How you can empower women in the workplace

Kerrie-Anne Chinn, Content & Editorial Manager

In 2017, many people believe that gender equality has been achieved. However, a recent investigation by Australia’s sex discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkins, has found this is not the case.

Through her research, Jenkins found that while members of the community may not actively be working against gender equality, many people across Australia are of the idea that it’s already been attained – “which means there is no real motivation for people to do things differently or to promote women or highlight their stories,” she says.

We’ve recently discussed some of the challenges faced by women in the workplace, including the under-representation of women in leadership and the technology industry. To recap, in terms of leadership women make up only 5% of ASX 200 CEOs, with senior female managers earning $93,000 less per year, on average, than their male equivalents. Women are also still significantly outnumbered when it comes to working in STEM-related studies and careers, making up only one in four IT graduates and fewer than one in 10 engineering graduates.

As the chief executive of the Diversity Council Australia, Lisa Annese, believes that “we are undoubtedly not making the most of the talent that we know is out there in the community. We really need to look hard at what biases, either conscious or unconscious,” are occurring in the workforce.

So what can we do to accelerate gender equality? How can we encourage greater empowerment of women in the workplace?

Take Steps to Address Gender Bias in Your Workplace

This year, through International Women’s Day, women are encouraged to “call on the masses or call on yourself to help forge a better working world – a more inclusive, gender equal world.”

The International Women’s Day website has excellent suggestions for how individuals – women, men and non-binary people – can create positive change within their own spheres of influence. Some of these suggestions can be used to address gender bias in the workplace, such as:

  • pulling people up on exclusive language
  • challenging stereotypes
  • calling it out when women are excluded
  • querying all-male speaking panels
  • monitoring the gender pay gap
  • appointing a woman to the board
  • mentoring a woman and sponsoring her goals

If you’re an employer, manager or CEO, you’re in a position of power and can have a direct influence over the way female employees are treated within your organisation. Read our previous article for more tips for how you can accelerate gender parity to make sure you’re creating an equitable work environment.

Develop a Strong Policy Around Sexual Harassment

Employers also have a responsibility to create a safe and positive environment for all staff. And as an individual, you have the right to work in a non-threatening work environment, free from any form of harassment.

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2012 survey told us that 1 in 4 women (25%) have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. In 2017, sadly, we are still seeing high statistics in this area.

Make sure the organisation you work for has an effective strategy that prevents and addresses workplace harassment. Read about the importance of sexual harassment policies in the workplace to find out how you can make more of a difference in how your staff think about sexual harassment in the workplace.

Encourage Confidence and Assertiveness in the Workplace

Another challenge women face in the workplace is gender stereotyping. Frustratingly, many women are criticised for being confident and assertive in the workplace “as this goes against ingrained feminine stereotypical behaviours.”

A recent article in the Guardian highlighted the current reality for Australian women at work – with women being “underpaid, discriminated against and told to be more confident.” The article states that women are twice as likely as men to receive feedback indicating they need to show “more confidence” to be ready for promotion.

Yet how can women show that they feel confident in taking on a leadership role, or being promoted, when it’s likely they’ll receive criticism for that confidence? This catch-22 prevents many female employees from receiving the recognition and salary they deserve, while also continuing to perpetuate existing stereotypes about the role of women in society.

Work to promote an organisational culture where women’s confidence is respected, rather than criticised.

Promote Ongoing Discussion Around Gender Equality

International Women’s Day means different things to different people – for many, it’s a celebration of female achievement; for others, it's a call-to-action to continue fighting for gender equality.

By actively working to empower women in your workplace, you'll be playing a part in accelerating gender parity. It's also important to keep these discussions going, all year, if we want to get closer towards achieving equality. With continual, ongoing action in this area you can help to drive better outcomes for women and change lives around the world.


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