Diversity, equity & inclusion: Four ways to help women in business rise through the ranks

- June 28, 2022 4 MIN READ

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has been a top priority for businesses in the last few years – and it’s not hard to figure out why. A rich depth of perspectives and experiences can unlock innovation by creating a culture where ‘outside of the box’ ideas are heard, writes Francesca Deery, Global VP People & Culture at Ignition.

Diversity is also proven to be an important part of attracting talent, with 76 per cent of job seekers considering it a top factor when evaluating job offers.

With more businesses taking a DEI-focused approach to hiring and culture, many industries have become more accessible for women. However, barriers to equality still exist, with a national gender pay gap of 13.8 per cent. There is also a stark difference in gender representation at a leadership level, with women making up only 19.4 per cent of CEOs and 33 per cent of board members.

Four key ways to build your company’s diversity

With the change in government meaning more women than ever before will have a seat in parliament, the time has come for companies to look inward. But greater DEI doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a goal that companies need to constantly strive for.

To build a more inclusive and diverse profession, companies should focus on four key areas:

1. Start with hiring

Smiling woman shaking hands at job interview

Diversity in the workplace starts at the hiring stage. When looking to fill job openings, leaders should work closely with their HR teams, hiring leads or recruitment partners to communicate their workforce diversity goals and plans. This should include bias-free recruiting practices, using diverse sourcing channels, and minority representation in the recruitment team to build and assess a diverse pool of candidates.

DEI should also be reflected in the job ads themselves. In many cases, job descriptions are recycled and often contain subtle gendered or biased terms that discourage or dissuade women from applying for positions. For example, recent research found that agentic language (self-oriented and focused on power) continues to permeate the financial services industry and may diminish the job appeal for female applicants.

Instead of using trendy terms like ‘ninja’ or ‘rockstar’ with agentic or gendered connotations, companies should use gender-neutral terms like ‘analyst’ or ‘developer’. They should also consider outlining key employee benefits for people who may need flexibility.

By removing biases in the hiring stage, businesses can not only attract a more diverse workforce but can also improve their competitiveness in the job market.

2. Break the bias

Mother in business attire walking through city with baby in her arms

Unconscious bias influences many decisions made in the workplace and can stymie diversity, recruiting, promotion and retention efforts.

There are two common types of unconscious bias in the workplace; affinity bias, where we gravitate towards people we perceive as similar to us; and maternal bias, where women are perceived as less component or committed to their jobs than their male colleagues.

While it may be impossible to completely eradicate these biases, there are steps we can take to reduce their impact on decision-making. The first step is to recognise that they exist. As Francesca Gino, professor at Harvard Business School explains, “awareness training is the first step to unravelling unconscious bias because it allows employees to recognise that everyone possesses them and to identify their own.”

In addition to providing education and training for managers, businesses can reduce biases in the hiring process by standardising interviews and giving all candidates the same set of defined questions. This should also extend to the promotion process. As Stanford researchers found, open boxes on feedback forms can make feedback open to biases, and performance evaluations should instead take a ‘mad libs’ template checklist approach.

3. Make working from home fair and inclusive

Mother at home work desk with phone to ear and toddler on her lap

Hybrid and remote work has become a permanent fixture in the post-pandemic world, bringing with it liberation from the daily commute, increased productivity and more family time.

However, there can be many drawbacks if not managed properly, such as the formation of ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ groups (those who work in the office versus at home), diminished work-life balance and increased burnout. There are also growing concerns it may impact career progression for women, who are more likely to work from home due to caregiving responsibilities.

To mitigate these challenges, companies should set clear expectations on flexible working arrangements, including boundaries around how and when employees are expected to communicate, and measure productivity based on employees’ outputs, not hours worked.

To counter ‘out of sight, out of mind’ bias, it’s important to track who is getting advancement opportunities, promotions and sponsorship, to ensure there is equity regardless of an individual’s location. Businesses can also drive workplace equality by offering paid parental leave policies designed to promote shared caregiving.

4. Encourage connection and community

female CEO business executive in boardroom

In hybrid working environments, creating a culture that encourages open dialogue and a sense of belonging is important to drive inclusivity, and by extension, employee engagement. One way to do this is by creating a safe forum for employees to share their experiences and ideas, without fear of being judged or penalised.

More women driving change and being appointed to leadership positions will, in turn, enable a greater number of female leaders to sponsor and mentor women in junior roles. For instance, communities such as Ignition’s Women in Accounting initiative play an important role in championing female leaders in the accounting industry and connecting women at different levels in their professional journey.

With more women leading or starting their own businesses, they will become instrumental in creating workplaces that are fair, diverse and inclusive. Businesses can help to speed up these efforts by tackling biases, making working conditions fair and impartial, and creating a sense of belonging and community.

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