how to #BreakTheBias on International Women’s Day? Here are four practical tips to achieve a more inclusive culture.
I have witnessed first hand many women around me juggling the demands of work and family during a highly stressful time. In some cases, they have been forced out of the labor market; in others, they have had to sacrifice professional ambitions to address family needs. As someone who has experienced similarly difficult times, it’s heartbreaking to see so many struggles.
As we move closer to COVID-19 transitioning from a pandemic to an endemic disease, returning to life before the crisis will be challenging. Even as economies around the world ease restrictions and open borders, the aftermath of the global crisis continues to weigh on people everywhere, especially women who were disproportionately affected during the past two years.
On this International Women’s Day, business and societal leaders need to commit more effort and resources to help women regain the progress they lost as a result of the pandemic. For instance, the number of women in the workforce, which had been growing before COVID-19, shrank in 2020.
Not only did female participation in the global labor market decline during the pandemic, female workers also lost billions in income. To help fast-track their recovery effort, we need to support working women with initiatives that encourage greater labor market participation while removing barriers impeding their professional ambitions and growth.
With a theme of #BreakTheBias, this year’s International Women’s Day is aimed at celebrating women’s achievements, calling attention to bias and taking action that support equality. By eliminating bias in the workplace and across communities, we give women and all people equal opportunities in the workplace and more control over their careers.
Doubling our efforts at this time is critically important because of several developments that have unfolded over the past two years.
First, the industries most affected by the global crisis employed a disproportionately high number of female workers — hospitality, travel, retail and others. This led many women to lose their jobs and income. Then, during restrictions that led to the closing of offices, schools, childcare facilities and many other institutions, women took on additional burdens as primary care providers at home. Then came the Great Resignation, in which many women were forced to quit because they needed to look after children and other family members. Others suffered from burnout due to expanded responsibilities at home and in the workplace. CNBC reported that women were quitting at a higher rate than men.
how Randstad leads by example
To break the bias hindering women’s careers, organizations need to lead by example. This means ensuring women have equal opportunities as men for jobs and advancement, using metrics that can be easily tracked and to effect change. At Randstad, we live by such principles. We have signed the CEO Statement of Support for the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles and support a number of initiatives aimed at training, developing and advancing female employees.
Furthermore, the Women in Randstad Empowering Development (WIRED) program is a US business resource group that helps our female employees advance their careers. And on International Women’s Day, we will launch a global version of the group to help women attain their professional goals through social interactions and development opportunities.
In Singapore, Randstad is a corporate partner with Daughters of Tomorrow, which facilitates opportunities for underprivileged women, supports them in achieving financial independence and enables social mobility for their families. By providing a suite of support and training, we can help many fulfill their ambition.
Our commitment to empowering female workers has led to improved parity in our organization. For instance, in 2021 50% of senior management were female.
four ways to break the barrier
We know we are not done with efforts to break the barriers preventing women from realizing their full potential and being their true selves in the workplace. To accelerate their progress, I believe there are four areas all employers need to invest heavily on.
- Give women better career insights. First, let’s put the data ocean to work for female talent and employers. We need to more closely track career trajectory, identify skilling needs for advancement and recommend the appropriate training content. But the utility of data isn’t limited to women’s career development; it can also be used to identify biases in the recruitment process, pay inequities and hiring trends.
- Provide more skilling for more career opportunities. We can accelerate training and development for women with agile and microlearning. For women in need of flexible schedules, the ability to learn in small chunks, at the pace they need, offers tremendous advantages over traditional skilling approaches. Beyond technical skills, organizations need to focus on helping women develop soft skills critical to being good managers and great leaders. At Randstad, we offer training to women at all stages of their career, from language courses to leadership development workshops.
- Level the playing field for all talent. In recent years, more companies are using AI to minimize overt and unconscious bias during the recruitment process, and the industry is continuously refining its use of this technology to achieve better hiring outcomes. Consider automated interview scoring and natural language processing so decisions are made without regards to a candidate’s gender, background or other non-skills-related traits.
- Use tools to make sure women are heard. Finally, we can give women a more influential voice through surveying and engagement platforms. One of the most effective ways for Randstad to keep our workforce engaged and satisfied is through regular surveying. At the height of the lockdown, we surveyed our employees weekly to make sure they felt supported and had the resources needed to operate virtually. As a result of the feedback, we made changes to our employee assistance program to address issues that some of our female colleagues voiced. All organizations can benefit from regularly assessing the well-being of their workforce.
How will I help #BreaktheBias in observation of this year’s International Women’s Day? It’s more important than ever for all of us, women included, to overcome stereotypes around what female colleagues can achieve, especially working parents who face many demands. As an organizational leader, I will reconsider the capabilities and dedication of co-workers with a fresh perspective and cast aside preconceived notions unrelated to their professional commitments and goals. And I plan to encourage all those around me to do the same.
There are many ways we can help working women whose lives and careers have been disrupted by COVID-19. On International Women’s Day this year, let’s expedite these remedies. I worry we may permanently lose female workers from the workforce if we fail to take action. But if we are proactive, we can again reclaim the steady progress women have achieved up until the pandemic.