International Women’s Day 2022 – how recruiters and employers can #BreakTheBias

A year ago today we published an article that examined the affect the pandemic had on gender equality in the workplace. Mind the gap: why gender equality in the workplace must not be another casualty of Covid-19 reported on the many ways that women were impacted to a disproportionate degree.

Numerous surveys highlighted the additional burdens women in particular faced, with more women than men furloughed on reduced pay, made redundant or taking on a greater share of unpaid domestic tasks and home schooling alongside work.

The notion that the virus might erase decades of progress made in the fight for gender equality in the workplace was a very real worry. One year on, as we celebrate International Women’s Day 2022, how far have we come and how far have we yet to go to close the gender gap in the workplace?  

Why women were disproportionately affected by covid-19

During the pandemic, we fell back on gender stereotypes. Women and girls bore the brunt of the fallout from the pandemic, having to leave school and work to care for family members – the unpaid but essential work that is the backbone of the global economy. Couple that with the fact that the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic tend to employ a greater percentage of women than men and the challenges women faced were extraordinary.  A study conducted by the Institute for Fiscal Studie (IFC) and the UCL Institute of Education during the first lockdown showed that mothers were 47% more likely to have permanently lost their job or resigned to take on childcare whilst schools and nurseries were shut.

Under-represented industries

A Mckinsey report found that women make up less than 20% of people employed in science and engineering fields. And many that do begin a career in these areas end up leaving because they feel alone in their field – it’s a vicious circle. Yet it is vital that women work in areas such as tech, science and engineering as they are shaping the future of the world and, without a diversity of perspective, that change won’t be representative. Deloitte Global predicts that large technology firms will reach close to 33% female representation by the end of 2022 – up by just over two percentage points from 2019 and a step in the right direction but still a woeful under-representation. 

Leadership roles still lacking enough female representation 

One of the positives to come from the pandemic is more of a focus on hiring diversely. However, equally critical is ensuring there is gender parity in early advancement. McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2021 report found that, across all industries and roles, only 86 women are promoted to manager for every 100 men at the same level. For technical roles, that gap is even wider, with just 52 women being promoted to manager for every 100 men. A further McKinsey report examining the importance of diversity in business success found that the most gender-diverse companies are 48% more likely to outperform the least gender-diverse companies.    

How big is the gender gap in 2022?

Findings from the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2021 are sobering. The impact from the pandemic has increased the amount of time estimated for the global gender gap to close from 99.5 years to 135.6 years – an entire generation. 58% of the global gender gap for economic participation and opportunity has closed, the report attributing the slow progress to the lack of female presence in leadership roles. According to the report, just 36.8% of senior and managerial positions in the UK are held by women. The next report is due at the end of March and we won’t know until April the findings from gender pay gap reporting so it is hard to know what the current gender gap is and whether we are any closer to closing it. The reality is that any progress is likely to have been slow.    

How can we help to accelerate gender equality in the workplace?

Breaking the bias will involve a multi-faceted approach, from early education, to unbiased recruitment processes, to focused efforts to support women throughout their careers. It will take conscious commitment to evoke long-lasting change and recruiters are in a strong position to drive these changes, both directly through recruitment processes and indirectly through consultative advice to clients. These actions include but are certainly not limited to: 

  • Educating girls on the full range of careers available to them, including under-represented industries such as Technology and Engineering.
  • Writing gender-neutral job ads that appeal equally to all genders, including the elimination of all gendered pronouns and phrases, careful consideration of requirements vs preferences, making clear your commitment to diversity, and stating family-friendly benefits. 
  • Ensuring the rest of the recruitment process is stripped of any bias, whether unconscious or conscious. That could include the use of anonymised CVs and ensuring a diverse interview panel.
  • Helping women with caring responsibilities back into work by offering flexible work solutions and/or childcare benefits. New research by Ipsos UK and Business in the Community found that 58% of women say that caring responsibilities have stopped them applying for a promotion or a new job. The WEF report noted that access to childcare continued to be an “important enabler of women’s ability to participate in the labour market on equal terms.” 
  • Building workplaces where women feel empowered, can flourish and thrive, including providing sponsors or mentors to help guide and advocate for women through their career.
  • Pushing for pay and bonus transparency so all employees know where they stand and what they should be aiming towards and receiving. 

Ahead of International Women’s Day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres insisted that the world “cannot emerge from the pandemic with the clock spinning backwards on gender equality.” We must do all we can to ensure gender equality is reached as soon as possible. 

International Women’s Day 2022 has tasked us with imagining a world without bias but it is, admittedly, hard. Unconscious bias is so ingrained in our make-up that it is difficult to extract it from our decision-making process. But we must as gender equality in the workforce, across all levels and all industries, is not only the right thing to do but is vital for innovation and overall business success. The strength of our economy relies on it.   

Share this article: