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How to Start Thinking about Your Workplace Gender Inclusion

To understand how your workplace is doing in terms of gender, and to do something about it, you’ll need to understand where/if gender bias exists throughout several primary areas: recruiting, interviewing, negotiating, hiring, assigning projects, promotions, managers, working parents, culture, retention, and public relations/legal issues related to gender.

The following questions will help you begin to think through the norms in your company and get an early sense of where you may have opportunities to improve.

(These questions can also help you understand your workplace regarding age and racial diversity, as well as other diverse groups that may be under-represented in your field and/or company.)

1. Recruit and interview with gender in mind. 

(Make your hiring committees as gender-balanced and as diverse as the company you envision. Make sure your committees reflect as much diversity as the stock photos on the "we care about diversity" section of your website. To avoid over-burdening women and minorities who will likely need to sit on multiple simultaneous committees while you increase your numbers, give stipends for taking on this extra work.)

Have you asked your current employees to recommend talented females in the field? Have you incentivized female/diversity hiring with bonuses to current employees? Do you keep the recruiting open until you have at least two female candidates in the pool? (Unless you have more than one woman (or minority) in the pool, there is almost no chance you will hire one. Harvard Business Review, 2016.) Do you overtly encourage women and other under-represented groups to apply? Does your recruiting outreach include women's professional groups and associations?

2. Ensure a fair hiring pipeline and reduce gender-biased negotiation practices.

(Guard against gender differences in how high negotiations are responded to. Consider a more narrow band of negotiation so that even the most confident and successful negotiator doesn't cause an imbalance for someone negotiating with average confidence and success.)

Who negotiates for the highest starting salaries? Which applicants negotiate more than others? (What do you do to correct for over-confidence in salary negotiations driving up salaries of over-represented groups?)Are people hired based on “cultural fit” or concrete evidence on what they've accomplished and could do at your company?Are certain groups of people declined offers more than others?

3. Ensure managers hand out high-prestige/"stretch" projects equitably. 

(Ditto for distributing less prestigious "grunt work" like event planning, note-taking, meeting-setting, communications, general organizing, and other social roles.)

Are women and men equally given the most prestigious and visible projects (and the grunt work)? Which projects are given to colleagues of Color, older workers, etc...? Do women's opportunities slow down after pregnancy/maternity leave? How do you track and ensure that women receive equal access to prized opportunities, including portfolios when senior managers retire.

4. Promote talented men and women at the same rates.

(For every 100 women promoted to the from entry-level to manager, 130 men are promoted (McKinsey & Co, 2017).

What are the rates of promotion for various groups, including women, minorities, and parents?Do managers see data on the promotion rates they are responsible for? Are managers held accountable - in their own bonus structures - for promoting equally?

5. Engage your leaders and managers in setting targets; leading the culture forward.

(While nearly all CEOs value the equitable advancement of women, studies continue to show that women are not advancing at the same rates as their male peers (McKinsey & Co, 2017). I recommend that companies set targets and implement concrete plans for advancing women, as leaders do for other critical initiatives, like expanding into China, becoming more sustainable, or reducing overspend in certain areas.)

Does your leadership have a specific set of achievable goals for advancing women? Do managers track progress towards these goals? Do your managers embrace why this really matters to the bottom line? Do your managers know it's their responsibility to re-direct "grey area" sexualized behaviors and comments to set a more professional tone? Are managers enlisted in bringing in quality candidates who are women and diverse recruits?

6. Implement policies that enable parents to be top performers and parents.

(In the past decade, the number of parental-discrimination lawsuits has tripled (Center for WorkLife Law, University of California, San Francisco). See our complete checklist, "How Parent-friendly Is Your Company?"(pdf).

Do you allow parents who are hitting their targets to work remotely or to flex their schedules? Do you offer part-time schedules - that does not mean getting off of the ambitious career ladder - for driven women who also have kids? Do you have company-wide policies and programs that support working parents - or is it "manager-by-manager"?

7. Address the cultural norms that set the stage for more severe gender/workplace issues.

Who gets the good airtime at company meetings; at firm social events such as dinner parties where ad hoc speeches are often given? Who has/accesses the company riches, such as large/unquestioned marketing budgets, season tickets, and other “perks”; prime seats next to the leaders in meetings and at company dinners, etc...? Are the top evangelists for your company all one gender/race/age? (Which groups are not represented?) Are there prominent women leaders across the organization - outside of HR and Marketing? What kinds of sexual or sexual-adjacent comments, activities, and imagery are present in your workplace environments? (How can you mobilize managers and bystanders who tend to "let it slide" to return the culture to a more professional climate?)

8. Understand why women leave; monitor your retention rates by gender. 

(In fact, corporate women are not leaving their companies at higher rates than men, and very few women plan to leave the workforce to focus on family. Compared with men of the same race and ethnicity, women are leaving their companies at similar rates. However, there is a large racial gap: people of color are significantly more likely to leave their organizations. (McKinsey & Co, 2017).

Are certain groups leaving for other jobs more than others? Do you know why --- and how to prevent your top performing women from taking jobs elsewhere due to "climate" or "cultural" reasons?

9. Keep alert to external evidence of employee dissatisfaction and disadvantage.

Do you have a history of legal claims related to pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment, unequal treatment of women/other groups? Do you have any negative PR related to women/gender/climate? Do you have any pending current cases of sexual harassment? Do you have a plan to reduce pro-harassment culture and behaviors - including those in the gray area - to reduce future cases?

To reduce issues in any of the above areas, you will need to measure and identify where your organization could be doing better, and move to make swift and sustainable changes you can track to understand progress in any areas where women are under-represented, over-looked, and/or are not set up for the same opportunities and successes as their male peers.


...Bad actors don't just sexually harass women out of the blue...

It's worth noting that workplace gender bias (like a pattern of under-promoting women or a culture of interrupting women) often accumulate to launch even more severe issues like hostile work environments, workplace sexual harassment, and worse (#metoo). This is to say: bad actors don't just sexually harass women out of the blue - they do so when immersed in a culture that in some key ways condones the disrespect of women and acts as a springboard for sexual harassment. The good news is: tackling your workplace gender issues will also reduce the unfair, disrespectful environments that encourage sexual harassment.


You may have noticed that salary disparities weren't mentioned. The truth is there's a lot of big talk about fixing corporate pay gaps. However, it's nearly-impossible to measure "equal work" convincingly in creative/white collar spaces. And, worse, if you solely focus on addressing your company pay gap(s) without fixing the underlying issues that created pay disparities, (like under-promoting excellent women or not giving them the juiciest clients/portfolios), you'll continue to have a company that returns to a pay gap. Read more: "Why You Shouldn't Even Try To Measure Your Company's Pay Gap".

Updated from a piece the author originally published on LinkedIn.


Copyright © EMMH, LLC, 2019.

Written by Femily, "Silicon Valley's Gender/ Equity Advisor," founder of the Executive Women's Forum at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco; expert media source/writer/speaker on workplace gender inclusion; and founder of the American Association of Corporate Gender Strategists.

Connect on LinkedIn.

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