at the companies surveyed, women represent 49% of the workforce. That number consistently decreases the further up the chain you go, coming right down to 5% in CEO roles. Clearly, there’s work to be done.

Pillar 2: Equal pay

It’s important to address how your company is closing the pay gap through transparent action plans. A good place to start is with the data. Identifying the proportion of women in each pay quartile highlights the “distribution of opportunities” within a company, according to Bloomberg.

From there, it’s about following up. Equal pay is a legal requirement, so once gaps are identified, it’s necessary to address them. Regular assessments, and then the implementation of checks and balances in pay practices are key. Encourage salary negotiations, promote and give pay increases where appropriate, implement flexible working and improve transparency: this will all work to close the gender pay gap.

Pillar 3: Inclusive culture

Company culture is a notoriously difficult thing to get right. When it comes to gender equality, Bloomberg describes it thus: the policies, benefits and programs that “contribute to an inclusive work environment where all employees feel they are valued and have equal opportunities”.

One example is parental leave policies. A flexible, inclusive approach will provide support for both mothers and fathers. Bloomberg refers to primary and secondary caregivers, rather than maternity and paternity leave, to advocate for parental rights for all.

Pillar 4: Sexual harassment policies

Clearly, this is a crucial area on which every company should have a clear policy. One of the major problems in this area is with a lack of reporting, which Bloomberg attributes to “cultural bias in investigation and prosecution, disbelief, and negative reactions to a victim’s disclosure discourage them from seeking help”.

In fact, Bloomberg says, over 70% of women who have been sexually harassed at work do not report it to their supervisor, and only half of those who do feel that their complaint is properly handled.

Obviously, it’s important to take proactive measures to tackle these problems, so that women feel able to report instances of sexual harassment, and so that complaints are properly and fairly investigated. Policies like annual sexual harassment training, the prohibition of non-disclosure agreements (unless requested by the victim) and no-arbitration clauses all help.

Pillar 5: Pro-women brand

This is one of the areas where expertise is particularly important, as it involves a wider and more disparate set of factors, sometimes harder to control. This relates to how your company is perceived by external stakeholders such as supply chain partners, and how women are portrayed in advertising and marketing.

By thinking about that, you can address how the company is perceived externally, but also about the wider effect of your policies. For instance, if you have great internal gender equality policies, but your advertising presents women in a negative or stereotypical manner, you will contribute negatively to the wider conversation.

Technology is part of this pillar, too. Artificial intelligence and machine learning tools, for example, depend on the data they are fed. It is your responsibility to assess datasets for biases, or you run the risk of perpetuating inequality.

Redcat Digital offers a consultancy service, leveraging its many years working with clients to find the best digital and technology talent, to help organisations become more diverse and inclusive. Get in touch here:

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