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Eight steps towards eliminating gender bias in the workplace

by Sarah Andresen, Head of People Science, Sage People

December 31 2018 - Would you expect to be treated differently by clients based on your gender? A recent experiment found just that.

Imagine this. A male and female employee who share an inbox decided to swap email signatures to see the outcome. Whilst he struggled to gain respect from clients with her signature, she breezed through emails and completed tasks at a much quicker pace when using his email signature. In his words, on a day-to-day basis: "By the time she could get clients to accept that she knew what she was doing, I could get halfway through another client."

While it was a test, it is an interesting illustration of what gender bias can look like for some in business.

Companies must do more to eliminate gender bias. In fact, those companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform competitors financially.

So, what can businesses do to eradicate this issue? We think there are eight vital steps to consider.

1. Be transparent

Report on gender statistics transparently to all areas of the business. Have a clear action plan on the steps you will take to close the gender pay gap and have clear targets and milestones. Communicate these openly with your workforce, explaining the tangible progress you plan to make

2. Promote flexible working

Today, women are still underrepresented in leadership positions throughout the corporate world. Everyone regardless of gender needs the opportunity to be able to advance. Implementing flexible working for parents, especially mothers, will encourage female members of staff to come back to work after maternity.

3. Implement gender-neutral recruitment processes

Research shows that adjectives like 'competitive' and 'determined' put off women, so choose the wording on job adverts carefully.

Standardise interviews, anonymise 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 much more diverse backgrounds.

4. Review salaries regularly

It's important to review salaries periodically. This allows you to clearly see parity between genders, races and sexual orientation within your business. In addition, you need to dig deep into your data and identify the underlying root causes of pay disparities. Are women equally represented in senior leadership positions or high paying roles? Are women overly represented in lower paying positions?

5. Train your teams

Unconscious bias can take place without companies even being aware of it. There are a range of diversity and inclusion programmes available to help employees recognise and understand their biases and work towards eliminated them. Which leads us to our next tip:

6. Have clear discrimination policies in place

A study by Unilever found that women and men struggle to acknowledge gender discrimination and inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. In fact, more than half said men don't confront each other when witnessing this sort of behaviour.

Introduce clear, unbiased and non-retaliatory discrimination policies that ensure employees have proper ways to comment and report issues in the workplace. Importantly, make sure all your employees know about them.

7. Diversify the Board

Women take up only 15% of all board seats. Recruitment should consider candidates with the right expertise, not just those with prior board experience.

Business leaders need to make sure that there is a visible commitment to diversity. . Expand your network to include more women, explicitly ask search firms for female candidates and cultivate long-term relationships with prospective candidates.

8. Promote a culture of meritocracy

When President Obama took office, two-thirds of his top aides were men. During this time, female aides came together for a meeting strategy called 'amplification'. When a woman made a point, other women would repeat it and give credit.

This would make the men in the room recognise the contribution - and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own. As a result, during Obama's second term, women gained parity with men in the president's inner circle

The same applies in businesses. It's crucial to promote a culture where great ideas come from all levels, genders and races.

There's a lot more to do

While more enlightened businesses are making strides, there is still a long way to go in eliminating gender bias from the workplace. For example, globally women make up just 22% of ministerial and parliamentary roles.. And 76% of people globally tend to think of men as better suited for careers and women better suited as homemakers.

Companies shouldn't wait for change; they should be making changes needed today. These eight steps are just some of the ways to make sure you're taking action.

Find out more by downloading Sage People's infographic on the impact of gender bias in the workplace today.

About the Author
Sarah Andresen

Sarah Andresen is Head of People Science at Sage People. Prior to her current position, she led benchmarking research and the development of online data-based tools at Bersin by Deloitte. She began her research career at CEB in the HR practice, eventually leading the quantitative research for CEB Recruiting Talent Advisors and the subsequent development of the Recruiter Performance Scorecard.



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