IWD: how effective conversations can support gender equity at work

At OpenBlend, we’re passionate in our belief that equity, rather than equality, is the goal we should be working towards, and here’s why: women should never be expected or encouraged to behave like men.

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a worldwide event that celebrates women and raises awareness of gender discrimination. Last year’s theme centred around breaking the centuries-long bias that still affects women today – and it’s something that our Founder, Anna Rasmussen, talked about in UNLEASH and Management Today

Eager to know what the theme would be for 2023, we were thrilled to learn that it’s all about ‘embracing equity’. At OpenBlend, we’re passionate in our belief that equity, rather than equality, is the goal we should be working towards, and here’s why: women should never be expected or encouraged to behave like men. 

Unlike equality, equity recognises difference – and crucially, it supports the acknowledgements and adjustments needed to level the playing field and create new opportunities for women to thrive.  

Conversations: understanding women in the workplace

The first step on this journey involves looking at the gender debate from the woman’s perspective – and to do that, there needs to be a better understanding of the myriad challenges, commitments, and circumstances that place a heavier burden on female employees. 

So how can organisations build their awareness in these terms? 

The solution lies in enabling regular conversations that empower women (and all employees) to openly express what they need and want, as well as what motivates them, and what impacts their ability to perform. In other words, the strength of the manager’s ability to have effective conversations is directly linked to how well women’s needs are met at work.

Celebrating women as individuals

This is not to say women should all be grouped into the same basket, however. Gender equity involves more than just understanding women’s issues, it’s about recognising that every woman is different and has their own unique circumstances and challenges. The best managers will not only acknowledge these differences but demonstrate a curious desire to increase their understanding through ongoing discussions. 

In this way, conversations provide the single, best route to enabling equity at work – and not just for women, but for everyone. Here’s three things HR teams can do to support the journey and ensure the very best outcomes:

1) Raise awareness of gender disparity 

IWD provides a great platform for HR to drive awareness of women’s rights and the factors that can create an unfair environment for female workers. Internal communications and events that highlight sex discrimination, unequal pay, and work-life imbalance, can certainly help, yet in the same breath it’s vital to avoid stereotypical assumptions that can lead to micro-aggressions. 

It’s a delicate balance to strike but with careful consideration and lots of conversation underpinned by good intentions and a desire to learn, organisations will drive positive change for women and the wider workforce. 

2)  Widen the scope of conversation

Of course, the best way for managers to avoid these assumptions is to stop speculating and instead create a dialogue with their female employees. Even better, why not enable women to set the agenda for their own one-to-ones so that conversations are laser-focused on the issues that matter most to them, whatever those may be?

Most importantly, these conversations must provide a safe space in which manager and employee can discuss a wide breadth of content that includes wellbeing, motivation, and even personal circumstances. It is only through these broader discussions that managers can develop a true understanding of the issues at hand – and pave the way to more equitable experiences. 

3)  Equip managers with the right training and tools 

Of course, not every manager will feel comfortable talking about personal topics such as fertility or the menopause – and in fact, our own research suggests managers are far more confident with process-driven topics that offer a familiar (and reassuring) structure. 

We get it. Difficult conversations can be, well, difficult. There’s an inherent fear of saying the wrong thing and offending the other party. The good news, though, is that with the right training and technology, HR can equip managers with the soft skills, prompts, and frameworks they need to optimise conversations and ensure that every woman’s needs are not only heard but acted upon.

Looking to #embraceequity in your organisation? Get in touch to start your journey to effective, equitable conversations.

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