For HR leaders and others responsible for shaping their organizations, gender equity and gender equality are important considerations for the strength, health, and fairness of your workplace. Plus, the benefits of addressing these important issues across your organization are manifold. Gender equality at work can foster positive company culture; increase innovation and creativity; build a great reputation; and improve conflict resolution—just to name a few.
This article gives an overview on:
- Gender equity and gender equality
- Why it’s important to improve it in the workplace
- Top strategies for improving your organization’s practices in hiring, pay, leadership, culture, and benefits.
What is gender equity/equality?
First, let’s understand the difference between gender equity and gender equality. According to United Nations Population Fund:
“Gender equity is the process of being fair to women and men. To ensure fairness, strategies and measures must often be available to compensate for women’s historical and social disadvantages that prevent women and men from otherwise operating on a level playing field. Equity leads to equality. Gender equality requires equal enjoyment by women and men of socially-valued goods, opportunities, resources and rewards.”
Equality is the goal, but equity is the pathway to get there. Equity is making informed considerations about marginalized groups’ experiences and needs and helping to level the playing field through inclusive practices. Equality, on the other hand, is the end result of intentional practices that have resulted in diversity and inclusion—a worthy goal for any organization.
Gender equity and equality in the workplace
In the workplace, gender equity and gender equality implicate values, practices, and behaviors around:
- Leadership and promotion
Gender equality in the workplace means employees of all genders and gender expressions have access to the same rewards, opportunities and resources, including: equal pay and benefits for comparable roles with similar responsibilities; equal opportunities for promotions and career progression; equal consideration of needs, according to Indeed.
Since women have been historically disenfranchised compared to men, HR and company leadership teams should consider how they can better serve and empower women employees. United Nations Population Fund recommends:
“Where gender inequality exists, it is generally women who are excluded or disadvantaged in relation to decision-making and access to economic and social resources. Therefore a critical aspect of promoting gender equality is the empowerment of women, with a focus on identifying and redressing power imbalances and giving women more autonomy to manage their own lives. Gender equality does not mean that men and women become the same; only that access to opportunities and life changes is neither dependent on, nor constrained by, their sex.”
One of the ways in which women fall behind men in pay, promotion, leadership roles, and representation is when women choose not to pursue leadership roles. A meta-analysis of women’s workplace aspirations found that among the last three generations of workers, men have consistently displayed higher aspirations for leadership than women. While high schoolers aspired to leadership positions at the same rate, differences emerged among college students, resulting in elevated rates of promotions for men after entry level jobs: 1.1 men for every woman. This rate compounds, resulting in a disparity within the C-suite of 2.13 men in leadership positions for every woman.
But the question is: why do women not put themselves forward for leadership roles as often as men do? The authors found that the gender gap was “caused by disinterest alone, without accounting for real-world factors such as discrimination.” However, the meta-analysis didn’t explain why women are less interested in leadership than men—mostly because this data spans 60 years and they didn’t have access to participants.
From Kinside’s perspective, it’s not hard to imagine why women might opt to forego promotions. When a majority of caregiving responsibilities still fall to women compared to men, it’s easy to see how the burden of extra responsibilities at home could lead women to prioritize juggling work and family and doing what they need to do for both themselves and their loved ones. That often means that when it comes to work, something’s gotta give.
According to Kinside’s proprietary data, working parents, especially women, are making permanent career decisions due to child care issues alone. Of the working parents we surveyed:
- 30% turned down a job or promotion
- 64% changed work schedules
- 40% found a new job
- 17% relocated
- 20% left the workforce
—all because of child care.
Ways to improve gender equality in your organization
HR executives and leaders at all levels of organizations can help improve gender equity and gender equality. These top strategies are a great place to start investigating where your organization can make improvements. And the best strategy of all is including women and people of varying gender identities in the review and decision-making process.
Increase diversity in hiring:
- Evaluate job descriptions to see if the number of years a position requires could hinder people who have spent time outside the workforce as caregivers. If 15 years isn’t necessary, consider bumping the requirement down to 10, for example.
- Consider the language you use in your job postings and whether you’re unintentionally sending a gendered signal about the ideal candidate.
- Make sure hiring panels and processes are gender diverse.
Review equal pay laws:
- At minimum, make sure your organization is in compliance with state and federal laws.
Begin a pay audit:
- How are men and women paid at your organization? A pay audit can reveal surprises for employers with even the best of intentions. Get the data, evaluate how you can address inequalities, and then commit to conducting regular pay audits.
Adopt practices and policies to encourage salary transparency:
- Publish salary bands on every job description.
- For further transparency, publish salary bands for every role within your organization. Doing this will ensure accountability and fairness for pay-related decisions.
Abandon the practice of using salary history to set wages:
- Many women have caregiving responsibilities that have disproportionately burdened them and have led to permanent career changes, such as not pursuing promotions or leaving the workforce for a time.
- Salary history punishes those whose life circumstances have shaped their careers in ways that have restrained their pay.
Leadership and promotion
Provide mentorship for everyone, and not just women:
- Women are often told to ‘lean in’ to their careers and get a mentor, but why single women out as though they just need to put in more work?
- On the other hand, more women could use the resources and guidance of a mentor.
- By implementing an organization-wide mentorship program, employers can help level the playing field for women and do so in a way that doesn’t signal to women that they need to put in more effort.
Culture of inclusion
Commit to a culture of fairness and equity:
- A culture of fairness and equity means that your organization has purposefully built in measures and processes across your organization to promote these values. This must include hiring and promotion practices, leadership development, access to resources, and more.
- Build ‘a culture of fairness and equity’ into your organization’s core values. Your organization can’t be afraid to state what it actually values. Current and prospective employees notice an organization’s stated priorities and will pay attention to whether and how well they are carried out in practice.
Promote work-life balance:
- This means flexibility, which we’ll address below as a benefit and set of policies, but just as important: an organization must actually value and put into practice the kinds of work-life balance they state in their employee materials.
- Putting work-life balance into practice means that senior leaders model the kinds of behaviors they expect of employees and use the benefits the organization says it values.
- Actions speak louder than words, especially for women and people with caregiving responsibilities. Employers and leaders across the organization show vulnerable employees what is really valued by their own behaviors.
Create an open-minded atmosphere:
- Promote a culture in which employees are valued for their individual contributions.
- Embrace a variety of leadership styles instead of ways of leading that are traditionally associated with men.
- Value historically underappreciated ‘soft skills’ like consensus building—skills that are indispensable for an organization’s success, and yet are often overlooked. They’re also skills women often contribute.
Ensure workplace flexibility so that women—and men—can better balance the demands of their home life with their jobs:
- Flexibility means meeting employees where they are in ways that support their needs and the needs of your organization.
- In terms of where employees work, that can mean allowing employees to continue to work from home full-time, or a shift to hybrid work.
- Consider when employees clock in: does everyone need to be logged in during the same hours all day, or will your organization allow asynchronous work to accommodate the shifting demands of employees with families or other caregiving responsibilities? For some employees and top candidates, the ability to shift their working hours to a schedule that covers their life circumstances can be a make-or-break factor for whether they choose to work for your organization.
- Flexible paid time off. Employees have unique needs when it comes to PTO, especially caregivers (who are often women).
Offer a child care benefit:
- Caregiving benefits are one of the most impactful ways to stand out with benefits that attract and retain top talent.
- Consider offering a dependent care flexible spending account (DCFSA) or contributing funds into an employee’s DCFSA.
- Help parents pay for child care with a child care stipend to offset the cost. Some employers even offer tuition discounts through child care benefits solutions such as Kinside, a child care marketplace that helps employees find care and partners with providers to offer exclusive discounts on the cost of care.
- Consider other helpful child care benefits: on-site child care; allowing employees to bring children to work in an emergency; and addressing employees’ needs for elder care services.
Paid parental leave:
- The great thing about parental leave policies is that they encourage all parents, regardless of gender, to take leave to bond or care for a child, rather than this responsibility automatically falling to women.
- Paid leave has been shown to benefit women exponentially, as a majority of women report that taking unpaid leave would completely drain their savings accounts.
- Employers who value the contributions of women and wish to improve their organization’s attraction and retention rates for women will view paid leave as the necessary benefit that it is rather than a benevolent bonus.
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