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Gender discrimination is alive and well. Here are 10 ways to fight it.
Sheryl Sandberg got people talking about gender equality at work with her best-seller, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (Knopf, 2013)—but why should women have to do all the leaning?
Every organization—and that means the men and women who run
companies—must do more to ensure that women have an equal opportunity to
Yes, we have come a long way since 1964, when gender discrimination became unlawful, but we still have a long way to go.
Below I offer 10 ways organizations can increase gender equality from the top down.
1. Get Women on Boards
Greater representation of women on boards of directors is critical.
Boards with at least one woman are likely to crush the competition,
according to a Business Insider article. Diversity matters!
Having women on boards can also call attention to the elephant in the
room at many companies—that there is a boys’ club at the top or at least
in certain silos. Power makes it easier to speak up, regardless of
In addition, the presence of women on the board sends a powerful message
to executive women and customers that the company “gets it.”
Finally, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
and most state laws do not apply to board positions, where there is no
employment status. Therefore, employers can do what they generally
cannot do for senior leadership positions—that is, take gender into
consideration when filling board positions or even reserve a board
position for a woman.
2. Educate Senior Leadership
Both the board of directors and the senior leadership team must
understand the legal issues associated with gender discrimination (see
Training should also emphasize the business benefits of gender equality,
including the talent imperative, connection with and access to
customers, diversity of ideas, and supplier diversity. Where there is
gender diversity among senior leadership, companies outperform their
3. Hire and Promote
To increase gender (and other) diversity of the applicant pool, work to:
4. Fight Biases
The use of diverse hiring teams that have received appropriate training
should help to ensure that neither conscious nor unconscious gender bias
plays a part in decision-making. Particular attention should be paid to
5. Evaluate Work Assignments
Critically evaluate your organization’s work assignment systems to
ensure that the work is being distributed fairly and equitably and not
based on personal relationships.
The importance of the assignment process cannot be overemphasized. It
often determines who has the experience and the connections to rise to
the top based on merit. Plum assignments:
6. Show Them the Money
We have a gender gap when it comes to pay. It is shrinking, but it is still there.
There are fair questions about whether the gap is solely due to gender.
Taking time off to raise a family, whether you are male or female, may
play a role.
Let’s assume the gap is 10 percent. (I believe it is higher.) How many
men would say “no big deal” to a 10 percent reduction in salary? I know I
Gender gaps in compensation not only can be attacked in litigation but
also can result in less engagement by talented women. So assess and
correct areas where gaps cannot credibly be explained; consider
conducting the analysis initially under privilege so that plaintiffs’
lawyers cannot take advantage of your good efforts.
7. Practice Social Inclusion
Social inclusion is a big part of business inclusion. In fact, I bristle
at the term “social inclusion” because I think it diminishes its
Everyone should make a conscious effort to ensure that social inclusion is, well, inclusive.
For example, there are women who drink and men who don’t. But if the
focal point of social inclusion is the local bar after work, more women
than men may be excluded either because of caregiver responsibilities or
because they want to avoid what they fear they may see.
Also remember that social media is a form of social inclusion and,
therefore, business inclusion. Think of the message that is sent if a
leader invites his male reports, but not his female reports, to connect
with him on LinkedIn.
8. Help with Work/Life Management
Helping employees with the management of work and personal
responsibilities is particularly important to those who are primary
caregivers, whether they are involved in elder care, child care or both.
While more men are (thankfully) leaning in at home, women still are
more likely to have heavier burdens in this area.
To help employees manage work and personal commitments:
9. Evaluate the Evaluators
In my experience, the evaluation process often benefits men as a result of unconscious bias. We need to evaluate the evaluators!
Again, look for “like-me” bias: “He does things the way I do things, so his method is better than others.”
Also look for weak praise (“nice” rather than “strong client relations
skills”), code words (“lack of commitment” for women who are juggling
work and family commitments), and double standards and criticisms that
focus on the woman as opposed to her performance.
10. Include Men
Sandberg states that there is not enough male talent to serve an
organization’s leadership needs. Conversely, we cannot solve the issue
of gender bias by having only women focus on it. Men have valuable
input, too, that must be considered.
Further, it is unfair to place the burden on women only. Women in senior
management positions who are asked to focus heavily on women’s
initiatives may not have the time they need to focus on their customers.
Of course, to get men involved we must do more than enlighten and invite them. We must support them, too.
Jonathan A. Segal is a contributing editor of HR Magazine and a partner at Duane Morris LLP in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_HR_law
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