Women’s participation in the workforce has been significantly increasing throughout recent years, but is today’s work environment favorable enough for women? Be it the company culture, policy, or facility, creating a women-friendly work environment goes beyond jargon and requires everyone’s best intentions. To celebrate #IWD2022, HR in Asia is publishing a series of articles discussing women’s achievements and challenges in the workplace. And today, we will be talking about how businesses can foster a women-friendly work environment.
The most fundamental issue with creating a women-friendly environment is that not everyone shares the same vision on this. This is why sharing the same mindset about why a company should adopt a women-friendly work environment is the first step in actually creating one. Everyone in the office needs to believe that women are not less than men in basically everything, including leadership. Research shows that in 2020, women held only 20.6% of board director positions globally, increasing from 20.0% in 2019. Women’s leadership quotas on company boards have been established in France, Germany, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, and South Korea, among other countries. However, according to a 2020 Mercer review of over 1,100 businesses throughout the world, there is a faulty channel for women in leadership, with women’s representation diminishing as levels rise. The same review also reveals the percentage of women in job levels within a company:
Thinking that women are less capable of leading a team is an old-fashioned and discriminating belief. To break this perception, real action must be taken. As an HR leader, get everyone in your office to understand the importance of seeing women as equal to men when it comes to working participation. As an employee, support this by not subtly discriminating against your fellow women employees. Women are not just ‘nice-to-have’ in the office as they can give a ‘woman’s touch’ to lessen conflict or make work more satisfying. Above all, women deserve equal treatment and opportunity to growth as men.
Women are entitled to the same rights as men and this includes women’s employment opportunities. Unfortunately, many businesses still have a high preference on male workers compared to female ones. Research revealed that in comparison to men and women without children, mothers are less likely to be employed. Additionally, women are particularly affected by wage losses caused by COVID-19. Women are also underrepresented in high-skilled fields such as science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) at the moment. Women make up 35% of STEM students globally, but just 29.3% of those working in scientific research and development. The lack of women representation in many industries indicates that employment opportunities are far from being inclusive towards women.
There are still strong biases about jobs that discriminate against women, one of them stating that women are not rational enough to carry out professional duties. This needs to stop and you, as an employer, need to endorse this. You can start by excluding gender-biased job requirements when recruiting new personnel. Avoid sorting out candidates based on their marital status, since many job openings are only open to unmarried candidates. Married women are the ones most affected by this policy, so if you want to make a women-friendly work environment as early as your selection process, try to give them a chance. After all, you aim for skills and competence and if women can do it, there is no need to make a job position be filled with male-only.
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Maternity leave is supposed to be included as a standard in every company policy, although the details may vary. However, many soon-to-be mothers who work full-time are hesitant in taking this leave, even if is actually their right. According to recent research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, women who take time off are perceived as less devoted and competent at work. But, women who did not take maternity leave were also deemed to be “bad moms”, less desirable, and less compassionate.
Women are in a great dilemma; at one point, many of them fear that their careers will be at risk as they have to take a few months off from work during childbirth. At the same time, it is surely not easy, if not harmful, to force them to go back to work only a few days after labor. Therefore, HR managers need to show their support to women by encouraging maternity leave while also ensuring that this will not make them less worthy of employment. Make maternity leave more than just a gimmick by providing enough leave time for new mothers and not making them feel guilty for taking this leave. Ask your pregnant employees directly how you and the company can best assist them during their pregnancy, maternity leave, and return to work.
With a set of solid company policies to keep a women-friendly work environment in place, the next step is to make it known and directly felt. One way to make sure that female employees feel safe and accommodated is to provide necessary supplies and facilities. Keeping stocks of disposable sanitary pads or tampons readily available in the office is simple, yet meaningful. Additionally, providing a lactation room in the office would be great to support working moms to fulfill their domestic role while staying productive at work.
Creating a work environment that does not discriminate against women starts with everyone truly believing that women are not less than men. Only then, initiatives to make the office a safe place for women to work can be put into action. Happy International Women’s Day!
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