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Four Strategies for Embracing Equity in the Workplace

The newest version of McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report, the largest study of women in corporate America, states that women are leaving the workplace at an unprecedented rate, much faster than their male counterparts. The report found that women are demanding more from work; wanting their ambition to be rewarded, be more represented in leadership roles and to not battle “belittling microaggressions”. Companies need to act soon, or they are at risk of losing their female leaders.

Women, more often than not, have encountered some form of bias in the workplace, further compounded by other facets of their identity such as race, sexual orientation, disabilities, or even where or how they grew up. Many companies today believe in the importance of diversity, inclusion and equity but are challenged to know where to begin to impact change.

Here are four suggestions for how workplaces can foster internal equity:

  1. Focus on inclusion

Eight years ago, I met Dr Steve L. Robbins, founder of S.L. Robbins & Associates, a US-based consultancy focused on diversity and inclusion and author of What if?. In his book, he defines “diversity” as any time you have more than one person in a room, and “inclusion” as taking everyone in that room into account. He uses a science-based approach to demonstrate how feeling the “social pain” of not belonging to a group can make it nearly impossible to focus on anything else.

Simply put, if someone does not feel like they belong in their workplace, it will be impossible for them to do their best work. The social pain of exclusion can affect anyone, including women, and outweigh, or even supersede, their talent and potential. An equitable workplace, instead, can create a positive and productive environment, enabling employees to perform at their best.

  1. Create a culture that builds the confidence to succeed

A few years ago, I used to work with a young consultant. He was confident; almost arrogant. I remember wondering what gave him that confidence and why I didn’t have it. I decided to try to act more like him and ask myself when faced with decisions, “What would he do?”. It took thinking like a man to give me the confidence to act like one. I thought I was being a rebel, acting out of character, but no one found it surprising, they just accepted it. This experiment has helped me to gain more respect from others.

When organizations can create a culture where employees and new leaders feel safe making mistakes – so long as they learn from those mistakes - they will be more confident to be bold in thought and decision-making without the fear of repercussions holding them back.

  1. Provide leadership training to your employees

Recruiters and HR professionals traditionally were educated in degrees like Psychology or Communications. Whilst you learn about human behaviour, these subjects don’t always equip you to work in the business world.

Today, the trend seems to be shifting to more business-related degrees. According to Zippia, 29% of recruiters have a degree in Business, which is a positive sign that things are changing. For those of us who have more traditional degrees like Psychology, additional training may be required to be more accustomed to the language of the business world. Classes in negotiation, giving feedback and having difficult conversations provide necessary information that will be used daily when speaking with executives and other decision-makers.

  1. Prioritize pay equity to close gender pay gaps in the hiring process

The influx of pay transparency laws that are sweeping through European countries and US states seems daunting to recruiters, but they are actually a very good thing. Pay transparency enables HR professionals to employ more methodology and analysis in hiring, which means that pay is based on relevant experience to a role and how the company values that level of work within its structure.

Historically, men are known to negotiate for higher salaries and women are found to be more accommodating in their negotiations. Within the hiring process, women have historically settled for less. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), globally, men are still paid about 20% more than women. Women are concentrated in lower-skilled occupations and carry out at least 2.5 times more unpaid work than men. Women are, however, more likely to be employed in professional roles. But, the proportion of women in high-paying roles is still smaller than the male proportion. The good news is that the gender pay gap is getting smaller, as women are increasing their education level and entering the workforce in roles that traditionally have been dominated by men.

Internally, pay transparency laws protect an organization’s employees against ‘outliers’ created when candidates are offered whatever it takes to persuade them to say yes. Pay transparency helped companies establish a precedent that ‘we will take care of our own first’ - everyone who is doing work similarly valued to this role will make a similar salary, regardless of gender. Pay equity is not scary. It helps to dissipate inequality, creates loyalty among workers who know their worth, helps employees understand what it takes to get to the next level and promotes trust in the organization.

Diversity, inclusion and equity are concepts that most organizations believe in and want to imbue into their culture, but many struggle to find a way to begin. While it’s not impossible to build an equitable workplace, it takes intent, support from leadership, a strong plan and a quantifiable way to measure the change. This is a critical investment for companies to make. As companies focus on pay equity, they will attract the most talented applicants, reduce turnover among employees, promote diversity, and increase the commitment and loyalty of their staff to the organization’s mission.

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