March 8 is International Women’s Day, an annual celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. This year’s theme, #BalanceforBetter, is a yearlong campaign to drive more gender balance among leaders in business, government, media, sports and communities around the world. It’s also an opportunity for organizations to actively address gender bias, diversity and inclusion and sexual harassment − issues that go to the heart of women advancing in the workplace.
There are hundreds of #IWD2019 events planned worldwide. To search for events in your area visit: internationalwomensday.com
Gender bias and lack of diversity are holding women back
Everyone has unconscious biases – it’s the way our brains process vast amounts of information. However, when biases about someone’s gender (or other characteristic) influence decisions on who to hire, fire and promote, it can lead to unequal treatment and discrimination. Two recent surveys underscore the need for organizations to take more action to eliminate gender bias and ensure women are treated fairly in the workplace.
A 2018 Korn Ferry survey on gender and pay disparities for women in the workplace found that 40% of women professionals said they missed a promotion or an opportunity simply because they’re female. In addition, 42% of respondents said the pay gap is the most important issue facing women in the workplace; 25% said it’s the glass ceiling. Almost half (45%) said they have been sexually or verbally harassed at work.
The 2018 report on Women in the Workplace also highlights the need to accelerate gender balance. The annual study conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company reported that:
- Women are dramatically outnumbered in senior leadership. Only about 1 in 5 C-suite leaders is a woman, and only 1 in 25 is a woman of color.
- Only 27% of employees say that managers regularly challenge biased language and behavior when they observe it.
- Only 40% say that disrespectful behavior toward women is often quickly addressed by their company; 32% think that their company swiftly acts on claims of sexual harassment.
- 35% of women in corporate America experience sexual harassment at some point in their careers.
- For some women, it’s far more common. 55% percent of women in senior leadership, 48% of lesbian women and 45% of women in technical fields report having experienced sexual harassment.
Steps and actions to #BalanceforBetter
Among the steps that organizations can take to create a more inclusive, gender-balanced workplace is to regularly train all employees on unconscious bias, diversity and inclusion, preventing sexual harassment and bystander intervention. Training that is interactive, timely and tailored to the workforce can have a positive influence on behavior and help to keep these issues top of mind among employees throughout the year.
Small actions can lead to big changes. In her keynote address at the 2017 Beyond Bias Summit: A National Conversation on Workplace Inclusion and Innovation, Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO of New America, a think and action tank, offered other “small actions” that everyone can take to address gender bias, including:
- Make sure that woman are recognized and given credit for their ideas.
- Give everyone at the table a chance to contribute.
- Communicate that you value what women have to say by really listening.
- If a woman is interrupted, stop the interruption or come back to her point.
March 8, International Women’s Day, provides an opportunity each year for organizations to recognize the achievements of women. It’s also a chance to inspire meaningful conversations and measurable actions to address biases and stereotypes and create a more respectful, inclusive workplace in which everyone – regardless of their gender– has an opportunity to advance and thrive.