How Employers Can Build Gender Equity in the Workplace
Women and families have suffered crisis after crisis in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. From quarantining to helping a family member after the closure of care facilities, many workers experienced an uptick in their caregiving obligations. As a result, a record number of women fled the workforce after finding that the expectations of their careers were incompatible with their rising demands at home.
In the three years since the onset of the pandemic, women have gradually recovered from such job losses. Yet, positions in essential areas, including childcare and healthcare, have not yet restored their employment levels. These occupations are not only disproportionately held by women, but their services also allow women and caregivers to pursue other careers.
Vasu Reddy, Senior Policy Counsel for Economic Justice at the National Partnership for Women & Families, recently briefed Open to All Corporate Partners on the National Partnership’s latest report, entitled “Partnership in Action: A Guide to Building Gender Equity in the Workplace”. The guide serves as an introduction to the policies and benefits companies can implement to help women, especially women of color, return to the workforce. The National Partnership put together these recommendations using their policy expertise, copious amounts of research, and direct conversations with the workers discussed in this report.
While the media frequently focuses on gender equity in the workplace through the lens of white-collar professionals, the National Partnership’s report focuses on low-wage, part-time, and hourly workers. Women, particularly women of color, are overrepresented in these roles, with many serving as both the primary breadwinner and caregiver of their family. Even prior to the pandemic, these women often lacked adequate workplace protections and benefits to remain economically secure.
While public policy advocacy is necessary, it’s far from enough. Businesses, workers, and governments must recognize the desperate need for change. Employers can play a key role in eradicating disparities and advancing workplace policies. While political campaigning can take years to effect change, employers have the power to make immediate improvements in people’s lives.
Paid Family and Medical Leave
In the absence of paid leave, individuals are forced to make the impossible choice between their health and economic survival. Those without access to paid leave policies are generally those whose budgets have little room for lost wages. Only 6% of the lowest-paid workers have paid leave, and 9% have short-term disability, compared to 43% and 71% of the highest-paid.
Paid Sick Days
While paid family and medical leave typically last for an extended period, paid sick time allows for workers to attend to short-term illness and other medical situations. Employers should also allow employees to use paid sick days to attend to non-medical needs, such as instances of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and the closure of family members’ caregiving facilities. It’s recommended businesses provide employees with at least five workdays of paid sick time.
Accommodations for Pregnant Workers
Despite their extended need for healthcare and financial security, pregnant workers are often forced to abandon their jobs due to lack of simple accommodations in the workplace. Minor changes to working environments, including permitting cashiers to sit on a chair or allowing employees to carry a water bottle on the sales floor, can enable pregnant individuals to work safely.
Fair and Flexible Scheduling
Irregular hours, lack of advanced notice, and frequent last-minute changes do not provide a conducive environment for workers to fulfill basic needs while off the clock. Employers should offer their workers more control over their schedules by enabling workers to request changes to their schedules, considering travel time and transportation costs, and providing at least 14 days’ notice of schedule changes.
Higher and More Livable Wages
National Partnership recommends utilizing a credible online tool, such as MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, to estimate an adequate minimum pay rate in your area. Employers should also refrain from the practice of paying below minimum wage — such as the lower minimum wage for tipped or disabled employees — and bring those workers’ pay in line with the pay grades for the rest of the business. A commitment to higher wages extends beyond those of a business’s direct employees; companies should pledge to only source from those who pay livable wages.
For every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic males in 2021, Asian American women received 86 cents; Black women 64 cents; Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women 61 cents; Latinx women 54 cents; and Native American women 51 cents. The wage gap is only widened by the common practice of utilizing one’s former compensation to determine their starting salary in a new position. With prior pay depressing future pay, employees become trapped in a loop that can have long-term consequences related to wealth acquisition, retirement savings, and financial security. To create better pay transparency, companies should consider eliminating the use of salary history to set current salary, publicizing salary ranges in job descriptions, and eliminating policies penalizing employees for openly discussing their pay.
Sexual harassment is most common in industries dominated by low-wage workers and women of color. Despite being disproportionately harmed, these workers have the fewest options for reporting and challenging harassment. Employers must do more to safeguard their employees from workplace harassment. This includes prohibiting retribution against individuals who report harassment, allocating resources to prevention efforts, holding offenders accountable, and ensuring workers are aware of the support available to them.
When implementing any of these new policies, companies must make thoughtful considerations about how these policies will be communicated, managed, and promoted. One method is to seek employees’ input on new policies, which can be accomplished by establishing a feedback loop. In order to be easily accessible and widely available to all employees, policies should be clearly written and made available in all languages spoken in the workplace.
Closing gaps in gender equity is beneficial not only to workers but also to businesses. Businesses have the unique opportunity to distinguish themselves as industry leaders while simultaneously reaping the benefits of improved employee retention, decreased turnover, increased productivity, and enhanced morale. When employers care for the livelihoods of their workers, employees are more likely to enter the workplace with a prepared and productive attitude. To learn more about how you can implement such policies in your business, click here to read the complete “Partnership in Action: An Employer Guide to Building Gender Equity in the Workplace” authored by the National Partnership for Women and Families.