Why the Pursuit of Workplace Equality Must Move Beyond Quotas to Empower Women


Given the clear benefits of a diverse boardroom, forward-thinking companies must expand their gender equality commitments beyond hitting recruitment quotas and salary enhancements. By offering sustained career support, compensation transparency, and creative flexible working packages, business leaders can initiate effective and valuable strides towards an equal workplace.

In light of a recent study by Young Women’s Trust revealing that 31% of HR decision makers agree that it is harder for women to progress in their organisation than men, it is safe to say that the pursuit of gender equality in the workplace needs to remain an ongoing priority for businesses, one that extends far beyond their recruitment practices or pay.

The lack of progression available for female employees, highlighted by the Young Women’s Trust, is due to an ongoing intrinsic bias that begins from the outset of a woman’s career and persists throughout her professional journey. While re-structuring salaries and filling quotas at the hiring level may help to address the issue, commitments such as the sustained support of female employees throughout their careers; transparency and frank discussions regarding compensation; and dedication to flexible workplace packages, can create genuine change.

With women far less likely to be promoted to the higher ranks, forward-thinking business leaders and HR teams need to consistently re-evaluate how they can bring more access and opportunities to their employees, from progression frameworks to ongoing diversity tracking. When companies perceive their diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives as having an endpoint, they overlook the abundant opportunities for innovation and fresh perspectives that arise from genuinely diverse and fairly supported teams.

So, what steps can companies take to improve access to senior roles?

Striving beyond quotas

While some companies rely on ‘‘tick boxes’’ to measure their commitment to change, believing that their hard work is over when a diversity quota is met, it’s important to recognise that recruitment is merely the beginning of the journey towards workplace equality.

While 38% of respondents in Major, Lindsey & Africa´s (MLA) recent ACC Law Department Management Benchmarking Report said there is a formal strategy in place at their companies to improve diversity, companies must avoid simply hiring or promoting women as part of a tokenistic diversity push. Such practices can harm efforts to improve workplace gender equality.

Instead of simply tracking diversity metrics, companies should promote comprehensive frameworks for career progressions, referrals, and high-position selections. This extends beyond the initial phases of recruitment and means offering fair treatment and support to women at every touchpoint throughout their careers, from hiring to high-level promotion.

Creating an environment where fairness and inclusivity are consistently upheld is essential in fostering a truly inclusive workplace, where every employee has equal opportunities to thrive and contribute to their organisation’s success.

Offering salary transparency

Much of the conversation around gender equality in the workplace has tended to focus on the thorny issue of pay. Pay transparency is not only viewed as a way to build trust with employees and boost company engagement, but it is also crucial for closing the gender pay gap and advancing equality. By having to release detailed information regarding their compensation structures, companies are far more likely to reevaluate their current salaries and compensate their employees fairly.

Despite The Equal Pay Act being introduced 53 years ago, PwC research recently revealed that 46% of businesses reported that their pay gaps remained unchanged or even grew in the last year. With The Council of the European Union recently approving a pay transparency directive, organisations must focus on adhering to these new regulations, or risk unveiling their shortcomings.

Not only does pay transparency increase company accountability, but it can also directly empower female employees. Frank discussions about compensation can help to both attract and retain female talent by increasing perceptions of trust, fairness, and job satisfaction. More directly, it can open new avenues for female employees to advocate for themselves when it comes to pay negotiations, lessening the likelihood of implicit bias.

However, while the introduction of greater transparency around pay is vital, companies need to consider far more than their payment structures when striving for gender equality.

Becoming more flexible with hybrid working

Flexible working has huge potential to level the playing field for women. After all, a significant factor contributing to the underrepresentation of women in senior positions is the prevailing notion that caregiving responsibilities, particularly for children, primarily fall on women. For as long as childcare is still perceived to be a woman’s role, their careers will be more impacted than men’s after becoming a parent.

In this sense, the emergence of hybrid working has somewhat worked in the favour of female employees by enabling companies to offer more flexible packages to both mothers and fathers and diversifying the recruitment talent pool.

Encouraging mothers to remain in the workplace is imperative if we are to see more roles at the top filled by women. For example, with the news that a number of companies are changing their tune on hybrid working and demanding employees to come back to the office, there needs to be an ongoing effort to retain senior women by staying committed to offering more flexible packages for parents. This will help to cut down the high number of women exiting professions after having a family.

Indeed, according to the International Workplace Group´s (IWG) Empowering Women in the Hybrid Workplace Report, 53% of female workers say hybrid work arrangements have empowered them to seek higher-level positions within their company, while 80% of them claim that the flexibility it offered allowed them to apply for such roles.

The notion of part-time work has also undergone a transformation. Previously, part-time contracts were primarily associated with limiting work hours to the traditional 9-5 schedule, five days a week. However, there is a growing recognition of the importance of accommodating flexible working arrangements for those who seek the option of hybrid work within part-time contracts. As it is more common for women to request part-time contracts, once again, such commitments could help companies diversify the talent pool and retain their current female workforce.

Extending the conversation on gender equality in the workplace

Although companies might be inclined to view their gender equality efforts as complete once they’ve hit hiring quotas and considered salary enhancements, it is imperative that we broaden the discussion beyond these areas to attain genuine equality in the workplace.

By becoming more creative with flexible working plans and implementing structures that support and empower women at every step of their careers, companies will be able to break through current barriers that limit opportunities for women in top positions. Compensation transparency, meanwhile, can lead to a cultural shift within a business by encouraging wider conversations around gender equality that will not only enhance a company’s reputation but will also help to attract top talent and increase fair pay.

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