How your small business can achieve gender equality in the workplace

As new research highlights a £12,000 pay gap between female and male managers, read how your start-up can achieve gender parity in five steps

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As a small business owner in 2017, you probably already understand the importance and value of creating an equal, fair, and accommodating workplace and want to ensure there’s gender diversity in your business.

Not only is gender parity important from a human perspective but it makes business sense champion gender diversity.

Recruitment firm Mason Frank argues the case simply: “On a basic level, women now make up over half of the population, so through exclusion in the workplace, businesses are closing off a huge portion of the talent pool”.

So, what can you do to create a workplace at your start-up or small business which accommodates genders equally and strives to be the best business you can?

Here are five steps you can take to create a fair and diverse working environment within your small business…

1. Represent equally

A big part of the existing gender diversity problem is seemingly obvious;  there are too few women in business, particularly in STEM routes.

According to Mckinsey’s 2016 Women in the Workplace report, women are still underrepresented at every level of the corporate pipeline. This means entry level to C Suite positions demonstrate a disproportionate gender balance with the situation getting progressively worse with seniority.

It can be difficult to simply say “well, let’s hire more women”. What if the issue comes from a lack of women in the sector? What if you strongly believe in a hiring model based on merit alone? It’s clear that  a token hiring system is not the solution.

Hiring women for your business based solely on their gender is not the answer and is, in fact, a negative argument often supported by those in society who are (conscious or unconscious) oppressors.

A fair hiring policy is not about choosing candidates based on gender, but creating jobs which attract both genders and accommodate equally.

For instance, the language in your job adverts can be a window to your conduct. “We work hard, play harder, and banter is an important part of our business” could send a different message to “We support a work/life balance and make our office a fun place to be.” Which of those seems adverts like it could be daunting for a woman to approach?

Furthermore, many women look for work which accommodates flexible hours to help manage childcare. Likewise, attractive maternity pay can be another female orientated incentive that can simply help get women through the door.

Maria Kondrat’yev, co-founder and COO of Sustainabody, advises:”I’ve found that a gender balance in executive leadership creates a gender balance throughout the organisation. Equality comes from the top and ripples downward throughout your organisation, so it’s essential that your leadership is diverse and inclusive of both genders.

“Without a female voice in decision-making, there’s very little accomplished in terms of equality and freedom of ideas in your company. The people at the top determine the creative freedom of those beneath them.”

2. Pay equally

In the UK, new legislation dictates that companies with more than 250 staff must now publish their pay gap figures. This is already a huge stepping stone in helping eliminate pay disparities.

That being said, this isn’t as relevant to small businesses. Moreover, the pay gap is also dictated by factors such as women being inherently attracted to lower paying jobs as well as often having to work part-time to fit around family life.

This is where small businesses can really help create long-term change.

Smaller organisations like yours can become involved with education and create programmes to teach and support young women pursuing careers which are under represented. This could be industry related  such as offering technology-based internships, or could involve management training programmes.

Do you have the facilities to bring in young people? They will not only have a chance to learn from you but also support your workload and teach you more about management, training and beyond.

3. Establish bulletproof grievance policies

Tackling gender diversity is as much about keeping the women in your business as attracting them.

Research by NCWIT’s Workforce Allicance shows that 50% of women in STEM jobs ended up leaving their job over a 12-year span. This figure was just 20% for non-STEM jobs. Although, overall, quit rates are up to twice as high for men as they are for women.

To retain women in your business, you should ensure you adopt processes where all staff feel comfortable raising concerns about any conduct; be that from colleagues or senior managers.

A good method to keep this process neutral is to outsource your HR facilities or to hire a HR manager who will oversee the process. This really takes the ownership from the manager’s shoulders while still allowing them to remain accountable.

In general, the way you operate your business should create an open forum for communication.

Your business venture is as much fuelled by the product or service you offer as it is by the people behind it so you need to ensure everyone in your team is supported in order to succeed.

4. Don’t forget that men’s rights are equally important

You should support women and men’s inclusion in the workplace equally.

Business teacher Thérèse Stevens names several points of consideration that business owners must remember to be truly accommodating to both genders.

Paternity leave, bringing men into traditionally female positions, and supporting mental health initiatives are just a few issues concerning men that you should look to accommodate within your start-up or small business.

Paternity leave and general parental rights are issues considered by many as particularly unfair. Think about what you cna do within your organisation to help fathers have the same rights as the mothers you employ.

5. Remember, the key to fairness is support

Diversity in the workplace makes sense and supporting people no matter of their gender should be a no-brainer.

As an employer, it’s your social responsibility to drive change and create a workplace that sets an example for the future.

Oh, and as it happens, research shows that ‘female-led companies drive three times the returns of companies predominantly led by men’, so bear that in mind for your next management hire!

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