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How to Build an Inclusive Environment for Women in The Workplace?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Building workplaces conducive to women is not just about painting walls pink or having empowering posters on the walls. There’s a lot more you can do. 

If you are serious about creating an inclusive workplace, you need to go beyond virtue signaling. More thought and effort need to go into it. For starters, ask the women in the workplace. Find out what sort of changes they would like to see. 

Meaningful policies and changes will inspire loyalty and create a happier team, which is great for employer branding.

1. Give greater flexibility

Greater Flexibility - women in the workplace

With the emergence of collaboration tools and greater accessibility to the internet, companies now can truly embrace a flexible work culture. They don’t have to worry about it leading to a dip in productivity or a lack of team collaboration. 

When it comes to women, having a flexible culture significantly increases the likelihood of staying on with companies. One, it makes it easier for them to manage their personal commitments and work. Two, in a country like India where commutes are stressful and exhausting, flexible work arrangements can be a massive relief. More importantly, it also ensures that responsibilities like childcare and taking care of the elderly won’t solely be on women.

Few ways to develop a flexible work culture:

  • Allow employees to take sabbaticals
  • Encourage remote work
  • Offer menstrual leave
  • Have flexible work schedules
  • Give the provision to attend meetings, check-ins, or one-on-ones virtually
  • Allow employees to switch off from work after office hours completely
  • Stop employees from using Whatsapp or personal chat apps for work
  • Provide extended maternity and paternity leaves

While implementing these policies, employers need to ensure employees who take work from home days are not being shamed or discouraged.

Even a casual throwaway statement is enough to stop people from making use of these flexible work arrangements. This is especially important because, in India, there is a notion that ‘people who take fewer holidays or stay back late’ are model employees.

So, employers need to actively curb these tendencies and make sure they are treated like every other employee. Team leads and HRs need to put extra efforts to ensure remote workers feel comfortable and welcome.

2. Make your communications more inclusive

Inclusive communications - women in the workplace

‘You guys have done a great job, let’s keep at it.’

Imagine you are saying this to a team of ten, where three of the members are women. While some may be that okay with a statement, many others may not be. They may feel excluded or that their contributions are not being highlighted. 

Instead of that, you could say ‘all of you have done really well, let’s keep at it’. A slight tweak, but makes the statement more impactful and inclusive. 

Train your employees to stop words and phrases such as male/female, manpower, ladylike, gentlemanly, and statesman. The idea is to avoid words that directly or indirectly discriminate against women or reinforce gender roles and stereotypes.  This will make it easier for you to build an inclusive and diverse workplace where everyone feels safe and welcome.

You can get your HR to add them to the onboarding program and the code of conduct. Besides that, you can hire organisations that work towards gender-equality to conduct regular workshops and seminars for your team.

3. Ensure your office is women-friendly

Women friendly workplaces

When people feel comfortable in their workplace, they are more likely to be productive. 

Although we have started seeing Indian companies buying into this philosophy, we have a long way to go. And it is even worse in the case of women. Many workplaces still lag in terms of basic things — sexist dress codes, lack of feeding rooms and daycare facilities, no rejoining programs for new mothers, and failure to provide safe-travel arrangements to women employees who stay beyond office hours. 

What’s worse, we keep hearing horror stories of women being made to work out of tiny offices where there is no space for them to move around.

In a country like India, where women are taught from a young age to ‘adjust’, it is up to the employers to take up the initiative and provide these necessities. You shouldn’t wait for women to come up to you or something untoward to happen. The bottom line is that employers need to be proactive and not reactive.

4. Provide equal opportunities

Women and career advancement

49 pc IIM women alumni say they do not have equal opportunities for career growth: Survey

And this is how women who graduated out of India’s premier management institutions feel, now imagine what’s happening to everyone else. The imbalance exists in almost all aspects — from recruitment, remunerations offered, to career advancement.

The first step is to remove innate biases in recruitment. Often we see women candidates being overlooked by recruiters sighting excuses such as ‘she has toddlers to take care of’, ‘she won’t be able to stay back in the office late,’ among others. 

If a person’s skill set, qualifications, and personality match the role, they should be hired. HR teams across organizations should actively try to get rid of such biases and mindset. Always try to attract the best talent possible. 

In India, the gender pay gap is 24.81 percent, which’s quite high by global standards. As an employer, to solve this, start by reviewing your payroll. Find out if there exist any gaps, and take corrective measures. After that, ensure you make ‘equal pay’ a part of your policy. Also, having more women in decision-making roles should solve this problem to a large extent. This again highlights the lack of career advancement opportunities for women. 

Women employees don’t often get considered for promotions or the same sort of opportunities to upskill. Even worse, in some cases, they don’t receive the same level of mentorship.

Employers need to put an end to these discriminatory practices. Women should have the same level of access to training programs, networking events, offsite events, and mentorship. 

In this long run, it will only make your workplace much more diverse, happy, productive, and, more importantly, promoting someone within is much cheaper.

5. Zero tolerance towards sexism and harassment

Zero tolerance against harassment and sexism

With all the #metoo stories that came out over the past few years, we have seen how shocking and toxic the work culture actually is many companies. This needs to change. Women shouldn’t be coming to work with any fear or mental baggage. 

The first step is to ensure your organization is compliant with India’s Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, and other related laws.

Ensure women employees are aware of their legal rights, company policies, and redressal options available to them. They should feel that their voice will be heard and that they will be supported all through. You should instill trust and confidence in them. Make them feel that there will be no retaliation or bias against them in the future in case they report something.

Besides that, partner with women’s rights organisations and conduct anti-sexual harassment training programs and workshops for your employees. Also, make sure the HR policies clearly state what would be considered unacceptable or sexist behaviour.

Wrapping up

Employers should focus on creating a work culture where women can express freely, innovate, be productive, and realize their true potential. And this requires sustained and proactive effort from the employer’s side. Merely celebrating women’s contributions on the Women’s Day is not enough.