The impact of the pandemic on women is an issue for everyone in the economy, as under‑representing women in the workforce deprives businesses of much-needed skills, leadership and resources. Today, it’s crucial for employers to support the women in their workforces with greater focus on changing prevailing gender dynamics in the workplace. Here are 10 action steps that can be implemented immediately by organisations to support gender parity.
1. Know “the why”
Advancing toward gender parity in the workplace is far more than the right thing to do. The data is clear: companies with women at the top perform better. And in the private sector, numerous studies have found that having more women in the workforce and a greater gender balance of female leaders improves productivity share performance, business results and overall economy.
Recognise the obstacles women historically face at work – lack of role models, gendered career paths, and lack of access to sponsors and influential networks – and identify ways to remove them. This starts with active listening; the best leaders ask women what they need to succeed.
As we’ve seen over the last year, management can be accomplished in new arrangements. Find ways to build flexibility into roles previously seen as inflexible. Take active steps to challenge any embedded assumptions about the gender-normative roles of parents so that those biases do not influence the way managers and colleagues perceive remote working done by men and women, nor what they expect more generally from remote workers.
Succession planning must be bolder, through creative thinking and problem solving. Instead of saying, “She doesn’t have the experience,” ask, “What do we need to make it work?” Challenge assumptions. If we think it is possible, we can make it possible.
For gender change to be effective and long lasting, it has to come from the top. Company leaders must demonstrate their commitment to bringing women into board, leadership and managerial positions by taking action, for which they must be held accountable, and their progress needs to be measurable.
Leaders must know exactly where they need women to be. Looking at macro numbers is not enough. Articulate a talent legacy – how things will change and what it will look like by when. Plan for it as if it were a strategic business priority or investment. True change takes time, focus and discipline.
Upgrade your performance evaluation processes and metrics to reflect the practicalities of modern-day working – ensure the focus is on delivery and outputs. Crucially, discount from your assessments any periods of lockdown when childcare was unavailable.
Identify adjacent skillsets for new roles, and importantly demonstrate how short bursts of training and upskilling can accelerate people from one job to the next.
Now is the time to focus on helping employees develop technical skills at speed and scale, while also hiring people with learnability – the desire and ability to learn new skills. This can make a real difference in shaping a future in which everyone can be ready for high‑growth roles.
When recruiting for talent with learnability, look for soft skills like communication, collaboration, creativity and curiosity. These are the most valued – and the hardest to find – human strengths in today’s job market, and employees who have them make smoother transitions to new roles or careers.
Looking ahead to the future of work, what women say they want from work is closer to what research indicates all workers want: greater flexibility and potential for virtual working, within trusting and integrated workplaces. Ultimately, all workers want work that’s more equal.
To read more about our research into how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted women click here.