It is International Women’s Day, and this year we rally to #BreakTheBias.
As a business leader, my focus is always on our greatest asset: our people. Retaining and supporting personnel is an area that demands immediate innovation.
Across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has stifled gender equality and has turned our work lives – for both women and men – upside down.
There has been a lot of talk of “going back” to work, but now is a time for moving forward, so let’s seize the opportunity to innovate, and finally address the working parent conundrum.
This year, I write not in my capacity as a female business leader, but in my personal capacity as a new working co-parent.
The pandemic has blended our domestic selves with our professional lives, and in that spirit, I share with you my recipe – and I invite you to share yours – for breaking the bias.
Step 1: A spoonful of mobility
Remove the barriers to workplace mobility. Moving jobs (internally or externally) is often critical to a person’s growth in the context of both the corporate ladder and the paycheck.
Women can be trapped in a job for potentially a decade or more of their corporate lives during their child-bearing years.
This can be attributed to probation periods; eligibility requirements for maternity leave; clawback policies for maternity pay; lack of time with the demands of a current job, coupled with life demands; or, perhaps most tragically, when management assume that a mother may not want a promotion or some other opportunity due to family commitments.
I am therefore concerned that when women don’t move jobs due to these barriers, this will have an outsized impact on companies’ needs for talent – and, of course, on the gender gap.
We must remove these barriers, provide that development, and see women move up and progress.
The same goes for partners: support reasonable mobility moves that enable a mobility success for someone else.
That might mean transferring a husband from London to Zurich so his wife can take an awesome job, and his commitment to his company will soar. Win, win.
Step 2: A pint of transparency
The currency of mobility is greatly enhanced by transparency – and that transparency should be encouraged.
So share, share, and share some more – in interviews, in meetings, on your homepage, your LinkedIn, everywhere, for people to see. Compete with your competitors on these actions.
- How are you making sure there is no bias in your hiring practices? This can go further than “we are an equal-opportunity employer” – instead walk the talk.
Put more women on interview panels. Understand the implications of imposter syndrome. Write job postings in a gender-neutral framework. Don’t ask for current salaries in job application processes.
- How are you rewarding senior leaders for diversity goal success? What are the actions being taken? Do you celebrate successes? Share them. Openly.
- How is your company really supporting diversity success? With tangible actions aligned to the actual needs of women? Do you talk to women about what they need and feel, other than in exit interviews?
Are women bearing the mental load at home and at work? Empower employees to appropriately engage administrative staff for administrative work. Engage employees to align change to needs.
Little adjustments we may have never even thought of can make a big impact. Why not ask: what is one little thing we could do to make your day-to-day way better?
- How do you support women breastfeeding at work? Do you have purpose-built rooms that make the activity feel more working-spa, and less working-cow? I’ll never forget a family member being offered a beautiful glass room for pumping.
- How soon do you offer maternity and paternity leave benefits to a new employee? Do you provide monetary benefit for early returners to offset childcare costs?
From experience, it is completely impossible to work immediately after childbirth, and the idea of not paying the salary of an employee who has a baby seems impossible. Thoughtful support for mothers who do return early makes all the difference.
So offer options! Win with a flexible policy that aligns with the physical and mental reality of each person. Don’t cut off computer access unless desired by the mother. Get maternity covers. Offer compensation to those who elect to come back early.
And don’t forget about employees while they are away – see if they are interested in that promotion too, perhaps? And if it’s the wrong time, there may be a right time later.
- Do you provide expecting parents with access to coaching, both physical and mental, to prepare for the balancing act to follow? That would be très cool. It was a game-changer for me. What about time off for the first trimester?
What about supporting parents to take time off at same time – primary parents together? And consider how to help in the workplace for those mothers and fathers who have to live through baby loss.
- How do your mothers go on business trips? Do you have a company daycare? That may be too good to be true at present, but it is certain that one day companies will compete on just this.
But for now, at least, thinking about monetary support for daycare and enabling business trips is a step forward.
And by the way, let’s not make policies a dark art of forcing impossible acrobatics (or Excel formulas) to see if you fall within them. Make your support and actions clear and simple.
Which leads to the next critical requirement for making this recipe perfect – flexibility!
Step 3: A gallon of flexibility
Be agreeable to things that can be done some other time or some other place.
Being flexible will be one of the biggest enablers of keeping women and their partners that care for children, or elderly parents, in the workforce.
These dependents require specific things at specific times: daycare pick-ups, doctors visits, dinner, bedtime, etc.
Many emails can be written at another time and place, so let them be flexible. That doesn’t mean we have to give up critical in-office interactions, but those interactions don’t have to be every day or every hour.
And remember, a dad or a partner being able to work from home might mean that a mother is able to work from the office or from home herself.
We must make it sustainable for women and men with children to stay in the workforce without failing at both jobs.
Show flexibility and see women stay. And for those women who have chosen to reduce or exit: allow them to rejoin happily.
Step 4: A cup of good old economics
That leads us to economics and finance.
Many household income statements just don’t make sense once a child enters the scene.
Revenue: $4,000 a month (salary). Expenses: $5,000 (childcare). You would be unlikely to give a loan to that company, right?
Yet we ask parents to suffer these costs without much thought, and they do! Many parents are willing to work for surprisingly little take home pay – for the love of their work and their ambition. Others, unsurprisingly, leave the workforce because they are effectively paying to work.
So yes, solving the gender gap will require enabling financially sound decisions, not just with salaries but with expenses too.
So put your money where your mouth is to develop and hire the right people for the right roles at the right salaries. Make protected budgets for diversity-enabling expenses. Make all these a clear line item that won’t get cut.
Step 5: Discard the shame
Shame is never a good part of any recipe. Life events and life decisions inadvertently create complex workplace situations, resulting in short- or long-term shame.
But the shame may be there – knowingly or otherwise – for many employees and for many reasons.
Creating a culture of shamelessness is all about breaking our biases and embracing our recipes.
Like any good family recipe, our #BreakTheBias recipes will get improved upon each time one of us “cooks”, so it will take our global village taste-testing.
And then we can celebrate what we all hope to celebrate:
- Let’s celebrate closing the gender gap
- Let’s celebrate breaking the bias once and for all