Every March 8th, International Women’s Day celebrates women by calling attention to the continued gender pay gap, challenges for working mothers, and the ways that women are expected to perform invisible labor for the office. This day, first celebrated by socialist women fighting for their rights to safe and fair workspaces, teaches us that it is critical for businesses to add women’s voices in planning and support women through employee journey planning. Talking about how companies and company leadership treat working women can help us uncover other places that the employee journey falls flat.
Slice of History: Labor Rights and the Employee Experience
However you feel about unions, the pro-labor organizing efforts of the past shaped the modern international workplace dramatically, fighting for the 5-day work week and the 8-hour workday. Workers, especially women, have brought about enormous increases in the productivity of a single hour of labor while also ushering in reforms that have led and will still lead to safer workplaces.
Implications for the Employee Experience
Because of these efforts, many workers today face fewer physical dangers at work. However, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. While your employees may not strike to tell you what they need to succeed, they often do have feedback for how the business can create a better atmosphere, which is a key part of retention for any business. It’s important to diversify the pulpit by sharing women’s voices in these discussions because women on average are 10% more productive while engaging in person-to-person conversation 20% more often than men. Overall, women get more work done in less time and seem to know their co-workers better. With this in mind, it’s not a stretch to say that the women in your workplace are likely to be the most plugged in and engaged members of your team. Regardless of gender, your employees often know best what is and is not working for your business. Listening to the people who work for you and combining their insights with the needs of your business can build a safer, more productive workplace for everyone.
Re-examining Biases Makes the Workplace Better for Everyone
Whether factory workers, shift supervisors at a local fast food chain, or HR associates at a local business, women have expectations for their performance that men simply don’t. This can be enhanced by racial and anti-LGBTQ bias as well and applies to women of every age, race, and background. Women face two types of primary biases in the workplace, descriptive and prescriptive.
Descriptive biases are how women are described or remembered in performance reviews, in conversation, and in other office circumstances. For example, in the academic space, women professors are rated more harshly, judged by students and peers on their physical appearance, and described as “teacher” rather than “professor”. All of this underscores the enormous challenges of descriptive bias that women in all professions face.
Meanwhile, prescriptive bias is when women are expected to act in a different way because they are women. For example, women are often tasked with planning office events and parties, even when this is not part of their role. Failing to agree to organize such events when asked is all-but-expected of men, but part of the invisible labor that women so often are simply expected to handle at the office.
The High Cost of Bias
In both cases, this bias is toxic to the workplace, costing businesses half a trillion dollars per year in lost productivity and disengagement. It’s important to note that this is not about interpersonal relationships or beliefs, but rather the assumptions society-at-large has made about the role of men and women in the workplace. Addressing these biases requires a systematic approach. One way to do this is for managers to have a checklist in their review processes to ensure they’re using fair, accurately-descriptive language for all of their employees. Another might be using a random assignment technique like picking out of a hat for party organization and other office management tasks. Even an office culture where leaders thank everyone for their contributions as they occur can make an enormous impact. Women often report that men will repeat something they have just said–essentially taking credit for their idea. A leader should be willing to point this out when it happens to foster a culture where everyone can contribute.
The Lessons of Re-examining Bias
International Working Women’s Day points out critical issues in the workplace, but also provides good practice and experience looking into preconceived understandings of the workplace. Businesses can learn to examine business biases and look for new and better ways of doing things, even if old processes appear to be working. People often take for granted that a sales, production, or management technique is effective because it has been done in the past. But the truth is that managers and employees often suffer from unconscious biases in their everyday process management. Just as with evaluating bias against women, these structural biases need to be dealt with systematically. Whether it’s by creating a team to ensure the business is more adaptable or investing in getting frequent employee feedback, businesses should take the opportunity to improve whenever it comes.
Celebrating Working Women Empowers Us All
The employee journey is a new and evolving way to look at the experience that employees have at your business. This International Working Women’s Day, consider how the journey for women may be different than for men and use that as an opportunity to examine other biases. Many of the biases we discussed today also impact your workers based on their race, LGBTQ status, disability, and socio-economic background. No one wants their employees to be miserable. High engagement leads to higher productivity and better customer experiences across the board.
Centering women in discussions of what your employees need is the key to building this more productive workplace. When companies address the systematic biases against women that are built into society at-large by adopting women-friendly policies, everyone benefits. This International Working Women’s Day, remember the women who have gone before, building the mountain higher so that we can all see just a little further.