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Gender equality at workplaces need fast-tracking

Pushing for it with a distant timeline in mind is just not on

Image Credit: Nino Heredia/© Gulf News
Gulf News

The persistence of gender inequality in the workplace is getting harder to swallow. While most people accept that major cultural change doesn’t happen overnight, the call for an equal opportunity business environment has been ringing for decades while progress has been limited.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has predicted that it will take more than 100 years before the gender pay gap is closed. Even if we account for a large margin of error, this points to a sobering outlook for women in the workplace.

A major roadblock to improvement has been a lack of accountability for employers. Private organisations have historically only had to answer to themselves with regards to their hiring, pay and benefits approaches.

That’s why, it is encouraging that the UAE Gender Balance Council recently launched the “Gender Balance Guide: Good Practices for the UAE Organisations”, a comprehensive set of guidelines and concrete actions aimed at helping UAE organisations adopt a gender-sensitive approach at their workplace.

Developed in strategic collaboration with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Gender Balance Guide provides benchmarks and concrete steps to enhance gender balance within decision-making positions, promote women-friendly working environments and embed gender balance within the policy framework.

These guidelines will force companies to rethink their policies and empower employees who increasingly want to work somewhere that shares their value system and will be drawn to an equal opportunity organisation.

Some might argue that unless they impose sanctions on companies with a large gender pay gap governments cannot hope to effect change. However, this push for greater transparency should motivate organisations to tackle inequality in the interest of being viewed as an employer of choice and, one would hope, to help address wider gender issues.

An equal workforce all around

Of course, fair pay is only one element of an equal opportunity workplace. Just as important are policies that allow male and female employees to thrive while enjoying a rewarding personal life. Programmes like shared maternity and paternity leave or flexible working schemes allow workers to focus on both their professional development and their families.

Importantly, they do not force women to bear more responsibility than men for raising their children and allow fathers to spend as much time with their newborns as mothers.

The Nordic countries set a fine example in this regard. Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden in particular have shown a commitment to equal rights for men and women since the 1970s, so it’s hardly surprising they topped WEF’s (World Economic Forum) list of countries leading the way in gender quality. In fact, Finland was the first nation that allowed women to vote.

It’s worth noting the pay gap is still an issue in the Nordics, which shows that even the most advanced countries have work to do in this regard.

In the region, UAE is a leader in gender equality, providing women with equal access to education, health care, work, and representation in political decision-making. According to Institute of Management Accountants’ 2014 Salary Survey, there was a narrowing in the gender pay gap in the country, although some disparity still exists.

A call to action

Companies will face more scrutiny than ever regarding the diversity and equality of their workforce in 2017. Here are a few thoughts on how they can rise to the occasion:

* Become self-aware by putting the right data in place

Unless you have visibility into the fundamentals of each employee’s role, responsibilities and salary it’s nearly impossible to effectively audit your workforce and establish whether you have a problem. It is important to develop a complete enterprise wide picture because what might appear to be small differences in local business units might actually be a systemic problem across the organisation.

* Adapt your sourcing and retention strategies

Men and women do not always have the same priorities when looking for work. For instance, LinkedIn’s report on gender inequality in the IT sector found that women are more attracted by the promise of fulfilment and a compatible company culture than men. Recruitment tactics therefore need to be tailored to the values and drivers that resonate with individual prospects.

Similarly, retention strategies may need to change to reflect the potentially differing priorities of different segments of the workforce.

* Invest in the technology to support your efforts

Whether using targeted social sourcing campaigns to attract more female prospects or giving mothers and fathers the opportunity to work with greater flexibly, businesses need the technologies in place to support these initiatives. After all, no employee will feel comfortable working at home if they don’t have the collaboration tools to do so effectively.

Even a company with the best intentions will fall flat if they can’t support these with the proper resources.

The writer is the HCM Strategy Director at Oracle.

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