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The persistence of gender inequality in the workplace is getting harder to swallow. While most people accept that major cultural change doesn’t happen overnight, the call for an equal opportunity business environment has been ringing for decades while our progress has been limited.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has predicted that it will take more than 100 years before the gender pay gap is closed. Even if we account for a large margin of error, this points to a sobering outlook for women in the workplace.
A major roadblock to improvement has been a lack of accountability for employers. Private organizations have historically only had to answer to themselves with regards to their hiring, pay and benefits approaches.
That’s why it is encouraging that the UK Parliament will require businesses to report on their gender pay gap as of April 2017. Forcing companies to be more transparent about how they treat male and female workers puts more power in the hands of employees, who increasingly want to work somewhere that shares their value system and will be drawn to an equal opportunity organization.
Some might argue that unless they impose sanctions on companies with a large gender pay gap governments cannot hope to effect change. However, this push for greater transparency should motivate organizations to tackle inequality in the interest of being viewed as an employer of choice and, one would hope, to help address wider gender issues.
A major roadblock to improvement has been a lack of accountability for employers.
Of course, fair pay is only one element of an equal opportunity workplace. Just as important are policies that allow male and female employees to thrive while enjoying a rewarding personal life. Programs like shared maternity and paternity leave or flexible working schemes allow workers to focus on both their professional development and their families. Importantly, they do not force women to bear more responsibility than men for raising their children and allow fathers to spend as much time with their newborns as mothers.
The Nordic countries set a fine example in this regard. Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden in particular have shown a commitment to equal rights for men and women since the 1970s, so it’s hardly surprising they topped WEF’s list of countries leading the way in gender quality. In fact, Finland was the first nation that allowed women to vote.
It’s worth noting the pay gap is still an issue in the Nordics, which shows that even the most advanced countries have work to do in this regard. According to Norden, the gender pay gap in Norway, Sweden and Denmark is between 15% and 16%, on par with the EU, and is slightly higher in Finland and Iceland (between 18% and 20%).
Companies will face more scrutiny than ever regarding the diversity and equality of their workforce in 2017.
Companies will face more scrutiny than ever regarding the diversity and equality of their workforce in 2017. Here are a few thoughts on how they can rise to the occasion:
Unless you have visibility into the fundamentals of each employee’s role, responsibilities and salary it’s nearly impossible to effectively audit your workforce and establish whether you have a problem. This may seem obvious, but many companies still track this information using spreadsheets, an approach that has significant limitations. It is important to develop a complete enterprise wide picture because what might appear to be small differences in local business units might actually be a systemic problem across the organization.
Men and women do not always have the same priorities when looking for work. For instance, LinkedIn’s report on gender inequality in the IT sector found that women are more attracted by the promise of fulfilment and a compatible company culture than men. Recruitment tactics therefore need to be tailored to the values and drivers that resonate with individual prospects. Similarly, retention strategies may need to change to reflect the potentially differing priorities of different segments of the workforce.
Whether using targeted social sourcing campaigns to attract more female prospects or giving mothers and fathers the opportunity to work with greater flexibly, businesses need the technologies in place to support these initiatives. After all, no employee will feel comfortable working at home if they don’t have the collaboration tools to do so effectively. Even a company with the best intentions will fall flat if they can’t support these with the proper resources.