How to continue to challenge the gender divide in the workplace

business woman working with laptop

Ahead of International Women’s Day, Business Leader spoke to Amy Tomlinson, Head of HR at MetLife, to discuss the current challenges facing women in the workplace.

International Women’s Day remains as relevant now as it was over 100 years ago. Even before the pandemic began, reports from the World Economic Forum suggested it would take 99 years for the gender gap to close.

While the pandemic has been hard on us all, women, particularly working mothers, have taken on a greater number of the responsibilities in the home.

As well as having to juggle home schooling, women also find themselves most likely to be in the sectors that have been hardest hit by the pandemic such as hospitality and social care, leaving them at a financial and professional disadvantage to men.

The past year has been difficult for businesses and employees, but it has provided the opportunity to re-evaluate the way we work and understand how we work best. Some parents may have found it easier to work from home with their children, while others may be looking forward to returning to the office and re-establishing a clear boundary between work and home.

It is an employer’s responsibility to support women within the workplace and find solutions that help and empower women to perform at their best.

The hiatus of gender pay gap reporting for the past two years will also have an impact on how we look back on this period. While businesses may not have to report outwardly on their gender or diversity pay gaps right now, progress should not simply be paused.

The shift in expectations and values that has taken place as a result of the pandemic between employers and employers is a great opportunity for organisations to open the conversation and invite employees to talk about what  could be improved and help to find solutions.

Five top tips for supporting women

Establish an open conversation and leverage any learnings: The pandemic has given businesses a chance to reflect and reset their way of working. Over the past twelve months home working has become an industry standard, so businesses need to consider whether this is something to embrace permanently or on a more hybrid scale. Women, who in many cases have taken on the majority of the childcare responsibilities, may need more flexible working practices than their colleagues. Encourage women in your workplace to openly discuss with you what has worked well for them in the past year and how as a business you can take this forward.

Review gender policies and offer unconscious bias training: The language used in internal communications can have a big impact on how employees view a business. Take the time to regularly review your gender and diversity policies and make sure that as a business you are not perpetuating any unsuitable practises. Employers should also be proactive in providing unconscious bias training and outlining to staff what is and isn’t appropriate.

Support working parents by offering equal paternity/maternity leave: While women traditionally still take on most of the parenting roles, businesses can support their staff by providing equal maternity and paternity leave to aid the shift towards a more balanced splitting of parental responsibilities. By providing equal leave this allows the couple themselves to make the decision as to who will taken on the role of main caregiver and can allow women, who may be the main breadwinner, to return to work sooner.

Involve men in the conversations: To really open up the conversation around gender and current inequalities we must all be part of the conversation. From CEOs to interns, we all have experiences and ideas that should be brought to the table and considered. Encouraging both men and women to engage and find solutions to create a more inclusive working environment that works for everyone makes it more likely to succeed in the long-term.

Provide mentoring and training programmes to support women’s promotion and growth: Women remain less likely to ask for a pay rise or promotion than male counterparts. By providing mentoring from senior members of staff or skills-based training this can help women to better understand their worth. Building women’s confidence in the workplace and promoting from within is a great way for businesses to ensure that those at the top of their business really understand the businesses priorities and purpose. Investing in training and mentoring now will also be beneficial in the longer term as senior employees can then mentor the next generation of the team.