How to create gender inclusion in the workplace

By Robert Half on 2 June 2022

At a time when Australia is facing a skills shortage and employers can struggle to fill roles, building a gender inclusive workplace can bring multiple benefits to a company.

On a global scale, Australia’s track record on workplace gender diversity is not strong.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2021 ranks Australia 50th globally for workplace gender equality – significantly behind many other developed nations.

Yet remarkably, Australia holds the top spot for educational attainment among women. This points to a significant pool of highly-educated women whose skills are underutilised.

Reflecting this, a report by advocacy group Chief Executive Women (CEW) describes women as “Australia’s most untapped resource”. It notes that increasing women’s participation in the paid workforce could fill job vacancies and address the critical skills shortages predicted between now and 2026.

Building a gender diverse workplace has benefits on a larger scale.

Modelling by KPMG suggests that halving the gap between male and female workforce participation rates could boost Australia’s annual GDP by $60 billion by 2038, and lift cumulative measured living standards by a massive $140 billion.

Why does gender inclusion in the workplace matter?

For employers, nurturing a gender diverse workplace makes good business sense.

A Deloitte report entitled Women @Work 2022 found employers that embrace gender equality reap valuable rewards. These include higher rates of employee retention and team motivation, with employees reporting higher levels of wellbeing and job satisfaction.

Importantly, gender inclusion goes beyond women.

A Diversity Council of Australia (DCA) study found 28% of workers who are trans or gender diverse were ‘out’ to no one at work.

On the flipside, DCA found that workplaces with cultures where employees are out to everyone, experience strong levels of innovation, team performance and excellence in client or customer service.

5 ways to foster gender diversity in your workplace

The issue of gender bias in the workforce is complex. And it encompasses systemic issues such as the cost and availability of formal childcare in Australia.

Nonetheless, there is a strong business case for providing a gender inclusive workplace.

Businesses can support gender inclusion in a number of ways.

It all starts with providing women and other underrepresented groups equal opportunities for professional development, workplace support and flexibility, and by creating an overarching culture of acceptance.

Here are five steps that can make your workplace more gender inclusive:

1. Develop an inclusive hiring process

A hiring process that actively aims to attract a broad mix of genders is the starting point to achieve gender diversity across workplace teams.

One option to encourage a diverse pool of talent is the so-called ‘blind hiring’ process. This aims to remove a candidates personal information during the resume or applicant screening process, and can help to eliminate human biases around gender or ethnicity.

Indeed, a randomised controlled study by Applied found that blind hiring can introduce 60% more candidates into consideration that would have otherwise been missed. In today's skill short market, that represents a powerful pool of untapped talent available to organisations with an inclusive hiring process in place. 

Related: Ready to create an efficient and inclusive hiring process? Discover more hiring and resume review tips 

2. Be mindful of gendered language and practices

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) says gender-coded language in job advertisements can dissuade women from applying for certain roles – and even reinforce stereotypes about which genders are better suited to certain roles.

It’s a two-way street. WGEA found men can be disadvantaged when applying for roles in female-dominated occupations and industries.

Avoiding gendered language goes beyond the hiring process. WGEA found employers can use different language to evaluate the performance of men and women – an effect clearly perceived by female employees. Vague, inconsistent or negative feedback can have a significant impact on women’s ability to be hired or to progress within their careers.

Encouraging pronoun sharing can go a long way to creating a workplace that is comfortable for all employees, and normalises an inclusive culture of not assuming someone's identity.

3. Offer gender-neutral benefits

Offering ‘maternity’ leave creates assumptions that women – and not men, will take time off from their career to raise children, potentially fuelling gender biases, and perpetuating the ‘motherhood penalty’ that can see women overlooked for more senior roles.

The introduction of ‘parental’ leave has changed this. It opens the door for all genders to have a career break to care for kids, helping to break ingrained biases.

Employers who offer parental leave entitlements send a clear message. It says your business is shunning traditional assumptions about gender roles and offering the same opportunities for all employees regardless of gender – and providing choices about parenting responsibilities.

Related: Explore Robert Half's industry leading benefits

4. Level the progression playing field

When employees take extended leave, they often need additional support to re-engage when returning to the workplace.

However, employers can actively intervene at an earlier stage, helping employees stay connected with workplace teams while they are on leave.

‘Keeping in touch’ days allow employees on parenting or other leave, to stay up to date with what is happening in their workplace and refresh their skills, making the return to work seamless.

In fact, the Fair Work Commission of Australia notes that an employee on unpaid parental leave is entitled to 10 keeping in touch days. This doesn't affect their unpaid parental leave entitlement.

Employers can encourage keeping in touch days and back this up with pro-active training measures when employees return to work. The added bonus is that this helps returning team members resume their path to promotion without too much interruption.

Maintaining a transparent approach to promotions including requirements, timeframes and expectations, can also go a long way towards eliminating negative discrimination or biased practices, and help maintain workforce morale and satisfaction.

Related: Futureproof your diversity efforts with our inclusive succession plan guide

5. Encourage employees to see each other as allies

Sadly, gender stereotyping can still be a function of workplace environments in Australia. And it doesn’t just impact women.

DCA found gender stereotypes about women being warm and caring and not suitable for assertive leadership roles, hold women back from accessing leadership roles.

Conversely, masculine stereotypes can be harmful to men’s physical and emotional wellbeing. Men can also experience professional isolation when first entering female-dominated workforces.

Employers can help their teams overcome these biases by encouraging all employees to regard team members as allies who are all working together towards the same goals.

Related: Build a strong and inclusive company culture using our guide to team management

Organising awareness days can create a more inclusive environment. It’s a chance to celebrate underrepresented groups and raise awareness of the issues they face.

Importantly, allow under-represented voices to be heard in safe spaces. Creating opportunities for employees to discuss issues they have encountered in a safe and anonymous way can provide meaningful insights into where your business could improve.

These steps can require resources, and they may take time to become embedded in your workplace. But jobseekers are increasingly looking to work for companies whose values align with their own. For inclusive employers, this can offer the advantage of attracting more diverse talent.

Robert Half US was recently recognised as being one of America’s best employers for women in Forbes, demonstrating our commitment to creating an inclusive workspace for everyone.

We are proud that many exceptional women have chosen to build meaningful careers at Robert Half and we remain dedicated to supporting their professional growth and maintaining a culture of gender equality. Find out more about our commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion here.

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