How to champion gender equity

While “The Great Resignation” may sound like the next plague about to hit, one of its root causes, burnout, is eclipsing all. More than four million people quit their jobs in August, and according to McKinsey’s 2021 Women in the Workplace Report women are feeling the burn even more now than they did a few months into the pandemic. Stress and exhaustion have led one in three women to consider a job with less responsibility or to leave the workforce altogether. 

The pandemic made things clear: Life is precious. Too precious to spend time in a job you hate where you feel undervalued, underpaid, and uninspired. We are seeing a great reshuffling of what success means. It’s no longer the impressive title, corner office, or big bonus, but having more flexibility to pursue our passions and be present with our families. 

If we want to keep our best talent, we need to stop doing things the way they’ve always been done. Give your employees what they deserve: purpose, and to be seen, heard, and recognized. It’s on all of us to be a champion for gender equality. Let’s rewrite the rules. Here’s how:                                                                                                                                                       

Hire for passion, train for skill

Stop hiring carbon copies of your employees. If we truly want diverse teams, we have to reach outside our circle. Look for candidates whose resume doesn’t line up with the requisite job requirements, someone who doesn’t have the necessary experience or connections but has the tenacity to learn and keep learning. And set them up for success with a work ally and strong support system. 

Accommodate life stages

We talk about work/life balance, but there’s no such thing. Throw it out of your vocabulary. You have one life with five dimensions: career, family, community, friends, and the one we always forget: yourself. The slices in this pie aren’t always equal, sometimes you need to prioritize a particular aspect of your life. If you want your company to attract and retain the best talent, you have to accommodate all life stages.

This may include an employee who is pursuing a graduate degree, a caregiver to an older parent, an aspiring yogi, or a new father learning how to care for his infant. These are all different needs that require different types of flexibility. As long as someone is getting their job done and done well, we shouldn’t care when they’re doing it. If every employee is given a life stage accommodation, it becomes the new norm. 

Make parental leave mandatory

It’s not about maternity or paternity leave, but about encouraging parental leave. The best leaders today are caregivers and yet, we’re losing our best leaders to caregiving. If we encourage all new parents to take parental leave and share the responsibility at home, we will create equal opportunity in the workplace and caregiving will not be the primary responsibility of women.

Provide mental health breaks

Take the stigma out of the phrase “mental health.” It shouldn’t imply there’s a problem, it should be time reserved for self-care and prevention. Create a caregiving space inside your organization, whether it’s sessions with a life coach, a stipend for wellness activities, or a quiet space to retreat. 

Set predictable flexibility

As companies navigate the hybrid work model going forward, proximity bias can occur–those with more face time are more likely to be favored by managers and receive plum assignments that lead to promotions that lead to greater pay, and ultimately inequity in the workplace. It’s like not being invited to be on the golf foursome, those not on the green are missing out on valuable networking. 

To circumvent this, predictable flexibility, a concept shared by my girlfriend Eve Rodsky, sets a schedule where everyone is in the office the same amount of days and works from home the same amount of days. This helps ensure that parents who are more likely to take advantage of flexible work arrangements aren’t left behind.

Embrace proximity-ship

This is when leaders designate open time slots on their calendars for team members to sign up for valuable one-on-one time, regardless of their title or position. It becomes less about top-down and more about bottom-up and flipping the funnel.

Provide an interview ally

How do you check for unconscious bias during the interview process? Include a team member who is not actively involved with the role that is being hired. They can act as a neutral company ambassador and share feedback that is unrelated to their own job and team structure. Once that individual is hired, they can become that person’s mentor and ally, and there will be no conflicts of interest because they work in different groups. 

Change the equation, close the gaps

Hire in threes. Having women in the pipeline isn’t enough; women aren’t comfortable being a lone voice. According to McKinsey & Company women who are ‘onlys’ (the only woman) and ‘double onlys’ (the only woman and the only parent in the group) are experiencing a much more isolating and stressful work environment. If you hire in threes at every level, you have women supporting other women. 

To be more transparent about equal pay for equal work, companies need to open the lid on salaries. Often the gatekeepers in HR and senior management are the only ones with access to these numbers. If you want to dig into the data and solve for what it will take to close the gender pay gap within your own organization, be a trailblazer for equity in the workplace—and make those numbers available to all. 

Shelley Zalis is the CEO of The Female Quotient (The FQ), a company focused on changing the equation and closing the equity gaps.