This year’s theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) is #Breakingthebias, writes Vicky Walker, as businesses around the globe join forces in an attempt to achieve a gender-equal world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.
Workplaces must tackle gender bias. The good news is that there is sufficient research and strategies available to support and guide businesses on this #breakingthebias journey.
Unconscious bias refers to prejudice (including one’s attitude or beliefs about others) that we are unaware of. This can include stereotyping and creating misinformation, which can impact how we evaluate talent, performance and promotions in the workplace. In a study, the second most common reason reported for discrimination in the workplace is gender. More than 1 in 20 UK adults (5.3%) reported that they’ve experienced discrimination at work based on their gender and 4.7% said that they’ve been refused a job due to gender discrimination.
On top of this, studies also show a clear association between perceptions of successful managers and what is considered typically ‘male’ characteristics – this means that when it comes to progression in the workplace, women are at risk of falling behind due to unconscious biases.
There are several ways employers can mitigate this bias in the workplace. Questioning organisation norms is a good way to stop discriminatory culture from evolving in your workplace; the Implicit Awareness Test (IAT) is an excellent tool to start with, as it measures unconscious bias and helps you determine what changes need to be made. Such changes thereon could include building a comprehensive programme to introduce the topic of implicit bias for the entire business, setting gender-neutral recruitment standards, standardising interview questions, and considering setting diversity goals to create a more gender-balanced team.
Mentoring the next generation of female leaders
According to Heidrick & Struggles, 30 per cent of women said their mentoring relationships were extremely important, compared to 23 per cent of men, showing it is still an ideal method to help women progress as much as their male counterparts.
A successful mentoring programme involves communication and commitment from both the mentor and mentee. Mentors want to grasp a truthful impression of how the mentee feels about making a sincere effort to disclose their situation and aspirations.
The best mentors are good listeners – they ask the right questions, provide appropriate advice and offer the best support. A successful programme offers adequate training, measures mentee results, and uses the right mentoring software. It’s all about collaboration with employee growth in mind.
Supporting women’s issues
For women to feel included in the workplace and help them progress throughout their careers, it’s essential to support them with wellbeing issues that might impact their work. Matters specific to women such as menopause, returning to work after maternity leave, and pregnancy should be supported.
For example, according to a recent Forbes study, women suffer from menopause long before they seek help and one-fifth of women surveyed had experienced symptoms for a year or more before being assessed by a healthcare provider.
However, what is more concerning is that more than one million women also feel the pressure to quit their job due to symptoms of menopause, according to childcare service Koru Kids. On top of this, research from Jean Hailes for Women’s Health 1 showed that 60 per cent of women will experience mild to moderate menopausal symptoms such as brain fog, anxiety and mood changes – all of which can be hugely distressing, especially in the workplace.
While a healthy lifestyle can positively impact menopause symptoms, a supportive line manager, a menopausal support policy, and flexible working can also help. Studies indicate that support from others is important and that women are more likely to speak up about symptoms where they feel they have empathetic colleagues or managers.
Creating training programmes helps raise awareness for both employees and managers to understand the challenges women can face while at work, and this provides better work-life balance, where women feel less pressure if they’re experiencing health issues.
Vicky Walker is Director of People at Westfield Health.