How to create a more gender-balanced workplace

Ann Francke’s new book shows how organisations and the individuals in them can work towards a more gender-balanced workplace.

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Talk of the gender pay gap often focuses on what employers can do to address the lack of women in senior positions, but employees themselves can use the legislation to make a difference.

A new book by Ann Francke, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, outlines five steps that employees can take.

In Create a gender-balanced workplace, Francke says they can, for instance, benchmark their company’s gender pay gap by visiting and inform themselves about their company’s gender pay gap and the possible causes of it.

They can then consider setting up team-, division- or company-based focus groups or forums for investigating those possible causes, exploring what business case might be most effective in influencing senior management to make any required changes and pulling together a presentation based on that business case, drawing from the many case studies and quotes from well-known people who back greater gender equality.

Francke’s book is full of quotes from people such as Cherie Blair and Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever who is now an Impact Champion for HeforShe.

Francke suggests researching and putting together a plan for gender balance and involving people at all levels of the organisation.

This should be shared with the senior board and pressure put on to make the company commit to particular targets on the basis of what gets measured, gets done, she argues.

Finally, she recommends evaluating progress on an annual basis and interrogating what has improved, what has not and why.

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Business case

Francke’s book is very clear on the business case for gender balance and cites evidence on the boost to the bottom line, to employee engagement and trust, to innovation and decision-making, to talent attraction [widening the pool of experienced workers available] and to customers [through all levels of the organisation better reflecting society].

She has, however, observed what she calls “gender fatigue”, backlash or inertia creeping in as the figures are reluctant to shift despite the multitude of articles, reports and initiatives on the subject. Nevertheless, she says that so far not much construction action on the causes of the gender pay gap has been seen as yet, although evidence is beginning to emerge of what actually works.

Part of the problem is the lack of priority given to gender balance and the lack of urgency with which the issue is being treated. Francke outlines the pitfalls preventing gender balance.

These include part-time and flexible working stigma and a culture that sidelines women and can be positively hostile to them. In addition to institutional bias, harassment and denial of the problem, she says that women who have progressed up the career ladder often feel compelled to hide their “messy and often fraught journeys to the top” which presents an unrealistic picture that alienates other women coming up.

The book also hones in on what works and includes best practice case studies. Strategies including gender-aware recruitment policies, transparency, targets and monitoring, sponsorship and mentoring of women, a flexible culture and a culture that includes everyone and engages men in diversity initiatives.

Finally, Francke provides suggestions for what women themselves can do, for instance, writing an achievement log to boost their confidence, seeking or creating supportive networks – whether internal or external, negotiating pay rises armed with better information, for instance, on gender pay gaps in their organisation and calling out bad behaviour.

In doing all of these things, she argues, you make business better and fairer not just for women but for everyone. As Paul Polman says: “Men need to understand and be able to explain that it’s not a zero-sum game – that we all win when women are supported. It’s as good for men as it is for women.”

*Create a gender-balanced workplace by Ann Francke is published by Penguin, price £8.99.

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