Article 2: Six Ways To Tackle Workplace Inequality In 2021

By SALLY PERCY
Published: Mar 8, 2021,03:00am EST

Tackling inequality is not the role of one GETTY

The theme of International Women’s Day 2021 is “Choose to Challenge”. Challenge is important because often it’s only through challenge that we can move forward in positive ways. Here six female leaders share their recommendations for what leaders should be doing next to tackle workplace inequality:

1. Recognize that tackling inequality is not the role of one, it’s the coming together of everyone

“I was once told that I’m ‘scary’,” comments Teresa Boughey, founder of development consultancy Jungle HR and author of Closing the Gap. “Bemused by this I asked for further clarification, to be told ‘Well, you’re a woman, you’re educated, experienced, you have a strong view and will challenge. Some find this scary’.”

Boughey, a member of the U.K’s All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Women and Enterprise, and Women and Work, argues that the rise of women is not about the fall of men. It’s about valuing the unique difference we all bring. “Gender balance is a whole-society issue where everyone has a role in bringing about change,” she says. “Leaders need to demonstrate advocacy and an inclusive mindset, but also encourage everyone to commit to calling out inequality and involve them in decision-making.”

2. Stop encouraging “mother’s guilt”

“Mother’s guilt is an incredibly powerful emotion that can lead to catastrophic consequences,” notes Dr Lucy Davey, a medical doctor and coach for professional and executive mothers. “In my work, I have encountered many professional and executive mothers for whom motherhood brings a loss of identity. Women are encouraged to pursue successful careers, yet sadly the assumption is that we should compromise career and lifestyle.”

Davey believes the pandemic is empowering women like never before. “It is enabling leaders of industry to revolutionize recruitment, redefine their job plans, and unearth an incredibly talented pool of women capable of outperforming all expectations,” she says. “Reigniting lost and dormant talents can help women overcome mother’s guilt and devise a path that allows them to stand out on their own.”

3. Recognize intersectionality to further widen perspectives

Intersectionality is the term coined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe how race, class, gender, and other individual characteristics, “intersect” with one another.

“Bear in mind women fit in more than one category, so equal opportunities should be opened up to everyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, sexuality and disability, to raise up all women,” says Birgitta Sjöstrand, a leadership trainer based in Sweden and author of Outstanding in the Middle.

She believes that leaders need to open their eyes to the “tremendous people out there” by “working with staff, trainers, and speakers who could give a perspective you haven’t even considered yet”. She adds: “Give everyone a chance to shine.”

4. Embed flexible working

The mass shift to flexible working that accompanied the Covid-19 pandemic has proved to skeptical bosses everywhere that the concept really can work. “The pandemic has seen more businesses than ever embrace flexible working and proved it can be successful in most industries,” says Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO of business insurance provider Tapoly.

She continues: “Flexible working now needs to be embedded into future working practices, because it could help women access new opportunities by making it easier to balance other commitments.”

5. Take a holistic approach to diversity and inclusion (D&I)

“Leaders ought to take an intersectional and holistic approach to tackling workplace inequality,” says Justina Mutale, African Woman of the Year 2012, founder of the Justina Mutale Foundation and author of The Art of Iconic Leadership. This can be achieved through D&I strategies and diverse and inclusive working environments that empower the workforce to contribute their full potential and allow their voices to be heard.

“Job opportunities, roles, responsibilities and remunerations should be based on merit and not on race or gender,” Mutale recommends. “Having a workforce that represents the true diversity of the world brings the magic to make teams thrive.”

6. Address unconscious bias

Mindy Gibbins-Klein, international speaker and managing director of Panoma Press and The Book Midwife, recalls being at meetings and noticing “something like an old boys’ network starting to form”. She explains: “I have always tried to raise it to the group leader and members involved who, more often than not, didn’t even realize.”

While unconscious bias is a reality of today’s workplace, Gibbins-Klein doesn’t believe it’s constructive to “go immediately to an antagonistic position, shaming and blaming”. She says: “This puts the other party on the defensive and makes them less likely to want to work with you.”

According to Gibbins-Klein: “A thoughtful leader assesses each situation, decides if it is worth challenging and then shares his or her opinion in a considered way so that the person he or she is talking to responds instead of reacts.”

Choose to challenge the status quo

The last 12 months have been a difficult period of for millions of women around the world. In many ways, this period has also marked a setback, rather than progress, in the march toward gender equality. With the rollout of vaccines offering hope that Covid-19 will finally be brought under control, now is a great time for leaders everywhere to choose to challenge the status quo in the workplace. They can do this by taking practical actions that will help to unleash the full potential of women everywhere.

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