Celebrate International Women’s Day by Focusing on Workplace Inclusion

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​The first International Women's Day in 1911 drew more than a million people to rallies around the world. A century later, the global festivities continue. One of the event's goals is to create more equal and inclusive workplaces.

"Celebrating women's achievements and increasing visibility, while calling out inequality, is key," according to the International Women's Day website. The celebration takes place on March 8, and this year's theme is "I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women's Rights."

Here's how employers can contribute in a meaningful way year-round.

Close the Inclusion Gap

Employees at all levels of the workforce seem to care about creating an inclusive workplace culture. According to research released March 4 by Accenture, a global professional services company, 77 percent of female and 67 percent of male workers said an inclusive workplace is critical for business success. Sixty-eight percent of surveyed leaders of both genders agreed.

However, the research showed a gap between how leaders and employees viewed their organization's progress toward equality: 68 percent of leaders believed they are creating empowering and inclusive workplaces, but only 36 percent of employees felt the same.

Accenture's Getting to Equal 2020: The Hidden Value of Culture Makers report is based on a global survey of about 30,000 professionals in 28 countries, a survey of more than 1,700 senior executives and a model that combines employee survey results with published labor force data.

"Closing the perception gap starts with leaders understanding there is a gap," said Ellyn Shook, Accenture's chief leadership and human resources officer. "It is an opportunity for leaders to connect with and involve their people, to truly understand how they feel at work."

Create Meaningful Activities

How can leaders connect with their female workers? "Employers can celebrate and empower women in so many wonderful ways that will be meaningful for all employees," said Kerri Reisdorff, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Kansas City, Mo. For example, employers can tell the stories of the known—and perhaps not-so-known—contributions of female trailblazers in the company.

Employers may also consider supporting a volunteer project benefiting women and girls in their communities. "Projects allow all employees—men and women—to contribute to not only a stronger work environment but to their communities as a whole," Reisdorff noted.

Cynthia Blevins Doll, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Louisville, Ky., shared the following ideas for celebrating women in the workplace:

  • Recognizing female leaders in the workplace with some internal spotlight messages.
  • Inviting speakers to regular meetings to discuss women's issues or women's progress in the workplace.
  • Creating a female empowerment affinity group within the organization.
  • Having a senior leader write a message committing to the advancement of women in the workplace.

Beyond celebrating International Women's Day, employers may also consider holding offsite events throughout the year for women and men alike. "Sometimes just doing something outside the box helps," said Kathy Koehler, director of GroupActive, which organizes corporate offsite activities. Creating a fun experience outside the workplace can help generate ideas and innovation, she said, because employees aren't mentally blocked by their daily routine.

Whether employees are doing yoga on a mountaintop or participating in art projects, real and authentic conversations can start to happen naturally, she said.

Hosting low-cost workshops on physical, mental and financial wellness are also a possibility. "Put yourself in the shoes of the people you're creating the event for," Koehler said, noting that participation should be by choice. For instance, some workers are comfortable diving into hands-on activities, while others may want to sit by a fireplace and chat. The host is responsible for making sure participants' needs are met, she said.

Commit to Removing Barriers

"Bias makes it harder for women to get hired and promoted, and it negatively impacts their day-to-day work experiences," according to the International Women's Day website. "We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women's achievements."

Doll noted that key issues still impacting women in the workplace include:

  • Pay equity.
  • #MeToo concerns about sexual harassment.
  • Finding and keeping valuable mentors.
  • Progress in moving above middle management into the C-suite.
  • Parental leave and flexible scheduling.

Reisdorff said a notable way for employers to recruit and retain women—and one that ultimately supports all employees—is to ensure that female workers have meaningful and effective professional growth opportunities within the company. The more transparent an organization is about available opportunities, the more confidence employees will have in the process and the investments the company makes in its employees, she observed.

[Visit SHRM's resource page on pay equity.]

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