Representation of women in leadership roles and in more industries has grown greatly in past decades. That said, women are still facing systemic challenges that prevent them from partaking in our workforce. One of the largest barriers currently being faced is the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on working women. Women have accounted for 63% of overall job losses in Canada and 70% of losses by workers aged 25 to 54 in March 2020, according to the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives. This is due to the service industry being hardest hit by the pandemic, which is typically a female dominated sector. Additionally, many women left the workforce as a result of domestic burdens and other care responsibilities. Women belonging to marginalized populations faced even higher rates of unemployment throughout this crisis as well.
It is clear that action is still needed to achieve equitable practices for women at work. Every individual has a role to play in actively challenging stereotypes, fighting biases, broadening perceptions, improving situations and celebrating women’s achievements. That said, employers must be committed to initiatives that will help incorporate diversity and inclusion throughout their organizations. In order for female employees to flourish and remain in the workplace, corporate strategies are needed to give women the support they need at different stages in their career and life.
Here are tactics that employers can incorporate into their corporate strategies to ensure their practices are more equitable for women:
Fostering Diversity in Leadership
When it comes to leadership diversity, smart corporate decision making requires different points of view, which come from people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives working together. There is no shortage of qualified women looking for leadership opportunities, which is why a thoughtful and proactive approach to having the right people with the right skill sets is needed when building a leadership team.
The best way to accomplish diverse leadership is to reframe your hiring process to tackle any bias there may be when recruiting talent. When looking to fill a role, hiring managers often look to find a person similar to its successor, but it’s important to ensure you’re hiring for the role itself and not focusing on the person. Hiring managers need to reduce any biases related to a gender, as well as age, race, religion, sexual orientation, and other personal characteristics that are unrelated to their job performance. This puts the emphasis on the merit of a candidate and ultimately, will lead to having more diversity on your team.
Employers should also conduct a diversity audit on their current hiring practices to evaluate how equitable current sourcing, screening and shortlisting processes are for candidates. Once evaluated, it’s important to decide how you will improve these practices and continually track metrics of its effectiveness.
Facilitating Employee Development
Ultimately, employers should want to create an environment where women are empowered and feel that they have an equal opportunity to succeed. Part of achieving this is through facilitating employee development such as mentorship, as well as on-the-job training when needed.
Only 69% of women said they have had a female mentor, according to Forbes. Mentorship ensures that female employees have the support in place to develop their skills, embrace new opportunities, and benefit from a network of supportive female colleagues. It also fosters a more inclusive workplace culture through women leading conversations by mentoring both men and women.
As mentioned, many women have been displaced by the pandemic, therefore it’s important that employers are facilitating opportunities to upskill, reskill or pivot jobs. This involves training or providing learning opportunities for employees to master an entirely different set of skills to perform in different areas of business than their traditional training and experience. It’s also imperative that employers are tailoring their upskilling and reskilling training to the realities of women’s learning styles and availability.
Ensuring a Flexible Return to Work
Whether returning to work from the pandemic or maternity leave, women often aren’t given the proper tools needed to successfully reintegrate into the workforce. Normalizing flexible work options allows women to juggle both work and home commitments in a way they are comfortable with. This could be embracing technology to be able to work remotely or irregular hours when needed. It’s imperative for both inclusiveness and employee retention for employers to develop a flexible work environment.
Providing Fair Pay Structures
While it is illegal to pay women less than men, the gender pay gap does still exist in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, women only earn 89 cents for every dollar a man makes on average. That said, the gap is wider for women who are of colour, living with a disability, or are new Canadians. Ultimately, closing the gender pay gap is not only the right thing to do, but when employees are compensated fairly they are more committed to their job and have higher productivity.
While this is not an easy feat for any human resources professional to tackle, an organization can begin the process of a fair pay structure by first auditing and analyzing the current compensation by gender and race to see and immediately address any pay gaps. Next, reducing bias in staffing decisions can be achieved by properly training managers and ensuring performance reviews have clear and consistent criteria. This ensures there is equal opportunity for promotions and career advancement for women. Lastly, remove the bias that women who negotiate are aggressive, and make it the norm for anyone to advocate for themselves and their careers passionately.
Offering Continued Support
Being an inclusive workplace is an ongoing process that will constantly require reevaluation and new approaches. It’s important that your company takes the steps needed to continue being inclusive and promote diversity by offering support and the resources women need to succeed in their careers. To learn how you can offer support, we encourage you to read the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s resource on how employers can help women returning to work following the pandemic.