Driving towards a more equal workplace

Driving towards a more equal workplace

2020 saw several milestones for women in leadership. Maia Sandu became the first women president in Moldova and Kamala Harris was elected as the vice-president for the US. Female leaders in Finland, Germany, New Zealand and Taiwan were praised to their leadership in fighting COVID. 

Even though women are vaulting for power and achieving success there is work still to do. Telum’s Asia Pacific Communication Survey shows a significant gap between the number of women in communications and representation in leadership position.

Telum spoke to two communications leaders, The Women's Foundations', Inti Tam and Edelman's Adrian Warr about how COVID has impacted the drive for a more equal workplace and what can be done about it.

Inti Tam, Senior Marketing and Communications Manager, The Women’s Foundation

Has COVID had any impact on the drive for a more equal workplace over the last 12 months? 
Organisations are still adjusting to workplace changes wrought by the pandemic with positive and negative impacts on gender equality. We see a new form of ‘presenteeism’, with women more likely to continue working from home, missing out on crucial, informal conversations while being at work will confer greater status. It may also increase organisations’ bias for rewarding those who can be "seen". Employees, particularly women, who are working remotely may be more vulnerable to bullying and harassment. Without bystanders or in-person communication, inappropriate behaviour may escalate before being reported. 

Encouragingly, flexible working is now expected and accommodated with more awareness of home life responsibilities. Work from home is translating into long-term flexible arrangements. This is good news for working parents and caregivers. COVID-19 has given us a unique chance to create a gender equal, diverse and inclusive workplace. We must seize this opportunity.

What do you see as the easy wins for more inclusion in the workplace? 
Cultural change is not easy but there are effective approaches to diversity, equality and inclusion (DE&I) every company can take to be more gender equal and foster an understanding of how DE&I contributes to business success: 
  • Leading by example is one. Senior management sets the tone from the top, impacting the culture of the organisation. We can all do that.
  • Setting gender diversity targets that get tracked and reported is another. (What gets measured gets done) 
  • Initiatives such as mentorship and sponsorship programmes together with diversity recruitment measures, flexible work policies, and a commitment to eradicating gender pay gaps can all help.
  • Enabling individual departments to implement practices to fit their circumstances empowers the whole company to help build a culture that supports overall DE&I.
Adrian Warr, Co-Chair of Male Allies Hong Kong and CEO of Edelman Hong Kong and Taiwan

Has COVID had any impact on the drive for a more equal workplace over the last 12 months? 
Viruses don’t tend to discriminate on gender, humans do. So the pandemic has mainly served to highlight long-standing equality issues.
Our response to COVID has disproportionately impacted women. While we are used to our superheroes being male, most frontline health workers are women. Childcare requirement has multiplied with school closures and predictably, it’s predominantly the mums who have carried that burden and the dads don’t seem to be very aware. A New York Times poll found that while 48 percent of men claimed they were doing most of the home schooling, only 3 percent of women agreed with them.

Remote working has proven itself useful in combatting some microaggressions in the workplace. For instance:
  • The loudest voices don’t necessarily dominate meetings as teleconferencing forces the ‘let’s go around the table’ approach to gathering views.
  • Manterrupting and mansplaining seem to happen less in the virtual meeting format that perhaps encourages people to think more before they speak.
  • Efforts to force social interaction online have gone some way in breaking down exclusive cliques and networks.
At best COVID has been a distraction from gender equality, at worst it has exacerbated pre-existing issues. But there is a silver lining, as we all return to a new way of working, we have a heightened awareness of what we need to improve, a shared focus on the importance of D&I coupled with the catalytic mindset of a global reset. If we play it right, we might see a big leap forward.

What do you see as the easy wins for more inclusion in the workplace? 
There are lots of easy wins:
  1. Do surveys and focus groups among your employees. Looking at data and policies is important, but it’s only half the story.
  2. Think laterally. It’s easy to focus on priority groups such as mums and doing so will make a difference, but you may find you are treating symptoms instead of curing the illness.
  3. Set some KPIs, if it isn’t being measured then it isn’t going to happen and you’ll need milestones that you can meet to show progress over time.
  4. Get your leaders to set the tone, have them talk openly about the importance of gender equality.
  5. Avoid negative and punitive language, make gender equality about opportunity for everyone, about basic human fairness. Inspiration drives change more than fear.
  6. Involve men, they may be the problem and they should certainly be part of the solution. It’s not the women who need to change.
  7. Review hiring and performance management processes to try to mitigate human biases.
  8. Be consistent and repetitive, it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Make this part of your rhythm of business, an ongoing effort, not a finite initiative.
  9. You don’t have to go through it alone, seek expert advice from institutions such as The Women’s Foundation.
  10. Communicate to hearts as well as minds - facts, figures and policies go a long way, but stories and emotions are more powerful drivers of change.
To reboot our efforts at Edelman Hong Kong we ran an 18-month branded campaign called #WeStepUp which combined training, engagement initiatives, competitions, policy changes, NGO partnerships and lots of consistent communications to build a culture of fairness and inclusion. Not only did it help improve equality, but it also had a huge impact on employee engagement generally.

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