Beyond Token Gestures: How Not to Alienate Your Female Employees This International Women’s Day

CoWomen Image: Women collaborating around table. International Women's Day.

Introduction

This International Women’s Day, let’s shift our focus from superficial ‘inclusion washing’ to fostering genuine, long-term organisational change. It’s time to move beyond tokenistic initiatives that may look good in a press release but fail to effect real cultural change. In this blog, we’ll explore practical ways to create a workplace environment that truly values and supports its female employees.

Acknowledge the Issue

First and foremost, recognise that gender inequality and bias are not relics of the past. They are very much present in today’s workplaces. Acknowledging the problem is the first step towards meaningful change. 

 

Just take a look at these stats: 

 

  • As of 2023, the global gender pay gap was estimated to be about 16%. This means that women earn, on average, 84% of what men earn for the same work (World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Report 2023).

 

  • Only about 29% of senior management roles are held by women globally, showcasing a significant gender disparity in leadership (Catalyst, Women in Management, January 2023).

 

  • Women are less likely to be promoted to managerial positions; only 87 women are promoted to managerial roles for every 100 men (McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace 2022 report).

 

  • Women are overrepresented in sectors like health and social work but are still underrepresented in science, tech and engineering (UNESCO, Cracking the code: Girls’ and women’s education in STEM, 2023).

 

  • Women are more likely to face career setbacks due to maternity leave and childcare responsibilities. A study showed that women with children are 79% less likely to be hired (Journal of Applied Psychology, “The Motherhood Penalty: What About the Fatherhood Bonus?” 2023).

 

  • A survey revealed that 42% of women in the workplace have faced gender discrimination, such as earning less than men for the same job and receiving less support from senior leaders (Pew Research Center, “Women and Leadership 2023”).

Recognise the Unique Challenges of Female Employees

Let’s emphasise this: Every employee’s health is of paramount importance, and our goal is not to prioritise women’s health at the expense of men’s. Instead, our focus is on acknowledging and addressing the distinct health challenges that women face. It’s about adopting a gender-specific approach to workplace wellness that ensures everyone’s health needs are met with understanding and appropriate support. Here are just a few suggestions to consider: 

 

  • Menstrual health and menopause support: Recognise that menstrual health and menopause can significantly impact a woman’s work life. Consider introducing policies that offer flexibility or additional breaks for those experiencing severe symptoms.

 

  • Fertility, pregnancy, and baby loss awareness: Foster a supportive environment where employees feel comfortable discussing fertility issues, pregnancy, and baby loss. Sensitivity and understanding from management can make a profound difference.

 

  • Enhanced parental leave: Review and enhance your parental leave policies. Generous parental leave and support for returning to work can ease the transition for new parents and redress the gender balance. 

Listen and Learn

Ensuring that women are visible, acknowledged, and adequately represented is crucial for driving transformative change in your organisation. As evidenced by numerous studies, women frequently become the unseen members of the workforce, especially in sectors where male perspectives and dominance prevail.

 

Elevating the voices and presence of women is not just about equity; it’s a strategic imperative that enriches decision-making, fosters a more inclusive culture, and propels the organisation towards a more diverse and innovative future. We’ve provided some effective ways to make sure your female employees are seen and heard: 

 

  • Gender equity audit and action plan: Conduct a thorough gender equity audit in the workplace to identify areas needing improvement, such as pay equity, representation in leadership roles, or workplace policies. Based on the findings, develop and implement an action plan to address these issues.

 

  • Facilitate focus groups: Encourage open, safe discussions. Listening to personal experiences is crucial for meaningful change.

 

  • Employee resource groups (ERGs) for women: Support the creation and activities of ERGs focused on women. These groups can provide a platform for discussing issues, networking, professional development, and influencing company policies related to women’s inclusion.

Implement Inclusive Policies

Creating an inclusive workplace goes beyond mere rhetoric; it requires the implementation of policies that acknowledge and address the diverse needs of all employees. In our pursuit of a more equitable work environment, we focus on three key areas where policies can make a significant impact. These include offering flexible work options, introducing comprehensive reproductive health policies and establishing a zero-tolerance approach to harassment . Each of these areas plays a crucial role in fostering a supportive and safe workplace, ensuring that every employee, regardless of their gender or life stage, feels valued and respected.

 

  • Flexible work options: Offer diverse work arrangements to accommodate different life stages and responsibilities. In the UK, the “Day One Right to Flexible Working” is a legal entitlement that allows employees to request flexible working arrangements from the first day of their employment. Previously, employees needed to have 26 weeks of continuous service with their employer before they could request flexible working. However, with this change, employees can now make a request for flexible working arrangements – such as part-time hours, flexitime, job sharing, or remote working – from the onset of their employment. 

 

  • Reproductive health support: Introduce inclusive policies to support employees living with menstrual, menopause and reproductive health challenges. 

 

  • Zero tolerance for harassment: According to a report by the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC) nearly 29% of people have experienced bullying at work, and women are particularly at risk. This kind of workplace harassment can lead to severe consequences, including mental health issues, decreased job satisfaction, and higher employee turnover. By implementing robust anti-harassment measures, including training and reporting processes, we not only create a safer environment but also promote a more productive and positive workplace culture.

Advance Women in Leadership

Promoting women into leadership roles is a strategic imperative for creating a balanced and dynamic corporate environment. However, it’s essential to ensure that these promotions are based on merit, not solely on gender. This approach avoids the pitfalls of positive discrimination, which can undermine the very goal of equality it seeks to achieve. Initiatives must focus on equipping women with the skills, opportunities, and mentorship they need to advance on their own merits. It’s not only about creating opportunities but also about tackling the internal barriers that often hold women back. These self-limiting challenges, such as imposter syndrome, lack of confidence, low self-esteem, and underdeveloped negotiating skills, can be significant hurdles. By addressing both the organisational and individual barriers, you’ll not only foster a culture of fairness and excellence but also reinforce the credibility and effectiveness of women leaders.

 

  • Leadership development programmes: Invest in comprehensive programmes that not only prepare women for leadership roles based on their talents and capabilities but also address common self-limiting barriers. These programmes should include modules on building confidence, overcoming imposter syndrome, and enhancing negotiation skills.

 

  • Mentorship opportunities: We advocate for both traditional and innovative mentoring approaches. Intergenerational mentorship can offer wisdom and insights from experienced professionals, while reverse mentorship allows younger employees to share fresh perspectives and technological savvy with senior colleagues.

 

  • Executive coaching: Provide access to executive coaching for women, offering a personalised approach to developing leadership skills, building confidence, and career advancement.

 

  • Cultivating a culture of encouragement: Encourage a work environment that supports women in confidently expressing their ideas, embracing challenges, and pursuing leadership roles without hesitation.

Regular Review and Adaptation

It’s essential to recognise that the landscape of employee needs and organisational challenges is constantly evolving. This reality underscores the importance of not just implementing policies and strategies for gender equity, diversity and inclusion,  but also regularly revisiting and refining these initiatives.

 

  • Assess policies: Regularly conducting reviews of existing policies is crucial. These evaluations should consider the effectiveness of the policies in achieving their intended goals, especially regarding women’s advancement and workplace inclusivity. Surveys, feedback sessions, and performance data can be instrumental in this assessment.

 

  • Appoint a policy review committee: Form a committee to regularly review company policies to ensure they are inclusive and equitable. To be effective, this committee should include diverse employee representation and have the power to recommend policy changes.

 

  • Be open to change: The willingness to adapt strategies is essential in response to the evolving needs of the workforce and the changing societal landscape. This might involve introducing new programmes, modifying existing ones, or even discontinuing initiatives that no longer serve their purpose effectively.

Conclusion

This International Women’s Day, let’s pledge to enact genuine, lasting change. Tokenistic gestures might fulfil a temporary requirement, but they don’t earn the respect or loyalty of your female employees. It’s time for meaningful, continuous action that nurtures an inclusive, supportive, and equitable workplace for everyone. By addressing the full spectrum of women’s health and career challenges, you can build a stronger, more resilient organisation where every employee feels valued and empowered.

Would you like to explore working together? Whether it’s for International Women’s Day, or beyond, we’d love to hear from you!

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