4 Ways to Increase Gender Equality in the Workplace

The narrative around gender equality has largely shifted in the past few years, and organizations are beginning to recognize that gender equality in the workplace isn’t just an admirable goal — it can also drive profitability.

However, we’ve got a long way to go until there is true gender equality in the workplace. Research shows that women are promoted at a slower rate than men, and if the current rate continues the number of women serving in managerial roles will increase by only 1% during the next decade.

But stomping out gender inequality isn’t just a matter of fighting discrimination. There are systemic and procedural issues organizations have to address in order to create a truly equal workplace. We spoke with Eileen Scully, author of “In the Company of Men: How Women Can Succeed in a World Built Without Them” and founder of gender-equality-focused consultancy The Rising Tides, about four ways organizations can increase gender equality in the workplace.

Quit Asking for Salary History

The first step organizations can take is one of the easiest to implement, Scully says: Stop asking for salary history from candidates. Organizations that ask for salary history unintentionally reinforce the gender pay gap, she says. Instead, work from an allocated budget set aside for a new hire’s salary. “Do not worry about how that person was paid prior,” Scully says. “That’s the main thing that holds women back — and quite honestly, holds women down.”

Expand Your Leave Policy

Employee leave policies are a key benefit; however, poor policies often penalize new mothers. Instead, Scully says, implement a generous paid leave policy that’s available to everyone whether they work part time or full time or whether they’re paid hourly or salaried. “Really make that a core corporate value of your organization, and you will not only hire people at a different rate but you will retain people at a much higher rate,” she says. “It is a massive statement on the value you put on your individual employees and the lives they have outside the work they do for you.”

In a further sign of trust and goodwill, an expanded leave policy puts decisions about when to return to work in the employee’s hands, and it helps break down any stigmas that surround paternity and maternity leave. Scully points to the leaves taken by Marissa Mayer at Yahoo and Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook after the births of their children. Mayer took two weeks leave, and Zuckerberg took two months. Both were criticized, something Scully vehemently disagrees with. “Let’s not genderize their decisions,” she says. “If we really want smart people to make big decisions for us in our organization, can we let them make the decisions that are right for their families without us handing judgment?”

Provide Support for Employee Resource Groups

Many organizations have employee resource groups, where employees of like-minded backgrounds and interests can get together. They’re a great resource for employees to connect and engage on topics and issues; however, simply offering the groups isn’t enough. Scully recommends that organizations truly put their money where their mouth is — not only should they provide adequate funding, but they should pay the leaders of these groups extra. “Many of these affinity groups are run by people on top of their regular job,” Scully says. “If you have people that are doing that, you need to include it in their job description, you need to pay them for doing that extra work and you need to look at how that can be sustainable in your organization.”

Providing funding will help prevent burnout for group leaders, and it also shows that your organization is prioritizing issues such as gender equality. In addition, it creates more engagement at the workplace. “Employees are engaging meaningfully with each other with things that are not necessarily a work product,” Scully says. In other words, even though ERGs aren’t devoted to work-related subjects, they let employees create bonds, creating a better workplace culture.

Look Around the Table

Scully’s final tip is something you can do in your next meeting: Look around the table and consider whether the group that influences your decisions includes a broad representation of who your customers are and reflects the diversity in society.

It’s a simple test that quickly highlights where you stand in regard to equality. Odds are your customers are a mix of genders, races and backgrounds. Make sure everyone has a seat at the table.


This article was originally published in August 2015 and substantially reworked in September 2019.