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The future of equality

How to #BreakTheBias this International Women’s Day

The future of equality

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), an annual event that marks a call to action for raising awareness about women’s equality and accelerating gender parity.

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The theme for International Women’s Day 2022 is #BreakTheBias and, as the organizers of this global campaign point out, “whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead. Knowing that bias exists isn’t enough. Action is needed to level the playing field.”

It is a noble and particularly timely campaign. Although many groups have been affected by both the pandemic and the Great Resignation, none have been more so than women and women of color.

A DEEPENING DIVIDE

Unfortunately, the playing field is still far from level, and the pandemic has only worsened existing problems. In fact, the Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey & Company and Lean-in.Org, showed that many women are more burned out now than before the pandemic and are leaving the workforce in record numbers. One in four women said they were thinking about reducing or leaving paid work due to the pandemic, citing company inflexibility, caring responsibilities, and stress. So, why is that?

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Before The Great Resignation, we had made great strides toward a gender-balanced workforce. But the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on women and women of color, particularly if they are caregivers. Emma Codd, Deloitte global inclusion leader, said the pandemic “has been a ‘perfect storm’ for many women facing increased workloads and greater responsibilities at home, a blurring of the boundaries between the two, and continued experiences of non-inclusive behaviors at work.”

And the gender-based pay gap may mean more women are leaving the workforce for caretaking responsibilities than men. It is not just because women are said to be more nurturing, but because it becomes an economically more viable family decision to give up the smaller income.

Another reason women are exiting the workforce is a lack of recognition for certain kinds of work. On average, women have a higher degree of emotional intelligence then men. They bring love and care into the workplace; from supporting their teams, to helping employees manage workloads, to checking in on employee well-being, women leaders are stepping up to the challenges presented by the pandemic. However, these are often activities that the McKinsey report refers to as “work that contributes to the business but isn’t taken into account in performance reviews, doesn’t lead to advancement, and isn’t compensated.” These traits will foster a long-term sustainable corporate culture fueling growth.

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In other words, even when women go the extra mile to keep their teams productive and engaged during a pandemic, this work is often unrecognized and overlooked. This can also hamper equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts by discouraging leaders from investing their time in unrecognized work activity.

A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY TO GET IT RIGHT

The reality is that many women are less optimistic about their career prospects today than ever before. Despite these findings, there is a glimmer of hope both for women and for organizations who embrace the right staffing strategies.

Deloitte calls those organization that get it right “gender equality leaders” because they have “created more inclusive and trusting cultures where women feel they are better supported.” And there are major benefits to be had:

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  • 70% of women who work for these leading organizations rate their productivity as “good” or “very good,” compared to just 29% of lagging organizations (defined as businesses with a less inclusive, low-trust culture).
  • 72% of women who work for gender equality leaders rating their job satisfaction as “good” or “extremely good,” compared with just 21% of women who work for lagging organizations.

“Companies cannot afford to miss the signals of talent attrition,” said Lareina Yee, a senior partner at McKinsey & Company. “It’s time to invest in the leaders who have kept companies afloat throughout the challenges of the past two years.”

As a society, we have learned how to deal with unemployment—and often, country leaders and their opponents measure themselves on metrics like job creation and unemployment rates. But how do you measure the impact of underemployment on certain segments of the population?

We have an amazing pool of highly skilled, ambitious workers sitting at home while employers suffer from a major skills-gap and high attrition. It is time to tap into this asset source.

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#BREAKTHEBIAS IN YOUR ORGANIZATION

Many organizations have been making important strides towards equity, diversity, and inclusion. However, the pandemic and the Great Resignation have brought about new challenges to these initiatives. Offsetting this impact on women in the workforce requires that organizations rethink work environments, pay and compensation structures, employment policies, re-entry benefits or ramped re-entry programs, and more.

OpenText, for one, has committed to a majority diverse workforce by 2030, and policies such as this are a critical step to furthering equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives.

It comes down to a commitment, not only to the women who have left a job during the pandemic, but also to those who have left for personal reasons like raising a family pre-pandemic, or highly educated women who never entered the workforce, choosing the path of motherhood and caretaker as their early ‘career.’ Having successfully done that, many are now ready and eager to re-enter the workforce, and hiring managers must put their unconscious bias against employment gaps aside. They should be welcomed with open arms by organizations that will allow them to flourish and grow through sound onboarding strategies, flexible work schedules, work-leisure balance, and career paths that provide growth opportunities.

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In fact, an increasing number of organizations—such as Amazon, EY, Goldman Sachs and O2—have developed “returnship” programs designed to provide women returning to work with the skills and training they may have missed. These women often have excellent academic credentials but little work experience—or large gaps in their employment history. Organizations need to consider different methods and programs to attract this talent pool, such as contract-to-hire, job sharing (even in front-line management roles), and freelancing and corporate crowdsourcing of high-impact projects or programs.

We also know that women tend to have difficulty negotiating salary or raises, and often undervalue their contributions to the workplace. To help address the gender-based pay gap, hiring managers need to rethink their final offer conversations with women, and we must continue lobbying for adoption, revision, and enforcement of EPAs (Equal Pay Acts).

The future of equality at work is about creating a corporate culture based on trust and empowerment that encourages and allows all women to flourish—no matter their circumstance at home. Let’s build a modern workplace where women thrive!

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In other words, as we celebrate IWD 2022, what it should come down to is this: The time to #BreakThe Bias is now.

Kristina Lengyel is the executive vice president of customer solutions at OpenText. Read more from Kristina on Fast Company here.

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