• Gender inequities can be inherent in recruitment processes, particularly in male-dominated industries.
  • Yet gender bias can lead to productivity losses of about $2.8 million a year, a recent study found.
  • Standardized interviews and skills-based assessments can help address the issue.
  • So can salary transparency and offering flexible working to allow for childcare duties.

Despite efforts to improve gender equality in the workplace, women still earn considerably less than their male colleagues and remain under-represented at senior level. Indeed, the global pay gap between the sexes stood at 50% last year, according to the World Economic Forum.

Yet improving workplace equality also has its benefits for employers. A 1% gender bias effect at a Fortune 500 company that hires 8,000 people a year can lead to productivity losses of about $2.8 million a year, found a recent study from Oregon State University.

Here are five ways to improve gender equality in the workplace:

1. Make a longer shortlist when recruiting

Gender inequities can be inherent in informal recruitment processes, particularly in male-dominated industries.

To address this, recruiters should make their informal shortlist longer, suggest researchers writing in the Harvard Business Review. Adding an additional three candidates to an initial shortlist of three saw the women-to-men ratio rise from 1:6 on the original list, to 1:4 on the extended one, their study showed.

a chart showing the global gender pay gap from 2015 to 2020
The gender gap persists.
Image: Statista

2. Remove the gender pay gap

The gender pay gap measures the difference in average earnings between male and female employees. In 2020, women worldwide earned 81 cents for every US dollar earned by men, according to Statista. While this has improved over the years – up from 74 cents in 2015 – more work is needed, particularly as women are still less likely to negotiate their salary.

Employers can help address the issue by being transparent about wages, to ensure women aren’t receiving less than men in equivalent roles.

Pay brackets can encourage female applicants and employees to negotiate their wage by giving an indication of reasonable expectations for a particular role.

3. Use skills-based assessments

Employers in the UK are encouraged to use skills-based assessments and structured interviews when recruiting, to reduce the risk of unfair bias.

Asking candidates to perform tasks they would be expected to carry out in the role they are applying for, enables organizations to assess their suitability based on their performance, says a report from the Government Equalities Office. These tasks need to be standardized across all applicants to ensure fairness.

Recruiters are also urged to use structured interviews, where all candidates are asked the same questions in a predetermined order and format. Grading the responses using standardized criteria reduces the risk of unconscious bias, the report says.

4. Have women mentor men

Mentoring in the workplace can prove invaluable in helping an employee progress their career. The benefits of junior business women having a mentor to help break the barriers they face are well documented.

But specifically having women mentor men could benefit both parties, and society as a whole, by allowing people to learn more about different working and leadership styles, according to research reported on the Social Science Research Network.

“We’re hoping that if we encourage more women mentoring men, maybe we can generate more empathy, more co-operation and just more willingness to see each other as people and to work for everybody’s success,” says study co-author Cindi Schipani, professor of business law at the University of Michigan.

5. Make work-life balance a priority

Improving work-life balance can benefit both men and women.

Insurance company Zurich saw a 16% increase in women applying for jobs after it became the first firm in the UK to advertise all its vacancies with the options of ‘part-time’, ‘job-share’ or ‘flexible working’. It also saw a rise in applications from men.

The gender pay gap also widens considerably after women have children – an issue which can be tackled by shared parental leave policies and enabling working parents to share childcare more equally.