3 Ways to Create a More Equitable Work Environment
March 17, 2023 – Every year on International Women’s Day, Jessica Pezim, principal consultant at The Bedford Consulting Group, reflects on how far women have come in the workforce compared to her mother’s generation and the advances she hopes we will make by the time her children enter the workforce. “In contemplating this year’s theme, ‘Embrace Equity,’ I realized how much I have focused on equality in the past, so this felt like a timely opportunity to shift the narrative,” she wrote in a recent report. “I am passionate about DEI and have invested significant time educating myself on this important topic – how had I not addressed gender equity? Do people understand the distinction between these related terms?”
The difference between equity and equality
While the terms equity and equality may sound similar, the implementation of one vs. the other can lead to dramatically different outcomes for marginalized people. “Equality is about giving everyone the exact same resources and opportunities,” said Ms. Pezim. “Equity recognizes that each person or group has different circumstances and allocates the resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. In other words, equality is the end goal. Equity is how we get there.”
Gender equity is critical to furthering the progress necessary to achieve gender equality, said the report. Giving women equal rights is not enough to tackle existing inequalities in the workplace; while we have made progress, it slowed during the COVID-19 pandemic which disproportionately affected women. “The 2022 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report states it will take 132 years to gain gender equality –in 2020, that gap was set to close within 100 years,” said The Bedford Consulting Group. “There are still far more men than women in leadership positions across a range of industries which is only amplified if you focus on women of color. We need to do better.”
1. Attracting More Women to your Organization
Organizations should evaluate their current recruitment processes to ensure they are inclusive, said the report. How are managers identifying candidates for jobs? “If they are solely relying on their personal networks, that can materially impact the diversity of the talent pool due to homophily, or people’s tendency to seek out others who are similar to themselves,” said The Bedford Consulting Group. “Are job descriptions using gender neutral language? Research has shown that women are less likely to apply for a job if the ideal candidate is described with traditionally masculine language such as ‘competitive’ or ‘aggressive.’ Are all the qualifications listed truly necessary?…If qualifications are a nice to have but not truly core to the role, remove them.”
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Once organizations start assessing applicants, there are several ways in which unconscious bias, particularly gender bias, can impact the selection process. Awareness is the first step in assessing candidates impartially which can be facilitated through education – any employee who has a hand in hiring talent should receive unconscious bias training, which should include gender bias training. “Those responsible for reviewing resumes and conducting interviews should be diverse – not only to ensure a diverse slate of candidates but because interviewers are a reflection of their organization and interviewer diversity sends a message to candidates about what they can expect the organization to look like,” said the report. “Further, an organization’s recruitment process needs to be structured and focused on role specific job criteria.”
2. Retaining Current Female Employees & Supporting Their Career Development
There are several actions organizations can take to ensure attrition rates, particularly of women, remain low. Organizations need to set gender equity goals and hold their leaders accountable – goals should be tied to leaders’ annual incentive, they should be transparent and they should be reported publicly. While consistent DEI training is a good start, a McKinsey & Company report suggests offering more targeted and action oriented training to better equip managers to support their teams. Organizations should examine their benefits to ensure they are offering flexible and supportive benefits which are improving women’s working experience.
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“With respect to performance reviews and promotions, organizations need to revisit their current processes and take specific targeted steps to address inequities that currently exist,” said The Bedford Consulting Group. “This includes determining where the largest gap in promotions for women currently lies and addressing it, conducting pay audits at all levels to assess gender wage gaps and rectifying any that are uncovered.”
3. Engaging Men in the Gender Equity Discussion
All genders are essential to making progress towards gender equity, but without male allyship and advocacy, current efforts will not be enough, said the report. Research shows that one of the best ways to engage more men in gender equity initiatives is to disprove the zero sum bias that disincentivizes their participation. “And while zero sum thinking has been invalidated by the data, men still believe they will have to make sacrifices in order for women to make gains,” said The Bedford Consulting Group. “The narrative needs to shift from the current state where women advancing means they are taking a bigger chunk of the pie at men’s expense to one where gender equity is mutually beneficial – the business case is clear that organizations who commit to closing the gender gap see significant gains that result in an expanded pie with more for everyone.”
We have made significant progress on gender equity in the workplace, but if we truly want to #EmbraceEquity, there is a long road ahead. “While this article focused on gender, I would be remiss if I did not address other groups who are also striving towards equity in the workplace and who just as urgently need our commitment and support breaking the barriers they currently experience based on neurodivergence, race, socioeconomic status, age, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity etc.” said Ms. Pezim. “The bottom line? Creating an equitable workplace that allows each team member to thrive and that celebrates diversity across all facets breeds teams that are better at problem-solving, innovating and who achieve better financial results. I am hopeful that as a society, we are working towards a future where, by the time my children enter the workforce, the need for gender equity won’t be a topic of discussion, because it will be the norm.”
The Bedford Consulting Group, led by co-founders and brothers Steven Pezim and Howard Pezim, is a privately held executive search and talent advisory firm. Its services span the spectrum of talent management, including leadership assessment, coaching and development, and compensation advisory, as well as executive, managerial and senior technical recruitment. Established in 1979, the Bedford Group has three offices in Canada: Toronto, Oakville (Ontario), and Vancouver, all of which consult with clients throughout North America and globally.
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Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media