January 10, 2019 06:28 PM
Does your small business provide equal opportunity to both women and men? (Photo: ALPA PROD/Shutterstock)
by Meg C. Hall
Fairness. Equality. Justice. These words are on the tips of everyone’s tongue as women of all types — from the rich and powerful in Hollywood to everyday working moms — are feeling empowered to speak up about gender equality in the workplace.
According to Janelle Coleman, managing partner of organizational development agency Four Letter Consulting, “Gender equality in a workplace setting is really about opportunity and providing both men and women the same opportunities to exist in that workplace, feel productive and rewarded and contribute to the company’s success.”
NCR Silver spoke with Coleman and independent diversity and inclusion specialist Debra Guckenheimer to explore some of the best practices and policies owners can put in place to create a more gender-equitable culture in their small businesses.
Just like any other company initiative, creating a culture of gender equality in your business starts at the top. As a leader you are responsible for setting the standard for your organization’s culture. By making things like racial diversity and gender equality a priority, you will lead by example.
“If the leadership is not committed to gender equity, it will never be a priority for the company,” explained Coleman. “Identify whether or not it is a priority for you, and think about what values you want to exist for your company. Then take active steps to implementing policies and procedures that enable that equality to exist.”
One of the most common areas gender inequality shows up in a company is in representation, especially in leadership positions, said Coleman. Lower-level roles in organizations tend to be more equitable, but as you move up to managerial positions, the ratios often shift dramatically.
“Taking a look at how gender is parsed out across the company is a good indicator of how gender is viewed within that organization,” she said. “Having women in leadership positions ensures that more women have the same opportunities as their male colleagues, and they will feel empowered to speak up if there are problems.”
Guckenheimer suggested evaluating the ratio of men to women in different roles in your small business. “Make sure that you’re hiring men and women in the same types of jobs,” she said, “and that you’re not hiring women for positions that are being paid less and the men for positions that are being paid more — which, of course, can be a challenge.”
Consider, for example, a restaurant that typically hires women as servers and men as kitchen staff, she said. If you assume that a woman would always prefer a front-of-the-house role, you may be unintentionally blocking her from a higher-paid position in the kitchen, simply because she doesn’t fit your preconception of a typical kitchen worker.
Ideally, business owners should interview an equal number of men and women when hiring a new employee — “or as close to 50-50 as you can,” Coleman advised.
But what happens if all your qualified applicants for the position are the same gender?
“The argument ‘There are no women who do this’ is just categorically false,” she said. “If we remove that assumption, it opens up our ability to be a little more creative about our hiring.”
If you always get more men than women — or vice versa — apply for certain roles, be more proactive about widening your search pool. Reach out to organizations in your area that offer professional development services or network to the group you’d like more applicants from.
“If there’s a local young women’s professional group in your city, reach out to them and ask them if they have qualified applicants for the role you’re looking for,” Coleman continued. “Or reach out to your network and say specifically, ‘We are looking for women who we can interview for this role because we’re taking steps to ensure we are creating gender equality in our workplace.’”
According to Guckenheimer, women typically make less than 80 cents on the dollar compared to men. One way to ensure your small business equitably paying employees is to flatten out your compensation structure.
Coleman echoed, “I would recommend putting a structure in place that has pay bands, so everybody who works in this position makes X number of dollars. That way it’s not a subjective task when you hire a person. It’s a policy that you pay people in this position this set dollar amount, and that really helps bridge the gap that you sometimes see in compensation between genders.”
Finally, make sure you have a reporting process in place where employees can provide feedback and bring sexual harassment concerns or other HR violations before the leadership.
“Making an anonymous feedback system is a really good way to ensure that people feel safe in bringing complaints forward,” Coleman explained. “Then create a process for how you’re going to deal with those complaints once they have been made.”
Keep in mind, attentiveness to gender equality not only impacts your employees, but also your small business’s brand. If word gets out that your employees aren’t treated equitably, it can cause more conscious consumers to take their business elsewhere.
“On the other hand,” said Guckenheimer, “if places go above and beyond, I have seen communities come around in support for businesses that are known for treating female employees really well. So being a place that goes above and beyond can actually bring more customers in.”