Positive Change for Women in the Workplace
Written by Pauline Muller

In a world of changing social dynamics, equity is occupying prime time attention on the human resources agendas of most forward-thinking employers. Defined by Cambridge Dictionary as “a situation in which everyone is treated fairly according to their needs and no group of people is given special treatment,” #EmbraceEquity is this year’s very appropriate hashtag—and theme—for International Women’s Day on March 8th, this year.

This focus, however, is not only about achieving equity for women but is geared toward creating business ecosystems in which equity can be cultivated in the corporate world. “Forging gender equity is not limited to women solely fighting the good fight. Allies are incredibly important for the social, economic, cultural, and political advancement of women,” internationalwomensday.com states.

But how is equity different from equality, and how can one tell the difference? After all, equality is a goal that most think of as fully alive and well, tended to by the gatekeepers of workplace justice. The reality looks a bit different, however. Because from up close, ‘equality’ is sometimes the source of issues standing in the way of achieving equity.

The reason is that, in the maelstrom of modern corporate jargon, the word equality has, in many places, become synonymous—and confused with—sameness. The result is that when most people refer to equality, they mean “same”, taking for granted and ignoring the unique needs of individuals who make up corporate teams.

That is especially true around the needs of historically disadvantaged groups, like people of colour, individuals who are part of LGBTQ+ communities, women with disabilities, mothers, and other women who do not fit into the molds created in years gone by when business revolved around the outdated norms of previous centuries.

The International Women’s Day movement’s objective is to create spaces where people of all genders feel welcome, accepted, empowered, and valued. During 2022, the group’s #BreakTheBias campaign set out to change how women are treated in terms of the ever-green exclusionary glass doors and ceilings existing in the corporate world. Building on this foundation and those of years past, the road to workplace equity is in closer reach than ever before.

While much has been done to pave the way for equity in the past decade, McKinsey’s 2022 report on Women in the Workplace highlights the fact that working women are driving what has been dubbed “The Great Breakup”. This is due to a host of reasons ranging from a lack of flexibility, not enough attention given to employee well-being, and insufficient diversity, equity, and inclusion in companies.

The largest American report of its kind, it also shows that female leaders now choose to exchange their positions for new ones in a historically unprecedented wave of change, while their female colleagues in other positions display a similar trend. These two female-oriented trends vastly outweigh that of their male counterparts’ current position in the job market. The report features the feedback of over 40,000 female employees, including women of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities, and was designed to bring biases and barriers into the spotlight.

One possible catalyst for this new epoch is COVID-19, as the international crisis uncovered marked disparities in the division of work—especially between parents—both at home and at the office. As more parents started working from home, statistics showed that, at first, women left their jobs to better deal with primary caregiver responsibilities. Now, this trend appears to have opened the eyes of many working women to the realities of the tangible and intangible skills and labour they bring to the workplace. These are often overlooked and, therefore, unacknowledged and unpaid.

One example of such work is the worker wellness aspect that female leaders tend to promote and make possible. “They are doing more to support employee well-being and foster inclusion, but this critical work is spreading them thin and going mostly unrewarded,” says the McKinsey report. Nearly half of the female executives interviewed indicated that their contribution to the improvement of diversity and inclusion was ignored in official performance reviews. Alongside this, over 40 percent of female leaders also report burnout in contrast to just over 30 percent of males.

For companies, the realities of women #EmbracingEquity are far-reaching. As women—and particularly women of color—have historically sparsely populated leadership positions, firms are now scrambling to retain those women holding such positions. On paper, at least. Because the vast majority of female leaders interviewed during the research used in the McKinsey report underscored a few major issues facing women in such positions.

These include subtle undermining behaviours from non-female colleagues, like having their capabilities taken into question, and less obvious acts of misogyny. Predictions are that if firms do not take active steps to change this trend, they can lose more than just this generation of female leaders. Thanks to a new generation of empowered women who know their worth, traditionally led companies that are slow out of the blocks also stand to lose the next generation of women leaders to high-equity and more inclusive opportunities, according to the study.

In a job market where qualified people are difficult to come by, it is imperative that firms take a long hard look at how they can #EmbraceEquity. The first issue that needs to be remedied, studies suggest, is the “broken first rung.” This refers to a long-observed issue preventing women from ascending the corporate ladder. Statistics show a significant deficit in female promotions from junior positions, leaving women behind in the climb to executive positions. The result is that there are not sufficient women to employ in such leadership roles, perpetuating the situation.

While the road to change may seem steep to some, it may help to consider that diversity and inclusion increase the performance of teams authentically engaged in and supportive of this zeitgeist. For this reason, #EmbracingEquity stands to revolutionize how we work, both in groups and remotely. Because if women in leadership and junior roles start stepping up to bring positive change to the workplace in the ways they know best, corporate culture stands to gain much in terms of the improved overall health of the ecosystems in which people spend most of their lives. And that is no small matter. They also stand to gain a robust tenacity borne of the multi-layered skill sets that diverse teams offer.

But how is this achieved? By seeing one’s role within the bigger picture and educating oneself on what equity in the workplace is and what it is not, it is possible to establish a solid understanding of how to move forward to make it happen in a corporate environment. Once this effort is complete, one should take time to assess the health of your organization in-depth to get an overview of the current realities and where changes need to be brought about. To help simplify matters, Recruitee.com offers a free tool to include freelance staff in this type of assessment.

Consider typical areas of discrepancy such as wages, perks, authority, et cetera. Look at your leadership team and ensure that it reflects the company’s values around equity by ensuring that it is inclusive and diverse rather than a homogeneous group. Once everyone is on the same page about the expected outcomes of the positive intervention to establish equity in a company, it is necessary to go over your hiring process to cultivate a trend toward employing people from a more diverse demographic.

To get everyone on board, take the time to establish what incentives will speak to whom and implement a program whereby people can feel good about change. Finally, ensure that the entry level to resources is equal for all and that sufficient training and mentors are available to help ease the process and provide structure and support for employees during and following the transition. By engaging the conversation and embracing equity, the world of work promises to become a much friendlier, healthier, and more fulfilling place.



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