How to Achieve Gender Equality in Your Business

Today is International Women’s Day, and the theme for this year is “Be Bold for Change.” As the website says:

How to Achieve Gender Equality in Your Business

Call on the masses or call on yourself to help forge a better working world – a more inclusive, gender equal world.

How to Achieve Gender Equality in Your Business

But how exactly do you do that? What steps
can businesses take to achieve gender equality in the workplace?

In today’s tutorial, I’ll answer those
questions in depth. You’ll learn:

  • How to set meaningful and effective gender
    equality goals in your business—it’s not as simple as you might think!
  • How to change your recruiting practices so
    that you identify and hire more top women candidates.
  • How to make your workplace culture
    welcoming and supportive to women so that you retain more of your talented
  • How to measure your progress towards gender
    equality and adapt your strategies as needed.

Are you ready to be bold for change? Do you
want to forge a more inclusive, gender equal world? Yes? Then let’s get

1. Set Your Gender Equality Goals

What does gender equality in the workplace actually

The 50-50 Goal

An obvious objective would be to aim for
50% women and 50% men in your workforce. That’s a good start, but gender
equality goes much deeper than that.

For example, consider a company with 10
well-paid executives who are all men, and 10 low-paid support staff who are all
women. Is that equal?

Clearly not, so we also need some other measures

Equality Within Business Groups

As we saw in the first tutorial in this
series on the benefits
of workplace diversity
, a large part of the payoff comes from having
diverse perspectives within teams. Studies have shown that more diverse teams
tend to be more innovative and better at problem solving than homogeneous

So if you have a group of men working in
one area and a group of women in another, you’re simply not going to get those

Instead, it makes sense to have a high
level of diversity within as many groups as possible. Set gender equality goals
not just for the business as a whole, but also for each division within the
business, and each group within each division.

You don’t have to be rigid about it, of
course. I’m not saying that every single team for every single project has to
have exactly equal numbers of men and women. Set goals that make sense for your
business, aiming for overall equality while allowing some fluidity for
individual teams.

Equality Across Different Levels of the Business

Gender equality means nothing unless women
can access the very highest levels in the organization.

But while businesses in many countries have
made progress in employing more women, the “glass ceiling” is still very much
in place. Women are still woefully under-represented in top leadership

in 2015 found that women held just:

  • 18.1% of directorships
    at MSCI World Index companies
  • 19.1% of directorships
    at MSCI USA companies
  • 8.4% of directorships
    at MSCI Emerging Markets Index companies

All of these numbers
are moving upwards, but from a very low base, so there’s clearly a long way to

The report also found

Companies that had
strong female leadership generated a Return on Equity of 10.1% per year versus
7.4% for those without.

So in your business’s
board of directors or leadership team, aim for gender equality. And make sure
that the equality flows right through the other senior levels of the
organization too. It’s the right thing to do, and you’ll also reap the
benefits—not just according to the MSCI study, but also to a whole
raft of other research

Equality of Pay

Another important place to aim for equality
is in that item dear to the heart of every employee: the paycheck.

Again, the facts are simple and stark.
There’s a very real gender pay gap. In
the U.S.,
women earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, and in many countries it’s even

Some of the inequity is linked to what we
just talked about: women being under-represented in senior positions. But studies
have also found
that women get paid less than men for doing exactly the
same job at the same company and with
similar education and experience.

So for your business, why not set a goal of
overall pay equality between men and women? And you can also keep an eye on the
salaries you’re offering to individual employees who do the same kind of work,
to make sure there’s no implicit gender bias there.

2. How to Improve Your Hiring Practices

So how do you make progress towards gender

If your workforce is currently weighted
towards men, a good place to start is by hiring more talented women for top

I’m sure you haven’t intended to
discriminate against women in your recruiting so far. But if you’ve ended up
hiring mostly men, something needs to be changed. It could be one of the
following things:

  • how you advertise the job
  • where you advertise the job
  • the image of the company that you present
  • your interview procedures

Let’s look at each of those in turn.

that in this article I’m assuming that your workforce is currently weighted
towards men, since that’s the most common situation. But most of the principles
discussed here will work the other way around too.)

How You Advertise

Did you know that using certain common
phrases in job ads can deter women from applying? The way you describe a job
opening could be cutting you off from loads of talented candidates.

has found
that using so-called
“masculine-coded” words such as “competitive” and “dominate” makes women less
likely to apply for the job. It’s a fascinating and
complex area, and there’s so much gender bias within our language that it can
be very difficult to be aware of it all.

Fortunately, there are some simple tools to
help you out. On the free website Gender Decoder for Job Ads,
you can simply paste in your text and hit a button to check for subtle
linguistic gender coding. There’s also Textio,
a paid service with a two-week free trial.

Also consider the qualifications and
requirements you list: Are they really necessary for the job?

Why does this matter? Of course, it’s not
that women are less qualified. It’s because of the mass of research indicating
an overall confidence
between men and women. Women are less likely than men to apply for a
position when they don’t meet all of the job requirements.

Where You Advertise

Where are you advertising your vacant
positions? Do you know the readership demographics of those websites, magazines
or job boards?

It’s obvious when you think about it. Some
websites are read more by men, and some are more popular with women. If you
want to hire more women, go where the women are.

For example, check out this article by Tom
McFarlin for a useful list of websites and organizations focused on women in engineering and technology.

  • How to Achieve Gender Equality in Your Business
    Working To Close The Gender Gap in Technology & Engineering
    Tom McFarlin

Also, remember that word of mouth is an
important way to find candidates. So encourage your employees to be your own
recruiters. Consulting firm Accenture recently
it would pay higher referral bonuses to employees who recommended
an African-American,
Hispanic-American, woman or veteran who was successfully hired.

Your Company’s Image

In the hiring process, it’s not just the
candidate who has to convince you to hire them; you also have to sell your
company to the candidates you want to recruit.

So you need to be conscious of the image
you’re presenting of your company. That includes your website, social media,
marketing materials, job information pack, and so on.

At СodeHolder Tuts+, the editors put a lot of
effort into improving the Teach at СodeHolder
page to make it more welcoming to a diverse group of potential
instructors. Notice how both the language and the imagery emphasize the
commitment to diversity.

How to Achieve Gender Equality in Your Business

So take a look at how you represent
yourself in the job market, and see how you can improve your messaging.

Your Interview Procedures

Unfortunately, gender bias is rife in the
interview process.

have found

  • Interviewers display unconscious biases, such as believing women are worse at
    mathematical tasks and better at verbal tasks than men.
  • Hiring managers are
    twice as likely to hire a man over a woman.
  • When a lesser
    candidate was hired instead of a more qualified candidate, the lesser candidate
    was a man over two-thirds of the time.

How can you overcome
these biases? It’s not easy, but an important step is to address them. Try out
the fascinating Implicit
Association Tests
offered free by Harvard University. The “Gender-Career”
and “Gender-Science” tests may be relevant to you.

Also, of course,
having women involved in the hiring process is important—although not enough by
itself, as the research quoted above also showed that even when women were the
hiring managers, they were more likely to hire a man.

3. How to Improve Employee Retention

If you’ve followed the steps above, you
probably have a better chance of improving gender equality in your hiring

But that’s only half the battle. If the
women you’ve hired encounter a misogynistic or otherwise unwelcoming workplace
culture, they won’t stick around long.

So in this section, we’ll look at ways you
can change your workplace culture to ensure that your newfound gender equality
is a permanent rather than a fleeting thing.

Take a Firm Stand on Discrimination and Harassment

Uber is under fire right now after a horrifying
account of sexual harassment
by a former engineer, Susan Fowler.

What’s disturbing about Fowler’s account
is—well, pretty much everything. But on top of the harassment she describes,
what stood out for me was the way she says HR defended her manager’s behavior
and blamed the victim. (Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said
in a statement
that the behavior described is “abhorrent” and announced an
urgent investigation.)

If you want to achieve anything close to
gender equality in the workplace, it’s essential to have a clear policy on
discrimination and harassment and to take any allegations very seriously. You
may also want to provide training to your employees to help them understand
what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Offer Women-Friendly Benefits

Of course, it’s not only women who are
involved in childcare or have family commitments. But still, surveys
that traditional gender roles are still powerful, and women still
shoulder many of the household responsibilities in addition to their work

So things like flexible working
arrangements, onsite childcare facilities and generous maternity leave are great
ways to support your employees in their family lives and make them more
likely to stay at your company.

For example, consider offering part-time positions and job shares, which can really help people with families. Consider these survey results reported in The Guardian:

  • 46% of UK workers want to work flexibly, but only 8.7% of jobs that pay over £20,000 offer that possibility.
  • 79% said they did not feel they could ask their employer to job share without it affecting their employability.
  • 96% of respondents were women, and 70% had reduced working hours or their level of seniority, changed careers, or left work altogether. Just over half (52%) had done so because of parenting commitments.

When you’re setting up the part-time positions and job shares, just make sure that the benefits are also fair and that part-time workers don’t miss out. For example, many holidays fall on Mondays, so make sure that people who don’t work a full day on Monday don’t miss out on holiday pay or time off.

Mentoring Programs

As Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl
Sandberg pointed out
in her book Lean In, mentorship is
important to help women break through that glass ceiling and progress to the
top levels in their careers.

So consider creating a full-blown mentoring
program in your organization. Or if you run a smaller company, maybe do it more
informally, by asking people in leadership positions to take newer employees
under their wing. By helping people in their careers, you’ll see the benefit
for your own business too.

Some companies have also created specific
programs aimed at encouraging women to join and flourish in areas where they’ve
traditionally been under-represented. Etsy, for example, increased
the number of women engineers
by almost 500% in one year by launching “Etsy Hacker Grants” to provide
scholarships to talented women engineers to get additional training.

Be Fair

This one sounds
simple, but it isn’t. Check out this McKinsey
in which Beth Axelrod, then head of HR at eBay, talks about what a
meritocracy really means in a world of widespread gender bias.

Being aware, on a
systematic basis, of how we unintentionally interpret women’s and men’s
personal communication styles differently. And being careful to ensure that the
assessment and promotion processes do not inadvertently misinterpret those
styles—for either gender.

Axelrod gives the
example of women being called either too timid or too aggressive, when the same
behaviour in a man often wouldn’t be commented on.

Simply having somebody
in the room who listens for those unintended biases in interpreting styles is
very helpful.

Another issue she
talks about is promotion—women tend to be less likely to apply for promotions
for the reasons discussed earlier. So it’s important to ensure that this isn’t
interpreted as lack of ambition, and also to “make sure that the promotion
process systematically identifies women in the pipeline, not because women
should be given an advantage in the promotion process but because they
shouldn’t be inadvertently overlooked.”

Creating a meritocracy
is a complicated task and may take a lot of time and changes of strategy, but
it’s sure to be worthwhile for your business.

4. Measure Your Progress and Make Changes

The key to success in any project is to
measure your progress and to change your approach if you’re not meeting your

So once you’ve started trying to promote
gender equality in your business, it’s important to keep track of your progress
at regular intervals. Go back to the goals you set in section 1, and put a
schedule in place for measuring what you’ve achieved towards each of the goals.

Keep in mind that this is not a “quick fix”
kind of project. We’re talking about changing the composition of your workforce
over time, and it will be a gradual process. Even if you do manage to fix your
recruitment and retention strategies to work towards gender equality, it will
still take time. New positions only come open so often, and unless you have very
high employee turnover, it will likely take several years for you to reach your
ultimate goals.

What’s important, however, is that you are
moving in the right direction and at a pace that feels right for your business.
What’s important is that you are taking gender equality seriously and taking
every available opportunity to pursue it.

If you’re not making progress quickly
enough towards your targets, look more deeply at the numbers. Is it a
recruiting problem, or do you have a high turnover? Do you have equal numbers
but not equal pay or equal representation in leadership roles?

Identifying the area you’re having problems
in will dictate the correct approach. If you’re struggling with the hiring
process, consider some of the approaches we talked about in section 2, or
perhaps hire a dedicated recruiter to speed up the process for you. If it’s
about equal pay, conduct a salary review or look for opportunities to promote
women to leadership roles.

And although it’s important to track
progress, don’t get too hung up on the numbers and percentages. Remember that
the real payoff for your business is to realize the benefits
of diversity
we discussed before. So as well as tracking employee numbers,
also look for changes in company culture, job satisfaction, and other key areas.


In this tutorial, you’ve learned some
useful strategies for achieving gender equality in your business.

We’ve covered the process of setting goals
for gender equality, and then talked in detail about how you can set out to
reach those goals by altering your recruitment and retention strategies. And
finally, we’ve seen how to measure your progress and make changes if you’re not
reaching your targets.

Gender, of course, is only one dimension of
diversity. There are many others, such as age, sexual orientation, religion and
more, as we discussed in a recent tutorial:

  • How to Achieve Gender Equality in Your Business

    What Are the Important Dimensions of Workplace Diversity?

    When you think of workplace diversity, what image comes to mind? Today we look at ten different dimensions of workplace diversity and why they’re important.

In the remaining parts of the series, we’ll
go beyond gender and look at how you can achieve more diversity in your
business on all these different dimensions.

But today is about women, and I hope that
you’ve marked International Women’s Day by learning something new that will
help you to take real action towards gender equality in the workplace.

It’s a long process, but I hope you’ve seen
today that gender equality is an achievable goal, and that you’re inspired to
make a difference in your business and “Be Bold for Change” in 2017.

For more information on closing the gender
gap, focusing particularly on the tech industry, read the following tutorials:

  • How to Achieve Gender Equality in Your Business
    How Tech Firms are Becoming More Diverse by Changing the Way They Recruit
    Rachel McCollin
  • How to Achieve Gender Equality in Your Business
    Closing the Gender Gap: What You Can Do to Promote Diversity in the Tech Industry
    Rachel McCollin
  • How to Achieve Gender Equality in Your Business
    Working To Close The Gender Gap in Technology & Engineering
    Tom McFarlin
  • How to Achieve Gender Equality in Your Business
    Guys and Girls: Does Your Language Exclude People?
    Rachel McCollin