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Gender equality is predicted to take more than a lifetime to achieve, over 99.5 years to be precise, signalling that more needs to be done to attain parity in the workplace. Enabling women to meet their full potential at work could add as much as $28 trillion (£20 trillion equivalent) to global annual GDP by 2025 and businesses are central to instigating lasting and impactful change.

With International Women’s Day, celebrated on 08 March, focusing on the theme “Choose to Challenge”, what are some of the ways businesses can improve gender diversity in the workplace?

1)     Understand what gender diversity achieves

Rather than just a DEI (diversity, equality, inclusion) tick box exercise, businesses must genuinely understand the positive impact gender diversity can have on culture and the bottom line. Harvard Business Review cites that gender diversity can lead to greater: productivity; innovation; connection with customers; and recruitment and retention rates, to name a few.

2)     Minimise the impact of Covid-19

The pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on women, with the IMF finding significant mobility drop-off in comparison to men – coinciding with lockdowns and school closures. This suggests an imbalanced childcare burden, potentially jeopardising women’s employment opportunities. Domestic chores are also disproportionally split, with women spending on average 265 minutes a day on unpaid care work compared to 83 minutes for men. In fact, the UK government was recently criticised for reinforcing gender stereotypes with its “stay home, save lives” advert, depicting women doing all the domestic chores.

Businesses must understand the additional pressures placed on women during the pandemic and be brave about discussing it in the workplace, to create greater awareness about what certain groups are going through. The IMF has even called for targeted policy intervention, enabling men and women to take parental leave to look after children – so it does not lead to a persistent widening of gender inequality.

3)     Question recruitment and retention norms

Women can be ruled out because they don’t fit a traditional business profile – but cognitive diversity is crucial to moving organisations away from herd thinking. By keeping an open mind about the hiring process, fishing from different talent pools and considering transferable skills from other industries – diverse candidates can be recruited. Ensuring new hires are then supported, understanding their personal and professional preferences and feasibility to work across multiple locations and attend out of hours functions for example, can help employees – and women in particular – feel empowered and make a positive impact in role.

4)      Facilitate authenticity

Traditional DEI strategies tended to focus on trying to change diverse talent by “coaching” them to be more confident or to express themselves differently, rather than celebrating diversity in thought. By encouraging authenticity, allowing women to be themselves at work, enables them to be more genuine and impactful in role. Freeing women from the shackles of organisational conformity, where they must behave in a certain way to achieve career goals or recognition, liberates them to focus their energies on succeeding.

Encouraging and facilitating leadership roles in early stages of careers is particularly important for gender parity too. It enables women to learn on the job, find their own authentic leadership style, and be visible to younger generations that it is possible to succeed in role and industry.

Whilst it is apparent there is a long way to go for true gender equality in the workplace, businesses have a crucial role to play in changing the narrative – by ensuring that practices are set up to support DEI and efforts made to counterbalance any circumstances that can set the agenda back. By being brave, challenging the status quo, women can have more opportunities to realise their full potential at work – resulting in positive ramifications for businesses globally.