Why Gender Equality Should be an HR Priority in your Organisation

Covid-19 affected different genders differently. Here's why HR should prioritise managing gender equality, diversity, and equal opportunities in the workplace.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing workplace inequalities and threatened to set back gender equality, research has found.

Women have been forced to drop out of employment in alarming numbers. They have taken on disproportionate amounts of unpaid labour such as managing childcare and housework, but the result is that they are experiencing burnout at higher levels than their male counterparts.

So, what does this mean for HR? 

It goes without saying that gender equality in the workplace is a moral and legal imperative: as we know, the Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace, including discrimination based on gender, and stipulates that they must have equal opportunities for hiring and promotion.

According to McKinsey's Women in the Workplace 2021 report, the pandemic has increased inequalities, but it is also an opportunity to prioritise diversity and equality as organisations move forward beyond COVID. 

HR is all about supporting and bringing out the best in your people. If gender equality isn't already one of your top priorities, here's why it should be. 

What equality issues do marginalised genders face in the workplace?

Gender equality in the workplace is about making sure that women (trans and cis women) and non-binary people experience equal opportunities and do not suffer from bias or discrimination. Unfortunately, women and non-binary people in the workforce often do not experience equal opportunities and are held back by issues such as:

  • Inequality due to maternity discrimination and the motherhood penalty
  • Sexual harassment, especially against Queer and trans women. 
  • Lack of pay transparency.
  • The glass ceiling: women being promoted at lower rates than their male counterparts due to bias, especially for women of colour (only 86 women are promoted compared to every 100 men).
  • Under-representation of women in senior leadership roles, which then contributes to the gender pay gap in the workforce.

These gender related issues are often met by other forms of discrimination and bias that employees of colour and people with disabilities encounter at work. 

And while many companies have diversity policies aimed at managing gender inclusion - a study by Boston Consulting Group found that 98% of organisations had gender policies - only a quarter of the employees these policies are aimed at find them beneficial for equality. It's clear that HR needs to start doing more to benefit different genders equally in the workforce. 

Why Should Managing Gender Equality be a Top Priority for HR in 2022? 

Managing employee wellbeing and engagement

Discrimination based on gender can have negative impacts on the wellbeing and engagement of employees. For example, women are more likely to be interrupted, be spoken down to, or to have their judgement or skills questioned, which can negatively impact their confidence and wellbeing in the workplace

These are often referred to as ‘microaggressions’, and two thirds of women experience microaggressions in the workplace, with women of colour and Queer women experiencing significantly more.

The negative impacts of this form of discrimination are especially pronounced for Black women and other women of colour who face these as well as additional racist microaggressions. In fact, the rise of working from home due to coronavirus has been a relief for many Black women who saw it as a break from the microaggressions because of their gender and race at work

With female employees' wellbeing and performance suffering because of microaggressions, it's vital that HR takes action with anti-discrimination campaigns that make it clear that race, sexuality, and gender-based microaggressions are a form of discrimination that is unacceptable in the workplace. 

Boosting employee retention

With a surge of resignations in 2021, managing employee turnover has become an increasingly important priority for HR. Even pre-pandemic, employee retention was cited by HR professionals as their top workforce management challenge, and the challenge has only grown since then. 

Employee turnover rates have not been equal between genders. In fact, women have been leaving their jobs at twice the rate that men have. Many women were compelled to quit because of burnout and the pressures of caring for children and elders during the pandemic. Others lost their jobs because women are over-represented in part-time work and sectors such as retail and hospitality which were hit hard by lockdowns. 

Rethinking the policies that make women more likely to leave their jobs (such as inflexible working or lack of childcare at work) and tackling discrimination based on gender and sexual harassment in the workplace are key steps to improving employee retention. 

You may be interested in: Key factors in managing a return to the workplace

Attracting a diverse workforce 

Promoting gender equality in the workplace is a key way for HR to attract top talent and effectively improve gender-diversity in the workplace.

According to research by LinkedIn, gender influences how people apply to jobs. Women are more picky about applying to jobs: they apply to 20% fewer jobs than men even though all genders browse similar numbers of job listings. Partly, this is because women want to meet all of the employment requirements before applying, while their male counterparts will apply if they meet only 60%.

An organisation which demonstrates that it is invested in the equal success of women in the workplace is therefore a significant draw for talent. HR hiring efforts are most likely to yield the best and most gender-diverse talent when workplace diversity gives your employer branding a competitive advantage. 

Check out our article about how technology can boost diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Business performance 

The benefits of a gender-equal workplace also extend to business performance. Research by McKinsey in 2019 found that the businesses with the most gender diversity at executive level were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability, up from 21% in 2017 and 15% in 2014. 

Having more female leaders means that an organisation is likely to be more profitable, less open to risk but more open to change, and more socially responsible, research has found. Since 2010, the share prices of organisations with more women in the C-suite have outperformed organisations with male-dominated leadership

Final thoughts: what can HR do to promote equality and diversity? 

There are a number of steps that HR can take to promote equality, diversity, and equal opportunities in the workplace. For example, you might decide to:

  • Review and reiterate your sexual harassment policy, making sure that all employees know that sexual harassment is unacceptable and how to report it.
  • Provide flexible working opportunities which will help women who are caregivers to improve their work-family life balance. 
  • Provide and undertake training about bias and discrimination, with particular gender bias training for those undertaking recruitment and performance reviews.
  • Encouraging the uptake of shared parental leave and paternity leave - especially among senior leaders who can set a positive example.
  • Raise awareness for gender equality and inclusion in the workplace, ask for feedback from employees about whether HR's gender policies are working for them, and share diverse success stories about people of different genders.   

HR software can provide the tools to facilitate a more equal and diverse workplace for everyone. For example, XCD's HR and Payroll can benefit diversity and inclusion in a workplace with: 

Plus, using HR software to automate time-consuming processes means that HR professionals have more time to focus on strategic work such as implementing diversity policies that can really make a difference.

Interested in trying out XCD's HR software to help boost gender equality in your organisation? Book a demo today.

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