There’s increasing awareness about gender equality across the globe. It’s a conversation that’s happening over and over again. According to a recent Atlassian survey, 80% of respondents think diversity and inclusion are important to creating a successful workplace. But unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet to help businesses achieve gender parity.
While fixing the numbers—focusing on 50% numerically balanced representation—is significant, it shouldn’t be the only ambition. Gender inequality is “a systematic web of challenges that businesses face with respect to trying to create a truly gender-equal business,” INSEAD Professor Zoe Kinias explained in a recent In the Know podcast.
If you place all your focus on creating a numerical balance and nothing else, it can lead to hostility and further marginalisation. “The more integrated aspects of developing gender equality are far more beneficial,” explains Prof. Kinias.
So, what does it take to create true gender diversity within organisations beyond hiring specific ratios of women, non-binary individuals (people who identify neither as men nor women), and men?
1. Create a Psychologically Safe Environment for All
The foundation for developing gender equality is to create a psychologically safe environment for everyone—male, female, and non-binary employees. Everyone should feel “valued, included, and respected,” says Prof. Kinias. In this way, they’ll feel safe enough to bring their best selves into their working roles and contribute to the utmost of their ability.
There’s evidence that this type of psychologically safe environment can be particularly beneficial for women and members of other underrepresented groups. According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, the key to creating this type of environment is two-fold: one part is behavioural, and the other part is structural.
For example, leadership needs to be thoughtful about how they give and receive candid feedback from employees.
Creating a dialogue invites engagement, which is critical to success.
It’s also essential to set the stage, which means getting all employees and leaders on the same page across the organisation.
As Antoine Clavier, a recent INSEAD MBA graduate who started the Manbassador programme at the school, explains, “If you’re in a culture which is very inclusive, then obviously, you feel much safer [and more comfortable] about stepping forward and contributing.”
2. Challenge the Status Quo and Set Big Goals
The next step toward gender parity is to “challenge the status quo,” says Clavier. You need to challenge the business practices that are gender-focused—whether they’re right or wrong—and ask questions about what can make it better.
The reality is that there are many challenging and harmful gender stereotypes and norms placed on women and non-binary individuals, which can hold them back and student social progress. As the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women in 2017 concluded: “Changing norms should be at the top of the 2030 agenda”.
For Prof. Zinias, that also means, “not internalising any limitations that the world might put on us. Don’t tell me I can’t.” Instead, she says the better response is, “let me show you how I will.”
The individuals who are leading the charge when it comes to gender parity move beyond their fears and focus on their goals.
They use their influence, personal values, and skills to set a clear vision and promote gender equality. “People who are well aligned with their own personal values are most able to be effective in whatever types of roles they’re playing,” says Prof. Zinias.
3. Focus on the Full Picture
As the World Economic Forum explains, “In the case of gender equality, we need to check our blind spots so we can see the total picture. That’s the only way we’ll stop going backwards and start making forward progress.”
For example, the workplace gender gap is about far more than equal representation. According to The Global Gender Gap Report 2020, it’s about developing workplace policies and programs that support women overall. Currently, women only fill:
- 36% of senior roles
- 18% of top manager roles
- 14% of majority ownership positions
“It’s very important to look at where the women are within the organisation,” explains Prof. Kinias.
Organisations should focus their efforts on closing the gender gap in every way and create truly inclusive workplaces.
Building safe and comfortable places for men to participate is a crucial piece of that equation.
4. Take a Learning Approach
Finally, and maybe most importantly, organisations and leaders shouldn’t try to address gender parity without also being receptive to other ideas and discoveries. The most dangerous and harmful approach to equality fails to acknowledge its inherent subconscious bias.
For example, Prof. Kinias recommends that businesses ask the women, non-binary individuals, and men in their top leadership team to share about their personal experiences with equality. What are the challenges you faced? What could help?
For example, you need to understand that
most women, but particularly black women, face consistent microaggressions in the workplace, according to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report. About 35% of women in corporate America also experience sexual harassment at some point in their careers. By understanding these facts and more, it’s a great way to start working on gender parity.
“Taking a learning approach to the topic is really valuable for everyone involved,” says Prof. Kinias. And Clavier agrees. He encourages organisations and leaders to “keep learning, keep discovering, keep challenging yourself. Don’t be afraid to go and learn more things.”
The more you come to understand the far-reaching consequences of gender parity in the workplace, the more opportunities you’ll have to change the status quo.