Gender equality in the workplace — 4 principles for change

equality visualization

The path toward gender equality in the workplace has been long and arduous. Undoubtedly, we have made progress—this I have witnessed first-hand over the course of more than two and a half decades in the workforce. But I also recognize that our journey is far from over, and there is much work yet to be done.

Today, women in many localities enjoy advantages our forebears could scarcely have imagined. In the course of my own career, I have benefitted from opportunities that simply didn’t exist for my mother and grandmother. With each succeeding generation, new possibilities have appeared on the horizon, and gender roles have slowly begun to be redefined.

But we mustn’t delude ourselves into thinking we have reached the summit. Women continue to encounter multiple injustices in the workplace in the form of unequal pay, pregnancy discrimination, and sexual harassment—all of which refuse to die. They likewise remain underrepresented at every level in the corporate world.

According to a 2019 study by McKinsey, despite more women rising to top positions in corporate America and an increased commitment by companies to gender diversity, men are still more likely to be hired and promoted into both entry-level and management positions. This creates an inherently male-biased talent pipeline and a built-in handicap for women trying to move into executive roles. The situation is similar in other countries.

So, while things are certainly better than they used to be, we’ve not arrived at our destination just yet. As Sheryl Sandberg, best-selling author and COO of Facebook, said, “we need to be grateful for what we have but dissatisfied with the status quo.” My sentiments exactly—as Women’s History Month draws to a close let us celebrate how far we’ve come but continue pressing on to the end goal.

I still desire something more not only for those of my generation but for the future waves of enterprising young women who will follow in our footsteps. As a mother, I want my daughters to have every chance at succeeding in whatever fields they choose to pursue, irrespective of their gender. They don’t need obstacles, internal or external, stopping them from following their dreams or causing them to doubt themselves—nor does anyone else for that matter.

As business leaders, we are in a unique and strong position to spur progress toward gender equality in the workplace. It is, after all, in a sense, our own backyard. But to do this, we must first take a long, hard look at ourselves and the unbalanced practices that go on under our watch. Only then can we commit to doing what is necessary to stamp them out.

To this end, there are simple, foundational principles we can follow that will afford clarity of action and promote equality of the sexes in the workplace as a natural consequence. Here are four of them:

Make gender equality a core value.

Genuine change begins in the heart and mind. Establish an unshakable conviction that women are entitled to the same rights and opportunities as men. Once in place, this belief will directly influence organizational culture and effect change from the top down.

Protect employee welfare.

Safeguard all members of the organization, male and female, against physical and psychological harm. Every human being has the basic right to live free from exploitation and abuse. Gender-based violence is a direct violation of this right and must not be tolerated.

Identify unfair practices.

To find the solution to a problem, that problem must first be recognized. Determine the presence of barriers to women in the organization by conducting a thorough and candid appraisal of in-house practices. Do this at regular intervals to ensure continued progress and prevent regression.

Equalize the system.

Upon identifying said barriers, eliminate them. Do so decisively, without compromise or concession. This “housecleaning” will provide a fertile environment for diversity, inclusiveness, and respect to take root and flourish.

Properly applied, these principles have the power to level the playing field for women in the workplace and, as a result, strengthen the productivity of an enterprise by diversifying its talent pool. But it’s down to us as business leaders to apply them.

At the current rate, it will take another 99.5 years to achieve global gender parity. And that is too long. In the workplace, we need to close the gap in this generation, not the next. By redressing the balance in our own territory, business leaders can accelerate the pace of change and help drive the societal shift necessary to transform how women are perceived and treated. It is a noble effort and one we need to make. We owe it to the generations of women who came before us. We owe it to those who are yet to come. We owe it to ourselves.

Comments

  1. Anji Dawson says:

    A really interesting read. Thanks Paula. Its nice to hear women in leadership talking about helping the next generation of female employees.
    I would be interested to hear more about which inhouse practices you have found that are current barriers for women, and how DXC will address removing them.

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