June 19, 2024

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10 ways to eliminate gender bias in the workplace

Guest article from Sage People

Ever wondered what it would be like to swap sexes in the workplace?

That’s exactly what two employees did when one of the male employees inadvertently used his female colleague’s signature on emails from a mailbox that they shared.

In the experiment, the two decided to keep up the exchange for two weeks. They found that whilst he struggled to gain respect from clients, she breezed through, able to complete tasks much more quickly as a result.

In the words of her colleague she swapped places with:

‘By the time she could get clients to accept that she knew what she was doing, I could get halfway through another client. For me, this was shocking. For her, she was used to it. She just figured it was part of her job.’

Data for western countries show the one of the most important explanations for the gender pay gap today is differences in how much time is spent on the job, bias in pay negotiation and negative stereotypes regarding women in the workplace.

There’s a lot that companies can do to rectify this. Not only is it the right thing to do, but eliminating gender bias is vital to attract and keep top talent. In fact, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform their competitors financially.

So, here are ten steps to take to help eliminate gender bias in your company.


  1. Be transparent

Report on your gender statistics transparently. This is the law for companies over a certain size in the UK.

Acompany it with a clear action plan on the steps you are taking as an employer to close the gender pay gap, with clear targets and milestones.

Communicate this openly and honestly with your workforce, explaining the tangible progress you plan to make.


  1. Support women into more senior roles

Accenture, Barclays, Credit Suisse UK and KPMG have all set gender targets, broken down by business lines and functions. They have clearly defined interim milestones and deadlines, so that they can continually measure themselves against their targets.

Furthermore, managers and decision makers are held responsible and accountable for meeting those targets.


  1. Implement gender neutral recruitment processes

Carefully word your job adverts. Research shows that adjectives like ‘competitive’ and ‘determined’ put off women. On the other hand, words like ‘collaborative’ and ‘cooperative’ tend to attract more women than men.

Standardize interviews, anonymize CVs and use blind evaluation processes.

Unilever and Vodafone have found that blind evaluation procedures — including work sample tests and neuroscientific tests of an applicant’s aptitude and skills — have helped them recruit from more diverse backgrounds.


  1. Review salaries and standardize pay

Frequently review salaries for parity between genders, races and other areas where diversity is a priority.

When recruiting, set the pay range offered on years’ experience with some leeway for special achievements, not on how well the candidate negotiated their last pay package.


  1. Provide training on unconscious bias

Educate employees about their own unconscious bias. Although this does not guarantee that attitudes will change, it does help employees to understand their biases and to work towards eliminating them.


  1. Have a clear policy on discrimination

Create a clear, unbiased, non-retaliatory discrimination policy that ensures employees have a proper way to comment or report on inappropriate treatment in the workplace. Make sure everyone knows and understands the policy. Implement severe penalties for sexual discrimination and harassment.

A Unilever study found that women and men struggle to acknowledge gender discrimination and inappropriate behavior (most likely sexual harassment) in the workplace. And infact 67% of women said they feel pressured to get over inappropriate action. And most women (64%) and slightly more than half of men (55%) said that men don’t confront each other when witnessing this behavior.


  1. Provide flexible working and de-stigmatize shared parental leave

Shift your company mindset to assessing workers performance on their delivery and achievements rather than time spent in the office. This not only benefits working mums but dads too, those caring for elderly parents and everyone in general.

Even millennials, perceived to have fewer responsibilities at home, are increasingly valuing and looking for flexible working. Telstra, the Australian telecoms firm, has made flexible work the default option.

In the UK, parents can share up to 50 week of leave, and up to 37 weeks of pay between them. Ensure your employees are aware of the policy, including dads.


  1. Diversify the board

Set targets for gender diversity on your board and look beyond your existing talent pool.

A growing number of companies, including Tyson, Republic Services, Foot Locker, and Best Buy, are eschewing traditional board candidates—retired chief executive officers, who are predominantly older white men—and opting for diverse members, many of them first-timers with no experience.

In 2017, 45% of appointees to the boards of S&P 500 companies were novice directors, and last year was also the first time a majority of the incoming directors were women or minority candidates.


  1. Ensure managers are actively encouraging women to progess

Make sure that female employees are applying for promotions and asking for pay rises.

At KPMG, when a promotion is advertised, line managers are encouraged to check whether their high potential female colleagues have applied and if not ask why. Martin Blackburn, People Director at KPMG UK explains: ‘Where the men would apply for a role if they had 80% of the [required] skills, women would think they were missing 20% and not bother’.


  1. Promote a culture of meritocracy

Promote a culture where great ideas come from all levels, genders and races and all voices are welcome and respected around the table.

When President Obama took office, two-thirds of his top aides were men. Women had to elbow their way into important meetings. And when they got in, their voices were sometimes ignored. So, female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called ‘amplification’. When a woman made a point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to her. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own. It’s no surprise then that during Obama’s second term, women gained parity with men in the president’s inner circle.


Staggering statistics demonstrating the shocking impact of gender bias in the workplace

Moving at the current pace, the global gender pay gap will take 100 years to close.

Globally, women make up just 22% of ministerial and parliamentary roles. They take up just 15% of all board seats. And, a gobsmaking 76% of people globally tend to think of men as better suited for careers and women better suited as homemakers.

Our new infographic on the impact of gender bias in the workplace summarises the data, and what it means.

Companies shouldn’t be simply waiting for change; they can be the change they wish to see and play a vital role in eliminating gender bias in the workplace today.