Gender equality still has a long way to go in terms of closing the gap in advancement between men and women in the workplace. According to a 2016 report conducted by McKinsey and LeanIn.org, only about 19 percent of C-suite executives are female. To promote the advancement of women in the workplace, companies should make sure that senior leadership is accountable for communicating that gender diversity is a top priority.
Introduction on Women in the Workplace
McKinsey studied more than 130 companies in America and found that women remain underrepresented across all levels in the workplace. Although the representation of women as C-suite executives is up from 17 percent in 2015 to 19 percent a year later, there is still much progress to be made in ensuring that women in the workplace are thriving and advancing at an equal rate to men in the same positions.
Women are less likely than men in the same positions to be promoted to a managerial level within their companies, which generally sets them up for a slower pace towards advancement for their rest of their careers. These statistics may not be surprising to those in corporate America, but the question remains as to what companies can do now to make their efforts of encouraging gender diversity and equality in the workplace more effective.
Overview of Existing Gender Equality Efforts
An encouraging number of companies, 78 percent say that they see a commitment to gender diversity as a top priority for their executives. This percentage increased by about 22 points since 2012.
However, there seems to be a persisting disconnect in how these companies’ employees view gender diversity efforts. In fact, women are less likely than their male counterparts to find that their companies are making significant strides to embracing gender diversity in the workplace.
For example, only 24 percent of women reported that senior leaders within their companies regularly encourage open discussion on gender diversity. When contrasted with the 34 percent of men who found that open discussion on gender inclusion was promoted from the top down, this highlights the major disparity in how men and women view diversity programs in the workplace.
It may come as a bit of a surprise that only 52 percent of all employees surveyed said that gender diversity in the workplace is one of their top personal priorities. The main reason behind this view for 53 percent of the male employees surveyed is that they think that emphasizing gender diversity means that there is less of an emphasis on individual performance. About 44 percent of women also offered this as a reason why gender diversity is not a top priority in the workplace for them right now.
Recommendations for Moving Towards Gender Equality in the Workplace
After recognizing that there remains a significant gap in advancement for women and men in the workplace, the next step is to figure out how companies can address this issue in a meaningful way. These recommendations can be implemented in companies of all different sizes and sectors.
Communicating the Advantages of Gender Diversity in the Workplace
Senior leadership within the company should be responsible for taking the time and effort to communicate with employees of all levels why gender diversity is a good thing for the company and its employees. The message must be honest and transparent.
Part of communicating a strong message is the inclusion of accurate statistics on gender representation in the company. Employees will appreciate transparency in sharing data on the relative positions of women and men in the workplace.
Reviewing Internal Policies for Hiring, Performance Evaluations, and Promotions
Take the time to thoroughly review your company’s policies for recruitment, internal promotions and evaluations. This includes finding out the exact steps that your company takes to recruit and hire candidates from underrepresented groups, including women and racial minorities.
Once you are clear on the criteria that your company uses to evaluate employees, make sure that this information is plainly communicated to employees of all levels. If employees are aware of set criteria that will be used to evaluate their performance and potential for promotion, they will feel more empowered to take positive steps in those directions. Unbiased performance tracking is essential to making sure that the most qualified employees are promoted within a company.
In addition to the above, you should make sure that employees feel comfortable communicating with their supervisors about whether they are meeting expectations. Employee feedback should be consistent and readily available. This will go a long way towards embracing a culture of employee empowerment.
Prioritize Employee Training
The best way to push back on gender bias in the workplace is to make sure that employees feel equipped to do so. Many companies offer training programs in anti-discrimination policies. But only 24 percent of the employees surveyed in the report by McKinsey say that they have experienced their managers taking direct action to correct gender bias in the workplace.
Holding Leadership Accountable for Change
Senior leadership within a company needs to be held accountable for their role in promoting gender diversity and equality. Top executives should be regularly evaluated on their contribution to eliminating gender bias in the workplace.
Part of this includes sending a clear message to employees that they should feel free to take advantage of any flexible working schedules offered by the company. Even though many companies offer these programs to accommodate working parents, fewer than 25 percent of the employees surveyed report that they actually use them.
Senior leadership should be responsible for conveying to employees that they are encouraged to prioritize a balanced work schedule. Employees should not feel any retribution for taking time off that is allotted for them.
Top executives should also be evaluated on the steps taken in planning for future leadership roles for women within the company. They should be able to present a clear path forward for women who are interested in advancement within the company. Women employees need to be able to see a reliable path toward success to upper management in order to think that it is attainable for them.
Recap on the State of Gender Equality in the Workplace
The progress towards gender diversity and equality in the workplace should not be discounted, but the 2016 McKinsey & LeanIn.org report demonstrates that there is still a wide gap between the achievements of men and women in a wide range of companies. Whether or not individual employees prioritize gender equality, it is imperative that top executives make it a primary concern in order to make a real difference in closing the gap.
Making sure that there are clear metrics for evaluating performance within a company and communicating a clear path for advancement are critical in empowering women to take on more responsibility and challenges in the workplace. Top leaders at companies should be held accountable for the steps that the company is taking to advance opportunities for women employees.