How to Create a More Gender-Inclusive Workplace

Organizations must take the necessary steps to help close the gender gap by creating a more gender-inclusive workplace.

Training Magazine

This has been a tough year for everyone, but when it comes to working, the negative impact on women has been significantly greater than it has been on men. An analysis from McKinsey & Company found that while women made up 39 percent of global employment in May 2020, they accounted for a staggering 54 percent of the overall pandemic-related loss. Further, life in a time of pandemic is making things more difficult for women who remain in the workforce as the “double shift” many mothers experience has worsened as traditional supports like daycare and school have been closed or dramatically scaled back. As a result, senior-level women are 1.5 times more likely than senior-level men to think about leaving the workforce because of the pandemic, with burnout being the most cited factor. These findings should be a wake-up call to organizations that they need to, in the 1776 words of Abigail Adams to her husband John, “remember the ladies.”

It’s no secret that organizations that leverage diversity at all levels perform better than those that do not. Inclusive organizations that invite a diverse set of perspectives into their teams and processes tend to make better decisions. Research shows teams with inclusive leaders are 20 percent more likely to say they make high-quality decisions and 29 percent more likely to report behaving collaboratively. Additionally, research published in Harvard Business Review shows that taking action now to advance gender equality could add $13 trillion to global GDP in 2030, compared to no action. As such, organizations need to encourage women who have been drawn back from the workforce to return. There’s no simple fix for ensuring gender diversity but there are a few steps organizations can take that will improve things for women in the workplace.

1. Focus on Technology

With millions of professionals working from home this past year, technology that enables meetings and collaboration has certainly had a major role. Post-pandemic, technology can continue to support a more flexible work environment. However, it’s important that we strive to take advantage of technology, rather than technology taking advantage of us. To prevent this, organizations should revise work policies and communications standards outlining expectations of when people need to be working. The fact that technology allows for “always-on” doesn’t mean employees need to be available 24/7. Many organizations are starting to institute policies that establish timeout periods when employees are not expected to respond to calls, texts, and emails. Employees will now no longer feel guilty for putting on “do not disturb” mode on Slack, leading to a greater sense of well-being and feeling less stressed.

2. Embrace Flexible Working Options

Once corporate policies are revised, allow managers and employees to adapt them to their specific needs. For example, for one-on-one meetings, allow some latitude on meeting times that work best, which may not be during a typical 9-5 workday. And allowing for occasional non-video calls may take the pressure off months of young ones concerned that their children might make an unexpected guest experience. Just because the pandemic is winding down does not mean that all pandemic-era policies should disappear. We all got to know our colleagues on a personal level, whether it be their spouse, their children, or their dog in Zoom meetings, so we should not forget that once things return to normal.

3. Enhance Diverse Voices

Organizations should be encouraging employees at all levels to innovate. Providing opportunities to do so can drive gender equity, both internally and externally. Instead of expecting the innovation hub or strategy team to come up with all the new ideas themselves, organizations should ask the people doing the work what would be most helpful for the company and for its customers. People with different backgrounds and experiences often see the same problem in different ways, so having as many diverse opinions as possible will increase the odds that one of those solutions will be a hit. For example, a study from Boston Consulting Group found a strong and statistically significant correlation between the diversity of management teams and overall innovation. Companies that reported above-average diversity on their management teams also reported innovative revenue that was 19 percentage points higher than that of companies with below-average diversity. In other words, nearly half the revenue of companies with more diverse leadership comes from products and services launched in the past three years. For organizations looking to adapt existing products or services to drive gender equity, it’s important they tap into their existing diverse employees first.

When it comes to women in the workforce, the pandemic is providing a good, loud wake-up call. We don’t want to undo the progress that has been made to date with respect to gender diversity. As such, it’s up to organizations to take the necessary steps to help close the gender gap and to reverse course on the backward slide of diversity in the workforce.

Ellen Bailey
Ellen Bailey is senior advisor for diversity, inclusion, and belonging at Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning. Ellen has over 20 years of combined diversity & inclusion, leadership, consulting and solution design experience.