Fostering Gender Inclusivity in the Workplace

Group of colleagues having a discussion in work

Whether we’re physically there or working remotely, our jobs take up a huge chunk of our mental space. So, it stands to reason that we should be made to feel comfortable and respected while we work, regardless of our gender or sexual orientation. Dr. Kara McGann is Senior Labour Market Policy Executive at Ibec; a lobby group representing Irish businesses. Over the years, she’s worked to address a whole host of inequality issues, like gender, mental health, LGBT+, and cultural diversity – all with the aim of helping organisations begin to develop a positive sense of inclusion.

Attracting Talent 

“Diversity policies aren’t just good for business”, Kara begins. “They also act as a guide for how we should communicate our culture within companies.” An open, welcoming working environment is undoubtedly a huge draw for potential employees, especially as Ireland’s workforce continues to diversify. “These policies impact how we attract talent”, says Kara. “If a company isn’t seen to be open to the idea that people can bring their ‘whole self’ to work, or know their contribution in all of its guises is as valued as the next person’s, well then – why would they want to work there?” 

Tackling Gender Inequality 

One of the biggest issues Ibec focuses on is gender inequality. “It’s a really important area that’s always on the agenda,” says Kara. “The gender pay gap is about representation – it’s when the number of men and women dispersed across the organisation isn’t balanced, usually with more men in senior positions than women. This is something we have to address.” One way to do this is by empowering staff to feed directly into company policy and ethos. Whether it’s an organisation-led initiative or a more grassroots group set up independently by workers themselves, there are lots of benefits to taking an active stance within a company. “Having the employee voice there through a network or counsel can communicate whether or not something is working”, says Kara.  

Pride in Diversity 

Increasingly, lots of companies have are putting initiatives like this in place. Colum Ward is the Executive Head of Operations and Finance at Canada Life, and a member of the company’s Pride in Diversity Network. Their focus is inclusivity for the LGBT+ community, and they regularly host workshops and talks on the subject. They also offer support to organisations and charities working in the LGBT+ space. “If you’re hiding a part of yourself”, says Colum, “it’s going to impact how you do your job.” 

Group of professionals

A Forum for Discussion  

For Colum and the Network, it’s all about education. “We include as many people across the campus as we can, because allies are our biggest support base,” he explains. Guest speakers from organisations like Belong To and Under the Rainbow encourage open discussion among colleagues. “Our workshops might focus on basic stuff, like terminology”, says Colum. “People are often afraid to say the wrong thing. We offer a forum where they can sit down with colleagues to talk openly, rather than shouting at each other across social media platforms.”

Reviewing Our Job Descriptions 

There are lots of other practical initiatives companies can put in place when it comes to fostering a sense of gender inclusion. “For a lot of businesses,” says Kara, “it’s about getting back to basics. Research tells us that if women don’t have 100% of the job criteria in a job description, they’re unlikely to apply. If men see 60% that they’re able to do, they’re likely to give it a go.” For Kara, a slight shift in the way ads are constructed could make all the difference. “Organisations can ask themselves: ‘Just because we’ve always recruited with this kind of a job description, is it completely necessary that an interviewee has X,Y or Z skill?’”  

The Power of Language 

Language also plays a huge part, as Kara explains. “If an ad uses competitive terms like ‘challenging’, and ‘leading the field’, it can turn women off applying. However, if it’s slightly more neutralised – with sentiments like ‘collaboration’ and ‘trustworthiness’, they’re more likely to consider the role.” She suggests putting ads through an online gender decoder to remove any problematic language. The bias can be incredibly subtle, and as Kara notes, is rarely done intentionally. “There’s no malice in it. But organisations were often set up in a particular way, maybe back in a time when we had male breadwinners and female homemakers. While society has changed, I’m not sure our organisations have advanced quite as quickly.”  

Find out more about D&I in Irish Life, here.

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