HRM Five: How to drive gender equality

In advance of International Women's Day on March 8, here's a guide for how HR can help enable gender parity in the office.
By: | March 4, 2018
Topics: Asia-Pacific | DE&I | HRM Five | IWD | News

Yamini Chinnuswamy offers five important points on everything you wanted to know about HR practices today, but were too afraid to ask. Check out previous editions of HRM Five here.

Check out the rest of our International Women’s Day 2018 coverage here!

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, the gender gap is widening. In fact, the data – collated from 144 countries, which were benchmarked in the areas of economic participation and opportunity, education, health, and political empowerment – suggests that it will take another 217 years to achieve gender parity at the current rates.

In light of this news, this year’s International Women’s Day campaign is themed around #PressForProgress, and it calls on people, businesses, and communities to be more gender inclusive.

For those wishing to join the cause, here are a few ways that employing organisations can push for gender parity in their workplaces:

1. Promote a family-friendly workplace

More often than not, women end up leaving employment because there are no considerations in place for them to balance both work and family obligations.

But in fact, family-friendly policies will benefit working mothers as well as working fathers.

Companies also need to move away from the conventional model of nine-to-five full-time work, and provide greater flexibility in how work is done – whether that means telecommuting, part-time positions, or project-based contracts.

Providing childcare access and benefits will also go a great way toward mitigating the loss of valuable female employees.

2. Take problems seriously

If your organisation doesn’t already have a clear policy against discrimination and harassment in place, it’s time to implement one.

It isn’t just about extreme cases like physical assault. For instance, how seriously does the organisation take repeated sexist comments? If HR doesn’t take action, or put in place a clear reporting mechanism for such incidents, it suggests that the organisation doesn’t take sexism or gender equality seriously.

Be clear on what constitutes inappropriate comments or actions, so that every employee is on the same page.

3. Set the example

What is tolerated at an employee level is frequently determined by the people up top.

It is time to get the organisation’s leadership on board, and educate them on the benefits of a workplace that is welcoming to both men and women.

A CEO who swiftly and decisively cuts down an off-handed sexist comment is a more potent influence than any corporate discrimination policy.

Similarly, a management team that includes a visible number of women and people from minority groups signals to the rest of the company – and everyone outside it – that this is an organisation where everyone has the opportunity to rise up and take a seat at the table.

4. Rethink the hiring process

In many countries, it is already illegal to request certain information on résumés or during job interviews. But organisations can take it one step further.

HR can consider circulating excluding candidates’ names themselves, before passing on information to hiring managers.HR and hiring managers also need to be open-minded to the fact that many working mothers might have gaps in their employment histories because they took time off to take care of their families.

If an organisation finds it isn’t getting many female applicants, it might be time to take a step back and review the different components of the hiring process – such as the outlets used to advertise positions, or the type of language in the job descriptions.

5. Nurture a culture of mentorship and sponsorship

A recent survey by LeanIn.Org showed that almost half of male managers are now uncomfortable participating in common work activities with women, including working alone and mentoring.

But as LeanIn.Org founder Sheryl Sandberg notes, “Men vastly outnumber [women] as managers and senior leaders”.

Workplaces that want to be more inclusive need to encourage mentors to expand their protégé pool beyond just those who look like them.Companies also need to consider the concept of sponsorships.

While mentors provide guidance and advice, sponsors act more as advocates. By educating managers and leaders to advocate for both men and women equally, HR is better-positioned to nurture a workplace culture that means everyone is visible, and given access to the same opportunities.