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Navigating gender biases in the workplace

ByHindustan Times
Feb 09, 2024 08:07 PM IST

This article is authored by Antony Alex, founder & CEO, Rainmaker.

Gender bias in the workplace remains a persistent challenge, with women often facing stereotypes and misconceptions that hinder their professional progress. Women are often perceived as less capable than their male counterparts and their views are not considered as important in the decision-making process. While some companies focus on creating inclusive practices, women continue to battle biases as they navigate their careers.

Gender bias(Shutterstock)

Apart from the proverbial glass ceiling, women face a plethora of biased behaviour, such as unconscious biases that affect decision-making processes, bias during recruitment, performance evaluations and promotion decisions, and micro-aggressive behaviour.

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According to the LinkedIn Opportunity Index 2021, gender equality may have improved over the years, but India's working women still contend with the strongest gender bias across the Asia Pacific (APAC) region and continue to experience the impact of gender inequality on career development. The report further stipulated that women’s participation in India’s workforce is one of the lowest in the world, at under 28%, and has been steadily declining.

In addition to gender biases, women encounter other stereotypes, like being labelled as overly emotional or facing nonconscious biases that deem them unfit for certain, especially senior or management, positions. When women are assertive and take charge, they may be labelled as "difficult to work with", facing backlash and resistance. On the other hand, when women adopt a collaborative and nurturing approach, they risk being perceived as weak and lacking leadership qualities, and are therefore not taken seriously.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that equal participation of women in the workforce will increase India’s gross domestic product (GDP) manifold. A McKinsey Global Institute study calculated that the economic impact of achieving gender equality in India is estimated to be $700 billion of added GDP by the year 2025.

Dealing with biases against women requires a long-term commitment and a multi-faceted approach. To create more equitable workplaces, it is crucial to challenge gender biases, promote inclusive leadership, provide equal opportunities for advancement, and nurture supportive environments that value collaboration and assertiveness equally. By fostering an inclusive and supportive environment, these stereotypes can be dismantled, enabling women to thrive in leadership positions and break through barriers.

Addressing biases against women in the corporate world requires a comprehensive approach that involves both systemic changes within organisations and individual efforts. Here are some strategies that organisations can employ to deal with biases against women:

  • Diversity and inclusion initiatives: Establishing robust diversity and inclusion programmes is crucial for creating an inclusive work environment. This involves setting clear diversity goals, implementing policies that promote gender equality, and fostering a culture that values and respects all employees. Companies can create employee resource groups, mentorship programmes and leadership development initiatives specifically tailored to support women in their career progression.
  • Bias awareness and training: Conducting bias awareness and nonconscious bias training programmes can help employees recognise and challenge their own biases. These sessions raise awareness about common biases against women and provide strategies to mitigate them. It's important to ensure that training is ongoing and reinforced regularly to encourage long-term behavioural change.
  • Equal pay and promotion practices: Companies should establish transparent and equitable pay structures to ensure that women are compensated fairly. Conducting regular pay audits and addressing any identified gender pay gaps are crucial steps to take. Additionally, implementing fair and unbiased promotion practices, such as standardised criteria and objective performance evaluations, can help mitigate biases in career advancement opportunities.
  • Flexible work policies: Offering flexible work arrangements, such as remote work options, flexible hours or job-sharing opportunities, can benefit women who often face challenges related to work-life balance. Providing these options demonstrates a commitment to supporting employees' needs and can help retain and attract talent.
  • Mentorship and sponsorship programmes: Creating formal mentorship and sponsorship programmes can provide women with guidance, support and opportunities for career growth. Mentors can offer advice, share experiences and help navigate organisational challenges. Sponsors, on the other hand, actively advocate for women's advancement, provide visibility and recommend them for promotions or high-profile projects.
  • Representation in leadership: Actively striving for gender diversity in leadership positions is essential. Companies should set targets and work towards increasing the representation of women in senior management and board positions. Having diverse leadership teams brings different perspectives and experiences to decision-making processes, fostering an inclusive culture throughout the organisation.
  • Safe reporting mechanisms: Establishing safe and confidential reporting mechanisms for incidents of bias, discrimination or harassment is crucial. It encourages employees to come forward with their concerns, and ensures that appropriate actions are taken to address any issues promptly and fairly.
  • Engaging men as allies: Engaging men as allies in the fight against biases is important for effecting meaningful change. Encouraging male leaders and employees to actively support gender equality initiatives, challenge biases and promote inclusive behaviours helps create a more inclusive culture within the organisation.
  • Regular evaluation and accountability: Regularly evaluating the progress and impact of diversity and inclusion initiatives is essential. Companies should measure key metrics, such as representation, pay equity and employee satisfaction, to assess their efforts and identify areas for improvement. Holding leaders accountable for creating an inclusive workplace environment reinforces the importance of diversity and inclusion at all levels.

By implementing these strategies, companies can create a more inclusive and equitable work environment that enables women to thrive and contribute to their fullest potential.

Women should be encouraged and empowered to lead in various forms, challenging societal preconceptions about leadership and showcasing their capabilities, regardless of gender-based expectations. To encourage women to take up leadership roles, organisations must focus on developing and investing in leadership skill programmes and mentoring sessions to prepare and support aspiring female leaders.

Addressing gender biases will require collective efforts and a commitment to promoting an inclusive workplace culture. By advocating for change, employees/individuals can help create a more equitable and supportive work environment for women and future generations.

This article is authored by Antony Alex, founder & CEO, Rainmaker.

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