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How to create a gender-inclusive workplace

Creating a gender-inclusive workplace benefits everyone.

Despite consistent evidence proving the connection between diverse and inclusive workplaces and profitability and performance, the business world has been largely unsuccessful in leveling the gender equity playing field.  

Women make up half of the workforce, but they’re significantly less likely to hold leadership positions within their organizations.

A McKinsey study revealed the disparity among executive teams: Women hold an average of 21% of all executive roles. But of that 21%, only 7% are in line roles (as opposed to staff roles, which tend to have less direct decision making power within the business). 

A diverse and inclusive work environment goes beyond equity in gender representation, but it’s a good place to start—especially since women-led teams and organizations are 17% more likely to feel confident about successfully creating an inclusive culture.

It’s still largely about education. Many people are still learning what gender pronouns are and why they matter.

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What does a gender-inclusive culture look like?

Building a gender-inclusive workplace doesn’t just mean hiring more women and promising pay equity. While this is certainly a good first step, gender inequity is a deeply rooted systemic issue, and therefore requires some work at the foundational level. That’s why the old “add women and stir” approach is generally doomed to fail.

Creating a culture of support and inclusivity lays the groundwork for diverse and underrepresented voices to be heard, and for their work to be valued. In order for women (or employees identifying as nonbinary, trans, or any other marginalized group) to be successful in the workplace, a supportive culture of inclusion and equity is necessary. 

A truly inclusive work culture ensures that every employee, regardless of their gender identity, feels supported and respected. In addition to this sense of belonging, a work culture focused on gender inclusion has the power to elevate previously unheard voices and value diverse experiences, fostering an environment of authentic respect and trust. This type of environment not only attracts more diverse applicants, it has all of the structural supports in place to set them up for success. 

gender-inclusive workplaces give women an even playing field

Here are four steps you can take to promote the growth of a gender-inclusive culture:

1. Make a commitment to gender inclusivity in your hiring and promotion processes.

A gender-inclusive workplace begins with your hiring process. 

Write specific, detailed job descriptions that avoid gendered language that may trigger unconscious biases in both the hiring team and the potential candidate.

Don’t begin the interviewing process until you’ve collected a gender-diverse pool of candidates, which promotes equal opportunity hiring practices. Employee referrals can increase diversity in the candidate pool.

Not every power imbalance can be solved by simply hiring a higher number of people from underrepresented groups, but keeping a close eye on gender disparities within your teams can shed some light on areas for improvement. 

Making your commitment to gender inclusivity outwardly apparent on your hiring pages is, in itself, a means of drawing a more diverse pool of applicants to apply. When candidates see your commitment to inclusivity, they’ll want to be a part of the culture.

In situations where it may not be possible to hire or promote employees to address a gender imbalance, make sure you’re elevating the voices of marginalized groups wherever possible. If you’re running a beta or conducting tests or surveys, make sure your feedback pool is large and diverse. 

When it comes to raises and promotions, never base these numbers on what the employee may have received previously. Because women statistically make less money than their male counterparts, salaries that are based on previous earnings tend to propagate this gendered pay gap.

2. Be aware of gendered language and practices.

Just like gendered language in job descriptions can send the wrong message, gendered language in internal communications, newsletters, and marketing material can do the same. Be careful to steer clear of words or phrases that have gendered connotations (like “aggressive” or “chatty”). The use of gendered language reinforces harmful stereotypes and binary-based assumptions.

Educate all employees about gender-inclusive language.

Gendered behavior in the workplace can expose unconscious biases and covert power dynamics as well.

A study performed by sociologists out of the University of California reported that men are 33% more likely to interrupt women in conversation than they are other men. In meetings, implementing a ‘zero interruptions policy,’ or stepping in to assert the speaking rights of the interrupted employee can go a long way in ensuring every voice is heard. 

3. Make pronoun sharing the standard.

As workplaces continue to diversify, you’ll likely come across more and more employees who have gender identities and expressions that fall outside the strict male/female binary. By encouraging employees to share their preferred pronouns, you create a culture that moves away from binary-based assumptions about gender.

Normalizing the sharing of pronouns also takes the onus off of nonbinary identified people, who constantly have to introduce the topic of pronouns into every conversation. Adding a line for pronouns in email signatures, business cards, or internal name badges sends a clear message that your company culture accepts and respects diverse gender identities. 

gender-inclusive workplace email

4. Back up your commitment to gender-inclusive culture with inclusive facilities.

There are some logistical steps you can take to make sure the gender-inclusive culture you’re creating is reinforced by the physical spaces your team inhabits. 

If possible, allocate at least one bathroom as gender-neutral. This might mean converting a previously gendered single- or multi-stall bathroom to more comfortably accommodate your employees of varying gender identities. Make sanitary products and in-stall trash receptacles available in all-gender restrooms as well as women’s restrooms. 

Be sure to have one or more spaces designated for and dedicated to lactation and nursing. While federal law demands a space for nursing mothers at companies with 50 employees or more, this space can be non-dedicated and temporary depending on the presence of actively nursing employees. Creating a unique, consistently dedicated space for lactation/nursing lets your employees know that their needs are important to you, and sends a clear message that nursing employees are welcome and supported. 

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Hire the right people, inspire their best work, design dream teams, and sustain engagement for the long haul.

Make the commitment.

Creating a gender-inclusive workplace means committing to a culture of support, safety, and acceptance—and making structural and cultural changes that demonstrate that commitment.

What changes might you make to establish a more gender-inclusive workplace?

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