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Are Things Improving with DEI and Women in the Workplace?

McKinsey and Company’s oft-cited 2021 Women in the Workplace report highlights the general progress that has been made in the areas of DEI and Women in the Workplace initiatives since 2016. Still, gauging the overall success and improvement of these initiatives remains a challenge as the acute phases of the pandemic wane and new impediments emerge. Economic turbulence (inflation, in particular) is forcing employers to more deeply consider the proven benefits of remote, hybrid, or flexible work configurations, as well as “returnship” programs and pay equity efforts, especially for women. Our recent article, “Wage inflation and Pay Disparity: The Dual Challenges Women Face,” explores these subjects in greater depth, particularly how employers can lessen the impact of inflation for women working within their organizations. 

Here, we’ll explore specific post-pandemic challenges that impact DEI and highlight the proven best practices that most concretely benefit organizations seeking to sustain impactful DEI and women in the workplace initiatives.

Post-Pandemic Hurdles

Recent data reveals that approximately 2 million women left or lost their jobs during the course of the pandemic, with only moderate recuperation/reemployment occurring since that period. As women seek employment or reemployment following this lapse in work activity, the challenges are manifold. For instance, according to a survey by ResumeGo, women seeking jobs following a 2- or 3-year work gap are 53.1% less likely to receive a callback or eventual interview offer. This is a profoundly discouraging situation, especially for women who left their pre-pandemic positions to provide child care or at-home/remote education support for their children or families during the pandemic. Later, we’ll highlight how some companies are initiating or modifying the terms of returnship programs in an attempt to address this specific issue.

One unexpected but positive byproduct of the pandemic has been employers’ increased receptivity to technologies like Zoom and Microsoft Teams and – by extension – to remote, hybrid, or flexible work configurations that adapt to the needs and preferences of their employees. Research broadly shows that this approach is particularly beneficial to women of color and women with young children. Nevertheless, research from the UK has demonstrated that fully remote workers are more likely to work late hours and put in undocumented/unpaid overtime. When this tendency is compounded with demands placed on women who are single parents, caretakers, or the primary shoppers and food preparers within their households, it can lead to compounded challenges for women in the workplace. This by no means negates the primarily positive benefits of remote, hybrid, or flexible work schedules as a viable option for many organizations, but it requires meaningful adjustments. As just one example, Microsoft has altered its policies for employee evaluations to gauge employee productivity over a long period rather than the productivity standards expected during a traditional on-site work week. The company has also incentivized employees to schedule breaks in their work days. For an excellent and comprehensive survey of methods to build belonging for women in remote work, please explore this article. 

With regard to overarching DEI and women in the workplace goals, the words of Alexandra Leung, co-founder of Monogic, are particularly insightful. According to Leung, “Nurturing a [diverse team] and maintaining an inclusive leadership requires emotional intelligence skills and staying mindful of cultural differences in the workplace.” Leung recommends that employers facilitate opportunities for all team members to “voice their unique perspectives irrespective of hierarchies, not only to foster innovation,” but to ensure “close communication” and “collaborative teamwork.” 

Echoing these sentiments, Serene Ow, Director of Design, APAC, Digital Realty suggests that for women of color and working parents, employer mentoring opportunities (something we’ll explore shortly) and in-house tertiary scholarship programs can majorly diminish feelings of inaccessibility and positively challenge set hierarchies, particularly within large organizations.

Steps Forward

Beyond evaluating the effects of the pandemic on DEI and women in the workplace initiatives, we’ve accounted for new and complicated challenges presented by inflation, remote work, and employee wellness concerns. Now let’s look at the practical steps and proven approaches that employers can take to facilitate continued growth in the areas of DEI and women in the workplace initiatives within their own organizations.

Developing a Mentorship Program

As we’ve mentioned, many companies have instituted or enhanced their mentorship programs to provide more opportunities to women and other under-represented groups. These mentorship programs have been shown to improve cross-department engagement and lead to job advancement/promotion opportunities regardless of where employees begin within the organization. Importantly, more organizations are intent on implementing these mentorship programs as opportunities for mentor and mentee to gain insight, understanding, and professional aptitude as a consequence of the relationship.

Adapting Benefits

A recent Great Place to Work survey shows that 71% of African American or Black women and 45% of Caucasian women have caregiving responsibilities outside of the workplace, which includes care for children and the elderly. With DEI and women in the workplace goals in mind, employers can do more to offer flexible work scheduling, assistance with nursing/eldercare needs and other measures to help these employees maintain a reasonable work-life balance.

Pay Equity Efforts

Simply put, employers should prioritize pay equity standards within their organizations. By capitalizing on data and analytics, organizations can readily locate instances where employees are being underpaid for performing similar roles or adopting similar responsibilities. Whether pay disparities are determined to be isolated occurrences or part of a pattern within certain departments, it’s important to examine the situation and determine ways to rectify pay inequity and prevent it from reoccurring.

Workplace Flexibility and Accounting for Individual Circumstances

Our recent article on switching to a remote or hybrid workplace will provide you with a comprehensive rundown of the various pros of workplace flexibility (including improved productivity and mental health). Still, changes to workplace flexibility require that employers listen and adapt to the needs of all of their employees. Knowledge and implementation of DEI and women in the workplace best practices help employers avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. That being said…

Best Practices are Best Refined

As the University of Massachusetts’ research on the efficacy of DEI and Women in the Workplace initiatives suggests: “Even a [generally] proven strategy can fail if it doesn’t consider the local context, the way in which work gets done here. In fact, identifying the ‘right place to start’ depends largely on understanding the local context […] In other words, a winning strategy must be adapted to the unique organizational structure and context of each firm.” 

The best practices we’ve outlined in this article offer a useful starting point to implement or advance your DEI and women in the workplace initiatives, but by heeding the above advice regarding local context, you promise to “tune in” to the idiosyncrasies and needs of your own organization. By doing so, you promise to create a more inclusive and cohesive working environment for all of your employees.

If this article has inspired you to consider taking some new steps in your own DEI and women in the workplace initiatives, we’re happy to help you address your HR and hiring processes to assist with those goals. Contact us today so we can start our collaboration.

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