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Making Your Workplace Women Friendly

Last year, Caroline Criado Perez released her debut non-fiction book, Invisible Women (2019), in which she revealed gender bias data and the absence of female-centric research. One example is that when a female version of Viagra was being researched, it was found to be ineffective on the participants and was discarded as a fruitless endeavour. The participants of this female-focused drug? Men. Only men.

The book was illuminating, enraging, inspiring, and it got me thinking about the workplace. One of the main takeaways from the book is that most of our bias is blind when it comes to the best job candidates, practices, and equipment. With multiple professional self-help books coming out to tell women to ‘lean in’ and become assertive so as to stand out in the male-centric workplace, what is the workplace doing or could be doing to adapt for female-identifying workers? Rather than asking women to become more ‘masculine’ to better fit the workplace, what are the ways in which the workplace can adapt to fit the needs of women?

Blind Interviews

In the mid-20th century, orchestras were asked why there were so few female musicians and the response was simple. Men were just better. It was that simple. In the 1970s, the orchestras began conducting blind auditions (the applicant would perform behind a curtain unseen from the assessors), and the number of women invited to join the orchestra? The rate of women being hired increased by 50%.

So, what happened? Bias was removed.

Since that time, multiple organizations have tried to eliminate the potential areas that could unconsciously trigger a bias. For example, some government groups have begun to insist on applications with names removed to eliminate a potential preference for English-based, masculine names.

Make Gender Diversity A Priority

How do you set up the pool of candidates to be as diverse as possible before you even need to consider a blind process? Demand diversity.

Often, while most of us want diversity and gender balance in the workplace, we struggle to do so because we do not look beyond our own professional connections, who, studies show, mirror our own gender and ethnicity. If you want to incorporate more balance in the workplace, then specifically ask for it from your Human Resource department or professional recruiters.

Provide Gender-Neutral Funding

Many times, when employees are hosting a client, the drinks and meals are reimbursed by the company as a professional expense. However, childcare fees for this same act are often overlooked. This is done with the traditional thinking that men would be working, and women would child-rearing, but with many households having two full-time working parents, there is more balance with the sharing of duties. Unfortunately, despite the inclusion of women in the workforce, the traditional perspective around childcare being women’s work remains the same. Think how often fathers are considered to be ‘babysitting’ their own children!

Thus, if women are expected to still do the childcare, while trying to be competitive in the workforce, the absence of coverage for babysitting or childcare fees can put them at a disadvantage. It is important for companies to look beyond the immediate costs of entertaining a client and look at what is required in total. Some things that companies have begun to do include shipping breastmilk home when on work trips, providing onsite daycare, and professional house cleaning during the first few months of maternity leave.

Adjust the Performance Evaluation Metric

There are multiple problematic elements in relation to performance evaluations and gender. Even when male and female employees have similar behaviours and qualifications, men are often reviewed more favourably than women.

However, as performance evaluations’ structures and schedules vary from office to office, identifying the ways in which they can be more gender-neutral would be its own article in and of itself. Rather, take the time to review how your evaluations are structured and consider what attributes are being valued, how often are they being assessed, and whether the focus is on subjective (i.e. personality) or objective (i.e. projects) items.

Lessen the Stigma Around ‘Women’s’ Chores’ and Paternity with Male Employees

In our society, while there is becoming a larger focus on a better work/life balance, there remains a stigma around “women’s work” such as leaving early to pick kids up from daycare or taking paternity leave.

A good rule of thumb to encourage a women-supportive environment would be to remove the shame of “women’s work.” If you are leaving to pick up kids, don’t slip out the side door; announce it as you say good night. Encourage your employees to take paternity leave and do your best to remove the guilt and shame that may come from focusing on family.

Ensure Equal Gender Pay

In the past, women have been encouraged to be humble and cooperative, whereas men are expected to be leaders who advocate for themselves. Unfortunately, this difference in societal conditioning can often mean that women have a disadvantage when it comes to discussing salaries. Being less likely to promote one’s own achievements or ask for a higher pay increase means that women will make less than their male counterparts.

One thing that some companies are doing is creating a standard pay increase that is determined before the employee review and removing the salary bargaining from the process.

This is not, by any means, an exhaustive list but hopefully provides some guiding points for where you can begin or continue your journey.

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