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3 ways HR can support women in the workplace

The HR team's support for women has a powerful influence on gender equality and employee experience. Learn how HR can make a positive impact on your workplace culture.

Gender diversity and inclusion should be components of a company's overall effort to create an equitable workplace and company culture. Yet, as with other D&I components, they are often overlooked by business leaders.

Professional women face various challenges in their careers, said Samantha Rist, vice president of people at Ekata, a global identity verification company in Seattle. These include balancing their work and family lives, earning less than men and getting passed over during the hiring process.

Human resources and those in leadership roles need to support female employees by understanding and addressing the additional pressure women face, Rist said. This can improve employee experience.

In this interview, Rist discusses how companies can make a meaningful impact with family leave and the gender pay gap, as well as how diversity in the office goes beyond recruiting.

1. Understand that women are in danger of dropping out

What is an overlooked -- or possibly hidden -- challenge that women face in balancing family life and working life?

Samantha Rist: There's probably a crossroads as a female worker that I have seen over the years, and especially now that I'm in HR. It usually happens between the five- and eight-year working mark. Women kind of look around and contemplate, 'Will I get married? Will I have children? And what kind of effect is that going to have on my career?'

How can HR and those in senior leadership roles support pregnant employees, postpartum employees or those who are otherwise adding to a family?

Rist: One thing we need to look at is aspects of parental leave. It should be available regardless of how you bring someone into your family -- whether it's through birth of a child, through surrogacy, through adoption. Then we need to equalize time off so that both individuals can spend time forming a bond. It's never normal after you have a child, but you need to be able to find your feet so you don't feel overwhelmed on all fronts.

2. Examine possible gender bias in pay

Research shows that the gender pay gap is still very much an issue, with men outearning women. How can company leaders and human resources address gender inequality pay issues?

Rist: When total rewards reviews are being done, there should be an equity review.

You have to look at the population across many demographics to understand if there is bias in terms of what has occurred in the past and then how those biases can be corrected. And that's certainly pertaining to all aspects of pay, whether it be base, variable or equity.

How the pay gap persists

The pay gap is still one of the biggest gender equality issues in the workplace.

A study by Visier, Inc. released earlier this year found that women earn 83 cents for every dollar a man earns and that women's pay improved 6 cents in three years.

The study concluded equal pay is nine years away with the current rate of improvement.

Meanwhile, a 2021 U.S. Department of Labor report found "the gap is even wider for many women of color." Black women with advanced degrees earn 70% of white male counterparts' salaries, according to the report.

"There's clearly a lot of work to be done, but it is possible to level the playing field for working women by increasing transparency around wages across the board, disrupting occupational segregation, expanding access to paid leave and child and elder care, and creating more good union jobs," said Janelle Jones, the chief economist for the Dept. of Labor, in the report.

3. Ensure women apply to jobs

A LinkedIn report found that women apply to 20% fewer jobs than men. How can people in leadership positions ensure better gender diversity and inclusion and cognitive diversity with job candidates?

Rist: Research says that if I have five candidates and I have two women out of the five, I've increased the odds that I will hire that diversity candidate than if I only had one.

It goes without saying that the bar has to be where it needs to be for the role that you're hiring for. But if I can fill that pipeline with an appropriate, diverse set of candidates, then I've increased the odds that I can bring in a diversity hire.

[Once I've hired women] I might have [more] optical diversity around the table, but am I truly soliciting diversity in how we run meetings and how we're asking for input and feedback? Am I truly soliciting multiple perspectives and I'm listening to those perspectives and I'm valuing those perspectives to have a better business outcome? And that in itself is a very long journey.

Editor's note: Responses were edited for length and clarity.

Next Steps

New pay equity laws require proof of fair pay

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