Closing the Gender Gap

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Culture. Engagement. Retention. Inclusion. Diversity. The Gender Gap.

These are all important factors for HR/People teams when striving to better an organization. Whether at start-ups or enterprise businesses, closing the gender gap has moved to the top of the agenda. The statistics are staggering and employees are demanding a better work environment- American women earn just 77 cents for every dollar that men earn, and fill only 14% of Fortune 500 boardroom seats.

In 2016, women working full-time in the US were on average paid just 80% of what their male counterparts were, creating a 20% gap. AAUW projects that with current pay and work trends, pay equity will even out around 2059. When looking to hire top talent and create an organization that individuals want to stay and grow with, 2059 is just too long to wait. Closing the gender gap in your organization is feasible.

It’s important to understand some of the underlying causes of pay disparity.  Many schools of thought focus on the gap in education, there are some deeper roots that Bouree Lam discusses. While careers in STEM fall low on the percentage of women working in the industry, there can be an inherent gender issue preventing many women from seeking high-demand, high-paying careers. The number one reason? Families. Societal and gender roles place a focus on women caring for their families. Taking maternity can unfortunately be inhibiting for a woman to advance in her career. Additional factors that may contribute to the gender gap include student debt and limited opportunities for negotiation.

Below are some ways that HR/People teams can help fix the gender gap and gain business benefits for your organization:

Analyze Positions and Job Descriptions Qualitatively-  When creating positions and job descriptions be open to candidates with different experiences. Think outside the box how a woman who took a year gap to raise her family can use those qualities to excel in the job. Being flexible and seeing the potential in a candidate can pay off in the long run with their gratitude and loyalty to the organization.

Allow for Negotiations, Within Reason- For positions, set a reasonable salary range within budget. With the new laws prohibiting inquiries about past salaries, women now have an additional opportunity to lean in and ask for the salary they would like. Don’t immediately turn down a salary ask, but do be transparent about your budget. If you can offer alternative benefits, such as working from home one day to allow for flexible family time, they can be more valuable than pay.

Design an Effective Maternity/Family Leave Policy– From the start it’s important to create a clear maternity/family leave policy as well as have a program in place for mother’s to transition back into the work force. Many times, mother’s feel overwhelmed balancing home and work life and leave a position if they feel there is no room for flexibility. Before leave, have the employee and their manager work together to find a solution that works for everyone. Having a plan in place will make the employee feel more confident in coming back to work.

Train Upper Management and Team Leaders- During management trainings it’s important to include topics on inclusion and bias awareness. Closing the gender gap needs to be an organization-wide effort, with leadership paving the way. However, management needs the tools to do so. During your next training, consider having a roundtable on how to address this topic.

Create a Safe Space- As HR, you are the “people” team. Ensure you create a warm and approachable environment where employees feel they can confide in you. Each employee should know who their HR Business Partner/Rep is and feel comfortable scheduling time if they feel their gender (or any issue for that matter) is inhibiting their career growth. If concern is never discussed, it will be challenging to know how much the gender gap affects your organization.

While working to close the gender gap can seem like a huge task, starting with small initiatives to address the issue will gradually pave the way for closing it. Share with leadership to show how the gender gap might be affecting the company and by working to close it, the organization will improve business, retention, and employee happiness.

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