Gender Equality in Today’s Workplace: Strategies and Solutions

Jul 4, 2024 | Employee Engagement, Professional Development

When companies empower women to thrive in leadership positions, everyone wins. But, despite some advances in gender equality in the workplace, organizations have much room to grow. By prioritizing inclusivity and equity, they’ll build a strong employer brand and optimize the use of their talent.

Read on as we explore why workplace inequality remains a serious problem. Then, we’ll discuss how to take stock of existing disparities and confront common challenges. We’ll also examine how to adopt equitable practices, check unconscious bias, and foster inclusive leadership. 

Table of Contents

1. Understanding the Gender Landscape

2. Fostering Inclusive Practices

3. Empowering Inclusive Leadership

4. Unpacking Unconscious Bias

5. Implementing Supportive Policies

6. Monitoring Progress and Accountability

Understanding the Gender Landscape

First, let’s dive into the ongoing challenges to gender equality so we can explore how to solve them.

Persistent Pay Disparities

Women in the workforce still earn less than men for performing the same work. Among Gen Z job applicants, women can expect to earn about $6,000 less than men per year. In 2021, women earned roughly 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, says the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “Hispanic or Latina women earned about 58 cents and Black women earned about 63 cents for every dollar white men earned,” they add. 

Under-representation in high-level positions contributes to the problem of workplace inequality. “Just one in four C-suite leaders is a woman, and only one in 20 is a woman of colour,” SHRM notes. And today, women hold 40% of management roles despite making up 44% of the workforce, meaning there is room for growth at all levels of leadership.

Unfair Promotional Decisions

Research shows that women earn higher performance ratings than men, yet receive 8.3% lower ratings for their potential. This illogical perception makes women 14% less likely to receive a promotion than male coworkers. 

Further, women are more likely to stay with their company than men, even when they’re overlooked for a promotion. Men are 35–40% more likely to leave after being passed over for advancement, MIT Sloan professor Danielle Li found. Those with the highest performance ratings were 40–50% more likely to leave. Meanwhile, women are just 10% more likely to look for new employment. Firms may therefore offer more promotions to men in order to keep male employees at the company, Li posits. By doing so, however, they fail to make use of many of their best employees’ potential—and they brand themselves as a gender-biased organization.

A Widening Gap

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the gender wage gap tends to widen across women’s and men’s lifetimes. Women are subject to the “motherhood penalty,” meaning that after having children, they may have difficulty returning to full-time work, says OECD.

Women as a whole are highly ambitious, reports McKinsey. Eighty percent of women under 30 want to be promoted to a next-level position—and for women of colour, that figure rises to 88%. But, capable women too often don’t receive a promotion to their first managerial position. Instead, they quickly reach a broken rung on the corporate ladder. In turn, this increases the wage gap over the course of a woman’s life, especially for women of colour. Without access to a first managerial position—or with advancement delayed—career progress can be held back substantially.

Lack of Pay Transparency

Pay transparency poses another key issue. Many employees don’t know what their coworkers earn, as companies typically don’t make this information public. Further, talking about pay has historically felt taboo. However, the younger generations are more likely to compare notes on pay for the sake of promoting equity. As Forbes reports, 76% of Millennials and 74% of Gen Zers are willing to talk about pay with coworkers, in comparison to 41% of Boomers.

More Vulnerable Employment

Globally, women tend to have more vulnerable employment arrangements than men. The International Labour Organization (ILO) reports that women are more likely to work in lower-paying jobs and to have a more difficult time finding work.

This reality even affects women in C-suite positions. Ryan explains that women are more likely to be appointed to leadership roles in struggling companies. This can create a false perception that these women aren’t as adept at leadership as men. In reality, they’ve been given a much more difficult task than the male CEO of a thriving organization.

Workplace inequality seriously decreases morale and neglects talent development. But, by improving gender equality in the workplace, organizations create a culture where all employees can thrive.

Fostering Inclusive Practices

Two women brainstorming in front of a white board.
Credit: Christina Morillo /Pexels

Let’s explore how to increase gender equality in the workplace through strategies that increase inclusivity.

Strengthening Hiring and Promotional Processes

Adopt equitable hiring and promotional processes with these strategies:

  • Use a blind review process.
  • Have a diverse hiring committee that includes women and people of colour.
  • Look at applicants who don’t necessarily fit into your culture—but who would enhance it with fresh approaches.

By upgrading your processes, you’ll place the most qualified candidate in each position.

Improving Pay Equity and Transparency

Ensure organizational accountability for pay equity with these solutions:

  • Make salary data transparent. This pushes organizations to make more equitable decisions on pay and incentives.
  • Use clearly outlined pay structures that determine salary level and when employees receive a raise.

Now, let’s discuss how to upgrade your performance metrics.

Using Objective Performance Measurements

Adopt performance management tools that show women’s true level of productivity and competency. Performance management software will objectively highlight progress toward goals. Then, you can compare this data with the reviews women are receiving from their managers to determine whether bias exists.

Make sure your scoring system uses well-defined criteria, as Li says. Eliminate vagueness, adopting objective indicators of success.

Improving Access to Development and Advancement

Ensure equal access to opportunities and resources for women at work. As we’ll discuss in the following sections, providing inclusive access to leadership training and one-on-one mentorship will prepare women for the next level.

Empowering Inclusive Leadership

A group of colleagues with a sense of camaraderie having a meeting
Credit: Jopwell /Pexels

Companies can fall into several traps in regard to gender equity in leadership, as Michelle K. Ryan asserts in the British Journal of Social Psychology:

  • Believing they’ve made more progress than they actually have (e.g., believing a training has solved all their problems).
  • Trying to “fix” women in the workplace rather than systems.
  • Ignoring how intersectional experiences affect women differently.

Let’s discuss these issues in more depth, along with how to provide genuinely inclusive leadership development. We’ll also dig into how to help current leaders champion diversity and inclusion.

Fixing Organizations, Not Women

Efforts to support women at work often centre on “fixing” them rather than the systemic problems that hold them back, as Ryan says. They focus on strengthening individual competencies, instead of improving access to opportunities. Leadership courses may focus on overcoming imposter syndrome, negotiating pay, or becoming more assertive. And while these trainings can be beneficial, they miss the bigger point—that organizations are neglecting to support qualified women in advancing.

“All of these approaches have, as their implicit theory of change, an understanding that women are in some way broken and not up to the task,” says Ryan. “The solution is, therefore, seen to be to ‘fix’ them—to change their behaviours, address their skills deficit, remedy their mindset. But the evidence is very clear on this point—it is not women that need fixing, but the deeply entrenched systems of gender inequality that structure our organizations and structure society more broadly.”

In other words, the problem isn’t that women have “imposter syndrome”—which describes normal feelings of mild anxiety that typically subside in time—but the fact that workplaces produce conditions in which men’s imposter syndrome can abate with time and experience while women’s are often exacerbated.

Offering Truly Inclusive Leadership Trainings

Truly inclusive leadership trainings demonstrate awareness of these issues. They focus on empowering participants to use their unique strengths, rather than overcoming their weaknesses. By expanding awareness of existing talent and potential, they build self-confidence. In the process, trainings can also connect women with a supportive community of peers, which could be at least as important as the content of the training itself.

Because access to networking opportunities can pose a major barrier to advancement, use the trainings to expand women’s network as well. Bring in senior leaders to share their knowledge and connect with participants. By the end of the training, they’ll have a robust network of potential mentors, sponsors, and acquaintances.

Addressing Intersectional Challenges

Avoid taking a one-size-fits-all approach to gender equality in the workplace, as Ryan says. Be empathetic to each employee’s unique experience and needs. Consider the intersectional challenges they face, such as stereotypes based on race and gender.

Managers should strive to create a strong rapport with women of colour and other employees from marginalized groups. In one-on-ones, they should aim to provide a sense of psychological safety that allows them to feel heard. Based on these employees’ career goals, they should also connect them with additional mentorship and learning opportunities. By helping them build a strong support system, they’ll prepare them to break through societal barriers.

Organizations should also work to unpack stereotypes in unconscious bias trainings (we’ll discuss these in a moment). Instead of just trying to prepare the individual to overcome barriers, fix the culture that is constructing them.

Cultivating Supportive Leadership

Inspirational leaders will give other employees a leg up, helping people of all genders to fulfill their potential. Help leaders cultivate these behaviours by providing them with the tools to coach people effectively. Provide trainings on how to be allies to women—and people of all genders—sharing tangible ways of supporting them. For example, a leader could advocate for a woman among higher-level peers.

Engage senior leaders in allyship, training men in leadership roles on how to be good allies. “Male executives who are trained on how to be allies are far more likely to speak up about incidents of gender inequality than men who are not trained in this approach,” writes the American Psychological Association, citing recent research. Train all leaders in how to serve as allies for women of colour and people from other marginalized groups.

Unpacking Unconscious Bias

Colleagues discussing the various candidates for a specific role
Credit: fauxels / Pexels

Unconscious bias refers to behaviours and attitudes that people are unaware of. These behaviours and mindsets often have a profound negative effect on workplace culture. For example, a male colleague who speaks mainly to other men in a mixed-gender meeting may be acting out of unconscious bias. This behaviour conveys a lack of respect for the women in the room and undermines group camaraderie and collaboration.

Such behaviours constitute microaggressions, which cause substantial stress that can result in burnout. Having to cope with these subtle hostilities day after day can even affect one’s career. “The workplace is a mental minefield for many women, particularly those with traditionally marginalized identities,” writes McKinsey. “Women who experience microaggressions are much less likely to feel psychologically safe, which makes it harder to take risks, propose new ideas, or raise concerns. The stakes feel just too high.”

An unconscious bias training can help people become aware of their biases and microaggressions. Colleagues can support each other’s growth by highlighting such issues. When managers spot biases, they should talk with employees about them as quickly as possible.

Similarly, when making decisions, project leaders and managers can seek input from a range of group members, including women. This will bring fresh perspectives, improve group morale, and build investment in initiatives.

Finally, HR can work to spot bias in managers by identifying disparities between performance data, feedback, and evaluations. Then, an HR manager can intervene to address it. Through these strategies, you’ll build an inclusive workplace and empower all employees to achieve their career goals.

Implementing Supportive Policies

Policy-level strategies are crucial for increasing equity in the workplace. Here are some key ones to adopt:

  • Create policies that promote work-life balance and flexibility. This will help meet the needs of employees who are parents or caregivers, allowing them to thrive. Offer generous leave policies for people of all genders, for instance.
  • Develop standardized procedures for training employees in leadership skills. Make sure everyone feels encouraged to take advantage of these opportunities. 
  • Review your organization’s succession plans to determine the percentage of women—and women of colour—you’re actively planning to promote. Establish metrics you aim to reach within the next two years, and within the next five years. Then, reevaluate your current plans to ensure they’ll help you reach those goals.
  • When reviewing managers, consider efforts toward equity as a core part of performance. In 360 reviews, survey employees on the support they’ve received from their manager. Address any issues in a one-on-one conversation with the manager. 
  • Discuss such issues, and progress made, during performance reviews with managers. These steps will reinforce the centrality of inclusivity to their performance, incentivizing them to become a better mentor and coach to all employees. 
  • Create policies for how job opportunities are shared. Distribute announcements across the company in an email, so everyone has the chance to apply. 
  • Design formal mentorship programs. Rather than hoping mentorship will just happen, pair people up intentionally. Encourage mentors to advocate for mentees among their own peers. In this way, you’ll ensure everyone receives the support they need.
  • Design returnship programs to support women in returning to meaningful work after a career break. Such programs provide training and mentorship that makes the transition easier.

Next, let’s explore the central importance of tracking organizations’ progress toward equity.

Monitoring Progress and Accountability

Track your efforts to improve equity for women in the workforce—and people of all genders—on an ongoing basis. Accurately analyzing metrics related to gender will allow you to clearly visualize your successes and needs for continued growth, holding organizations accountable for progress.

Establish a baseline by measuring current percentages of women in the workforce and women in leadership positions. Also measure salary, training participation, and other important data. Then, track progress over time as you implement initiatives to improve inclusivity. Report this data to top leaders and your board, affirming why it’s so important to support women in the workplace. Through strong analytics, you’ll continue to make the business case for your efforts.

Through inclusive strategies, companies can support women in the workplace and improve retention. Workplace inequality remains a serious problem, but smart companies will enhance their employer brand by implementing inclusive leadership training, flexible options, and good policies. By tracking their progress, they’ll set themselves apart from the crowd and strengthen leadership development for star employees of all genders.

Learn how software will help foster an equitable workplace—demo our product.

Related Articles