4 Real ways to embrace equity for women in the workplace

The 2023 global theme for International Women’s Day(opens new window) is #EmbracingEquity. It’s about going beyond equality, wherein every individual is given the same access and opportunities, to embracing genuine equity — which focuses on providing individuals with fair access to opportunities by meeting their needs and counteracting systemic barriers.

Every March, we see companies taking action to amplify the visibility of women. While many are engaging in solidarity gestures such as HER story hashtags and on-the-day donations, without real action they risk coming across as performative.

Research trends reveal that although there continue to be more college-educated women(opens new window) in the labor force than men, the number of women in the labor force without a degree has dropped nearly 5% since 2019. Real equity means creating rewarding career opportunities for all women — not just those with college degrees.

Today we’re taking a closer look at how employers can go beyond pat-on-the-head platitudes(opens new window) to elevate women in the workplace.

1. Hire people based on what they can do — not how much they look like you

Creating a more equitable workplace for women begins before they join your team with your recruitment and hiring process.

This is particularly true for tech and data roles, where women remain disproportionately underrepresented. Despite the fact that women are outpacing men(opens new window) in college graduation, just 15% to 22%(opens new window) of all professionals in data science roles are women. Lack of clarity about these roles is cited as one of the biggest factors contributing to this imbalance — but it’s far from the only one.

Here are some ways to reduce hiring bias and increase the number of women in your candidate pipeline.

  • Remove gender-coded language from your job descriptions – Euphemistic phrases like ‘code ninjas’ appeal to those who are already in the club — who are less likely to be women. To attract new recruits from underrepresented groups, make sure your open roles are well-defined and attractive to all women with relevant skills and experience.
  • Embrace blind hiring – By redacting identifying information such as name, location, and education from incoming resumes, you’ll be better able to focus on the real skills and experience each candidate brings to the table.
  • Get proactive about sourcing talent – Go beyond job boards and employee referrals to reduce bias(opens new window) and increase your chances(opens new window) of attracting more women into your candidate pipeline.
  • Diversify your hiring team – Often when we think we’re hiring for “culture fit”, we’re actually (and typically unconsciously) hiring “likable” candidates who look like us.

In 2012, assistant professor at the Kellogg School Lauren Rivera, conducted 120 interviews with hiring professionals at elite firms in banking, consulting, and law.

She found that by the time a candidate made it through the screening process to the interview, the evaluation was not based on “finding the person who was absolutely best at the soft or the hard dimensions of the job.” It was their similarity to the interviewer(opens new window) that got them there.

With more S&P 500 CEOs(opens new window) named Michael or James than women, that’s a problem. But by taking active measures to optimize your recruitment and hiring processes for skills first, you can succeed in getting more women through the door, at the table, and up the ladder.

This could mean training hiring managers to recognize their own biases, auditing your hiring text stack to weed out bias-prone features like AI(opens new window), or taking steps to build your own pipeline of future talent via a modern apprenticeship program.

2. Give women the pay and benefits they really want

A common mistake among employers is offering the benefits they think employees want, rather than the ones they actually want. While work-from-home, parental leave, and childcare are all important, none of them matter unless you’re meeting the most basic requirement: pay equity.

Despite being enshrined in law, pay equity remains an ongoing issue for women in the workplace with Hispanic women making 57 cents(opens new window) and Black women earning 64 cents(opens new window) to every dollar earned by a white man. Asian women, Indigenous, and women with disabilities are often left out of these calculations altogether.

As an employer, there are now many ways to do better.

  • Embrace pay transparency – Today’s employees know there are widespread pay discrepancies between men and women(opens new window), and between white women and women of color(opens new window). Face that reality head-on by embracing pay transparency in your hiring, performance management, and career development processes.
  • Conduct regular pay equity audits (PEA) – Whether it’s quarterly, annually, or bi-annually, creating a clear cadence and process(opens new window) for regular pay audits can help you identify gender pay discrepancies and improve your retention rates among women.
  • Encourage negotiation – While viewed as a common business practice for men, negotiating for higher pay often results in negative social pushback for women. Clarify your stance on wage negotiations and be ready to give raises(opens new window) where deserved.
  • Reevaluate your perks and benefits – Better health insurance, flexibility, and family leave are perks that benefit everyone, not just women. Audit your current offering and survey your employees to make sure you’re providing the benefits they actually want(opens new window).

In 2023, it’s time to stop seeing women who negotiate for better pay as “bossy”(opens new window) and start viewing pay equity as a baseline requirement for a healthy business culture.

Start by conducting regular PEAs, auditing performance reviews, and above all — committing to fair and equitable promotions.

3. Upskill women into higher-paying roles

Despite the millions of dollars poured into DEI initiatives every year, the higher you go up the corporate ladder, the lower the representation.

In the UK, the percentage of women among managers, directors, and senior officials grew just four points(opens new window) from 2001 to 2018, from 31% to 35%. Among US companies, only 21% have set gender targets(opens new window) for promotions. The disparities are even greater in industries like finance and tech, with men making up as much as 91%(opens new window) of the programming workforce.

By launching a relevant and well-structured upskilling program, you can:

  • Actively promote women into management roles – With a clear path for entry-level employees to progress into management and leadership roles, upskilling programs provide fair promotion opportunities without requiring women to go back to school.
  • Create or accelerate paid training programs – Unlike one-day seminars, regular on-the-job training programs can help women move seamlessly into higher-paying positions by training them on the real day-to-day workflows required of the role.
  • Help women break the glass ceiling – By embracing upskilling to put more women in higher-paying roles, employers can accelerate the path to leadership and generate a positive impact(opens new window) for the business sooner.

Companies like global consulting firm KPMG are already making employee upskilling an active part of their gender equity initiatives.

“Diversity is an untapped superpower that all companies have the potential to unlock,” says Anna Somaiya, Founder and Leader of IT’s Her Future. “KMPG is committed to life-long learning and it was important to me to ensure women were given an opportunity to learn new skills.”

Through the IT’s Her Future program, KPMG tapped into the power of employee upskilling to help level the gender imbalance in both the company’s tech departments and senior leadership roles. Mentors provided guidance to female-identifying employees who learned key data analysis skills to inform smart business decisions.

4. Reskill women to fight underemployment

Unfortunately, a lack of linear advancement opportunities isn’t the only issue facing women in the workplace. Even in the formal economy, many women are underemployed.

For example in banking, women make up 53% of the entry-level workforce but account for less than one-third(opens new window) at the vice president and C-level. This is a common phenomenon across industries, despite the fact that many women have key transferable skills that make them strong contenders for high-growth roles.

With the right reskilling program, employers can help women achieve full employment in future-ready roles. This could mean training a bank teller with great interpersonal skills for a higher-paid position in customer service or helping one of your top in-store salespeople into a key e-commerce role as you digitize your retail business.

In the age of digital transformation, the benefits of reskilling can’t be overstated. By helping women access the high-growth roles of the future, you also:

  • Build high-demand skills internally – Training women employees in high-growth areas like software engineering and data analytics helps you access in-demand skills without the need for expensive consultants.
  • Maximize high-ROI positions – When entry-level workers are empowered with the digital skills required of high-growth positions, the end result is often increased value for the business.
  • Close key skills gaps within your organization – Data, AI and automation are now business as usual. Reskilling your employees helps close skills gaps in these key areas while accelerating your company’s digital transformation.

While upskilling can help you arm women with the advanced skills needed to move up in an existing role or linear career path, reskilling keeps women fully engaged in the workforce by teaching them totally new skills for roles they’ve never held before.

With women’s labor force participation slowly recovering from hitting a 50-year low post-pandemic, this is one real way every employer can make a difference.

Make equity a reality with Multiverse

This Women’s History Month, instead of giving women social media shout-outs, take action to invest in their development as leaders. Because while the issue of gender equity in the workplace has been a topic of discussion for years, there is still a long way to go.

When you’re ready to take real action to transform your workplace, Multiverse can help.

We work with over 500 companies, helping them address the business challenges that traditional hiring methods won’t solve. Our approach is simple — we source, train, and retain exceptional under-represented talent through apprenticeships.

Our programs are available to a diverse pool of young women and those looking to upskill or reskill. Apprentices benefit from personalized coaching, applied learning, and a community of social, networking and leadership opportunities.

Reach out today to learn more about how we can help you start making your workplace a more equitable place for women.

By Career Center
Career Center