International Women’s Day: How companies can do more to advance gender equality

March 8, 2021 Alexandra Anders

The days when women had to fight for the right to vote, the right to work and indeed the right to open their own bank account may be behind us, but even now full equality between the sexes is still a long way off. All the more reason to mark International Women’s Day, which takes place this year on 8 March. In many cases, women are not afforded the same opportunities as their male colleagues, despite holding the same qualifications. We still have a lot of ground to catch up in this area. So how can companies prevent this (sometimes inadvertent) gender inequality and offer genuinely equal opportunities to everyone?

Women make up around 51% of the UK’s population, but they are underrepresented in many areas of life. From the gender pay gap to the gender care gap, the inequality that exists between men and women can quickly and easily be quantified. One example is the adjusted gender pay gap, which calculates the difference in earnings between men and women with comparable qualifications, jobs and employment histories. In the UK, the gender pay gap is 7.4% among full time employees and 15.5% of all employees. Similar inequality can be seen in the number of women in management positions. The CEO gender gap indicates that only 5% of senior jobs at big companies are held by women. This is not just a problem in the world of senior management either. In the UK government, only 34% of MPs are women. At a global level, this means that the UK only ranks at 38th place. Added to this is the fact that women are more likely than men to be carrying out unpaid care work, they are often left with the responsibility of looking after their children, for example, or family members in need of care. On average, women carry out approximately 52.4% more unpaid care work than men. As a result, they are often at a financial disadvantage, as less work at lower pay means lower pension contributions.

What concrete action can companies take to advance gender equality?

Many of these problems appear to be rooted in our society. But since we often find them creeping into the workplace, we have to ask ourselves: how can companies overcome inequalities in pay and work opportunities?

A frequent argument for why women earn less than men is that women tend to be employed in lower-paid professions and/or on a part-time basis. This may be part of the problem, but it does not show the whole picture. The adjusted gender pay gap has been designed specifically to filter out these differences and compare the salary discrepancy in similar employment situations. In many cases, this outcome is based on salary negotiations – and not on a transparent, universally accessible policy indexed to qualifications and professional experience.

But addressing this discrepancy will not be enough to increase the proportion of women at executive level in UK companies. Everyone knows that it will take time to achieve a fairer representation of women here. In the long term, though, it clearly makes sense to have more women on the management teams of UK companies. Why? Because for one thing, all-male teams are not reflective of our society. It has also been proven that the number of women on a team determines the collective intelligence of that team. A 2011 Harvard University study entitled “What Makes a Team Smarter? More Women” showed that teams with a larger number of women benefitted from greater collective intelligence. Having highly qualified women at the management levels of our companies has an impact therefore not only on the image of the company, but also on its success.

Living diversity in today’s working world

The demographics clearly show that our society is diverse rather than homogeneous. Companies should not ignore this fact, but should instead strive to reflect it in their workforce. If a company has made a commitment to diversity, it will have to make some adjustments at defining points to deliver on that commitment. Examples are being set here by a number of companies, including UK-based social media management company, Buffer, which commit to publishing every employee’s salary online to ensure fairness and media company, Sky and its Women in Leadership programme, which commits to engage 50% of women in leadership roles.

The pandemic has also driven many UK companies to adopt flexible working models. Even companies with more of a conservative leaning, which had previously never given their employees the option to work from home, were forced to change their approach at very short notice. In the post-pandemic era, such companies cannot allow themselves to go back to their pre-coronavirus working practices. Their employees will have grown accustomed to the newly won freedoms and opportunities of working from home, and will not want to give them up. But in the UK in particular, while the home office trend has helped to advance digitalisation, women that had to balance childcare with work duties may have struggled, hindering diversity even more. Companies must mitigate this potential setback by laying the groundwork now, having open discussions about what needs to change.

Diversity and inclusion are also high priorities for Cornerstone OnDemand. All roles have been re-considered and divided into levels in a bid to eliminate the gender pay gap. Employees that hold the same position receive the same salary and the same number of company shares. Differences only exist when it comes to bonus payments – but here too, the amount is determined by performance and not by gender. In addition, managers are judged on how they build their teams as part of their performance appraisal. Diversity and inclusion are important factors here. As Cornerstone wants its teams to be as diverse as possible, deciding between similarly qualified male and female applicants can be difficult and requires extremely careful consideration. No individual should be discriminated against based on their gender.

Flexible working models and the opportunity to work from home have become established practices at Cornerstone. For us, set working hours are a thing of the past. Cornerstone employees can arrange their working hours around the needs of their children, so that parents can combine working full-time with family life. This concept has been very well received according to the results of the Future of Work survey, which Cornerstone conducts among its employees every three months. This survey gives us a regular opportunity to learn what our employees want from us and how we can make improvements over time. 

Equality is not just something that improves the lives of women. Men, too, can gain many benefits from the long overdue establishment of gender equal. Diverse teams increase collaboration efficiency, flexible working models enable more full-time positions, and transparent salary models mean fair pay for everyone. In summary, diversity is no longer just “nice to have”; it has become a must have for all companies.

If you would like to find out more about the topic of diversity, I recommend reading “Get Diversity right! 3 things HR needs to consider” and “7 ways to put DEIB at the centre of your recruiting strategy” to learn about how to boost diversity in your organisation. You can also check out the latest series of the HR Labs podcast, which explores further topics and conversations within diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging.

This blog was originally published in the Cornerstone German blog.

About the Author

Alexandra Anders

Alexandra Anders is an innovative HR Leader with experience in a diverse range of industries and particular expertise in the implementation of successful change management and performance management tools. Passionate about diversity, inclusion, effective training, development and recruitment processes, and highly competent at implementing strategic HRM with a focus on driving performance and retaining talent in the global economy.

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