Supporting women in the workplace is critical to creating a culture of inclusion in your business or organization. Creating a culture of inclusion looks like building a diverse, welcoming workforce that genuinely appreciates and recognizes people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, and characteristics.
Make your organization more inclusive and equitable. Boost morale, engagement, and job satisfaction while increasing productivity and employee retention rates. If you want to explore strategies for fostering inclusivity for women in the workplace and creating a culture of inclusion in your organization, this blog is for you.
Supporting Women in the Current Landscape
Gender diversity in the workplace has struggled for years, and the conversation surrounding the presence of women in the workforce isn’t new by any means. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the workforce participation rate for women ages 16 and over in December 2023 was 57.1%, 11 percentage points lower than for men.
While this number may not sound as big as some may think it would be, this percentage marks a trend of declining participation among women in the U.S. According to the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, female workforce participation stopped growing in 2000, and the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been helpful as its pushed participation rates back to 1993 levels.
Not only are women underrepresented in the workforce in general, but they’re also underrepresented in specific industries which are historically male-dominated. For example, a May 2023 report from Catalyst found:
- 3% of the manufacturing industry.
- 16% of the mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction industry.
- 3% of the transportation and utilities industry.
Those are just rates for women in general. Women of color are even more underrepresented in specific male-dominated industries. For example, Latina women make up 5.3% of the transportation industry, while Black women make up 5.9% and Asian women make up just 1.4%.
Another industry with a significant gender gap is the food and beverage industry. Globally, 80% of food and beverage purchase decisions are made by women. Yet, across nearly every sector of the food and beverage industry, women are severely underrepresented, making up less than 20% of senior leadership roles.
On the other hand, there are some industries that women dominate. Take hospitality, for example. According to research from Diversity for Social Impact, women made up 52% of employees in the hospitality sector and 36% of leadership roles in 2023.
There are countless reasons for these disparities between men and women in the workforce. Some of these include:
- Lacking female role models to look up to.
- Sexual harassment in the workplace.
- Gender biases and stereotypes perpetrated by upper administration and coworkers.
- Lack of adequate maternity leave in the U.S.
- Historical prejudice in trades and other male-dominated industries.
- Gender pay gap.
The list goes on. And none of these challenges are necessarily new. These are all obstacles women in the workforce have been facing for decades. However, when businesses and organizations take the time to recognize these challenges, they can make changes to start supporting women and creating a more inclusive, representative workspace.
Understanding Inclusive Leadership When Supporting Women in the Workplace
Inclusive leadership is a critical piece of the inclusive workplace puzzle. Inclusive leadership involves having the ability to manage and lead a diverse group of people while demonstrating respect for each person’s unique characteristics in an authentic, empathetic way without bias.
Not only do inclusive leaders need to lead without bias, but they also need to be mindful of their own biases. There are several other essential traits for inclusive leaders to have, including:
- Willingness to Collaborate
- Emotional and Cultural Intelligence
- Willingness to Empower Employees and Encourage Growth
- Active listening
Leadership is wildly critical to a business or organization’s success. Poor leadership can sink your operation fast. Not only is strong leadership crucial to ensuring your business’s financial success, but leadership can also determine employee satisfaction and turnover rates.
According to a Harvard Business Review study, inclusive leaders specifically see a 17% increase in team performance, a 20% increase in quality decision-making, and a 29% increase in collaboration. Moreover, inclusive leadership decreases employee attrition risk by 76%, which describes the natural process by which employees leave the workplace — like through retirement or resigning due to personal reasons — and aren’t immediately replaced.
Several businesses and organizations have realized how important diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts are and have employed inclusive leadership to better position their organization for long-term success. Some examples of organizations with successful inclusive leadership models include:
In 2019, fast-food giant McDonald’s launched its BETTER TOGETHER: Gender Balance & Diversity strategy to improve the representation of women at all levels of the company, achieve gender equality in career advancement, and advocate and empower women in business.
Through this strategy, which was heavily pushed and supported by McDonald’s CEO and senior leaders, over 10,000 employees have participated in bias awareness training.
The financial consulting company Deloitte is well-known for its efforts in diversity and inclusion. In 2017, the company did an audit and found that most of its leadership consisted of older white men, so it created an inclusive leadership framework that taught men how to advocate for and better support women in the workplace.
A year later, Deloitte declared inclusive leadership as a skill that can be learned and created the Six Signature Traits of Inclusive Leadership framework to educate leaders on how best to engage and support diverse groups.
Every year since 2014, Google publishes an annual diversity report to help facilitate inclusive decision-making. Leaders can review yearly employee data to gain insights on hiring, progression, representation, and retention rates among teams to see where they’re doing well and where there may be room for improvement.
Supporting Women with Awareness and Education
When building a culture of inclusion that supports women in the workplace, you should start by building awareness and educating your team. There are two primary ways to do this:
#1 Diversity and Inclusion Training Programs
Education is vital to making changes. You may have older employees or some with different backgrounds or cultures, which may give them an existing bias. In many cases, these people may not even realize they have a bias. This is why diversity and inclusion training are so necessary to promote understanding.
Depending on your needs, you can create a diversity training initiative. Still, there are also several existing training initiatives at various price points that other organizations have found to be effective like:
- Coursera’s Optimizing Diversity in the Workplace
- HR University’s Diversity and Inclusion Certification
- American Management Association’s Leading in a Diverse and Inclusive Culture
#2 Raising Awareness About Unconscious Bias
Most people hold some unconscious biases, and you must acknowledge those biases and educate yourself to do better. Pay attention to your thoughts and beliefs and check yourself for assumptions you may be making about others. Moreover, you must be open and receptive to feedback and your peers challenging your assumptions.
While diversity and inclusion training can help uncover unconscious bias and lead to supporting women in the workplace, there are other strategies you can implement, such as:
- Blind Recruitment Practices
- Having Diverse Interview Panels
- Holding Regular Audits and Assessments
- Celebrating Diversity
- Building Mentorship and Sponsorship Programs
Flexible Work Arrangements for Supporting Women at Work
Flexible work arrangements are critical in supporting work-life balance. Employees today are less interested in devoting their time to a company that doesn’t respect their need for personal time. Whether it be planned vacations, weekends off, or family emergencies, employees gravitate more toward companies that can help them achieve that desired work-life balance.
Not only can flexible work schedules improve and support work-life balance, but they can also help you create a culture of inclusion in your organization and establish measures for supporting women in the workplace. Since the COVID-19 pandemic changed how the world works, remote work has seen a significant uptick.
Remote comes with a slew of benefits for employers and employees, one of which is its impact on inclusivity. For example, companies can build diverse teams on a global scale when they build remote teams. Doing this allows your organization to meet customer needs better worldwide, as you’ll have people from all walks of life and cultures on your team. Also, you’ll have people in various time zones, allowing you to boost productivity.
Working remotely has allowed groups of people historically misrepresented in the workplace to join the workforce. For example, the employment rate for people living with disabilities increased to 21.3% in 2022 — two years after the pandemic started — which is the highest it has been since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics started recording this data in 2008.
As the United States doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave, remote work makes it easier for women, particularly mothers, to stay in the workforce. Working remotely often comes without set hours, making it easier for women to care for children while maintaining a job and steady income.
Supporting Women Through Financial Independence: Addressing Pay Equity
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2022, women in the U.S. earned 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. This gender pay gap has existed for years and hasn’t gotten much better over time.
Gender pay gaps can arise for several reasons:
- Differences in job responsibilities
- Level of education
However, pay gaps can result from workplace bias, discrimination, and inequity. These pay gaps can significantly negatively impact employee morale, retention, and your organization’s reputation, so it’s crucial to analyze and rectify gender pay gaps sooner rather than later.
One of the ways you can address gender pay gaps and inequalities in your organization is to embrace pay transparency. Company leaders can work with HR and other key stakeholders to establish pay transparency practices that outline how pay is determined for individual employees, revealing any inequities.
This pay data must be available to all employees. When your employees understand the pay structure, ranges, and how their performance and experience influence their pay, they’ll develop more trust for company leadership. They will be more likely to feel they’re being compensated fairly.
Focusing on Pay Disparities When Supporting Women in the Workplace
Managers and other company leaders should advocate for equal compensation for equal work to address pay disparities and start supporting women better in the workplace. For example, a man and a woman doing the same job should get paid the same salary.
Some other strategies your business can implement to address gender pay gaps include:
- Conducting Regular Equal Pay Audits
- Investing in Female Leadership
- Regularly Monitor and Measure Pay Equity
Creating a Supportive Network for Supporting Women
In the workplace, you can also create networks to support women and build a sense of community. One of the ways to do this is through the creation of employee resource groups (ERGs).
An ERG is a voluntary, employee-led group that aims to foster diversity and inclusivity in the workplace. ERGs are often led by employees who share some characteristics, like gender, ethnicity, or religious affiliation, and support members in personal and career development. ERGs also offer a safe space for employees to gather.
Women’s Employee Resource Groups or Women’s ERGs (WERGs) exist to support women and ensure equality in the workplace. WERGs can help bridge the gender inequality gap and provide a safer workplace conducive to professional growth. This can help address the lack of women leadership in organizations and prevent women employees from switching jobs or leaving the workforce.
WERGs can have several benefits, both for the employees who join them and for the organization as a whole, including:
- Better Work Relationships Among Employees
- Increases the Number of Women in Leadership Roles and Other Qualified Positions
- Reduced Isolation Among Women Employees
- Advocate for Fairer Pay and More Gender Equity in the Workplace
WERGs can help improve employee engagement and job satisfaction, increase networking opportunities, and promote a sense of community and solidarity to support women in the workplace.
Supporting women in the workplace is critical to creating a culture of inclusion in your business or organization. A diverse, welcoming workforce that genuinely appreciates and recognizes people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, and characteristics is significantly more successful than those that don’t embrace diversity and inclusion.
Supporting women in the workplace can help boost morale, overall engagement, and job satisfaction, all while increasing productivity and improving employee retention rates. Strategies like diversity and inclusion training programs, implementing flexible work schedules, addressing pay equity, creating a supportive network, and taking the time to recognize and celebrate achievements and diversity can all help foster inclusivity in the workplace.
It’s never too late to make a change and start exploring strategies to foster inclusivity for women — and other underrepresented groups — in the workplace. Disregarding diversity, equity, and inclusion measures can set your organization or business far behind the competition, so it’s time to start implementing strategies for supporting women and inclusivity today.