Women in business: Breaking the bias at workplaces in 2022
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Women in business: Breaking the bias at workplaces in 2022

Women in business: Breaking the bias at workplaces in 2022

The financial consequences of losing many women in senior roles could be significant

International Women’s Day falls on March 8. This year’s theme ‘Break the Bias’ highlights the need for a world free from bias, stereotypes and discrimination to strengthen the case for gender equality. Bias makes it difficult, particularly for women, to move ahead in their careers, whether deliberate or unconscious. It’s important to recognise that bias is not simply an inclination to prejudice. In the context of the workplace, it is building a system that fails to acknowledge the conditions of a certain group while holding them to standardised expectations. Therefore, changing the intrinsic inclination to bias is not sufficient, action is needed to level the field.

Cracks exposed during Covid-19
During the pandemic, the impact of bias was not only amplified, but revealed faults in the workplace that ultimately led to women either leaving their jobs or considering this option. According to research by LinkedIn, which surveyed 2,000 working professionals, aged 25 to 55 in the UAE, 52 per cent of women agreed they had taken on more responsibilities than their partner at home during Covid-19. Additionally, 43 per cent indicated that they had considered leaving or had already left the workforce. With women shouldering more childcare responsibilities while being held to the same performance standard as men, work circumstances became much harder for women.

Another report by Lean In and McKinsey & Company – Women in the Workplace 2020 – showed that women in leadership are 1.5 times more likely than men at senior levels to think about downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to burnout.

The financial consequences of losing many women in senior roles could be significant. Research cited in the report also showed that companies are 50 per cent more likely to outperform their peers when women are well represented at the top. Additionally, women have a significant impact on a company’s culture, as they are more likely than men in senior levels to embrace employee-friendly policies as well as racial and gender equality at work. As such, women leaving the workforce means that females at all levels in the workplace could lose their most powerful allies.

Are we doing enough?
Although many employers have taken important steps to support women and their employees in general, including tools and resources to help employees work remotely and improve their wellbeing, fewer companies have taken steps to adjust expectations that are contributing to burnout.

Pre-pandemic performance expectations are no longer sustainable, especially for working mothers. Women in the Workplace 2020 revealed that less than a third of companies have adjusted their performance review criteria. Women are facing the choice between falling short or pushing themselves to unrealistic points. Although employers are increasingly revisiting these expectations, there’s still a long way to go.

Some biases women have faced for years have been amplified during Covid-19. This includes prejudiced views towards working mothers who are taking advantage of flexible work options. With childcare responsibilities becoming more visible, such as children appearing on the screen during video calls, the view that women are less committed to their jobs has been exacerbated.

Taking the right steps
To mitigate these biases, companies can introduce bias training to sensitise employees and speak publicly about the negative impact of bias. It is also important to track outcomes for promotions and raises by gender to make sure women are being treated fairly. Companies should also extend policies and programmes to support working mothers. This includes offering more paid time off to provide resources for homeschooling and other parenting resources.

In addition, companies should also make sure women are aware of the full range of benefits available to them. Studies have shown that there is a significant gap between the benefits offered to employees and the employees’ awareness what these benefits entail. Essentially, companies should determine their employees’ biggest challenges and allocate resources to help them effectively deal with these issues. The pandemic has brought to light how necessary it is to revisit the work structure to guarantee women’s careers are not jeopardised with rising conflicts. It has also exposed how women primarily shoulder the responsibility of childcare and while this is changing, workplaces must guarantee that women are given the tools to succeed in their careers while respecting their responsibilities.

Breaking the bias, therefore, is not only necessary for the wellbeing of women, but for society as a whole.

Claire Roper-Browning is the regional director for Marketing, Recruitment, Admissions and Communications at Heriot-Watt University Dubai

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