Aiming for Gender Equity One Employer at a Time

As we celebrate Women’s History Month this March, it has been 55 years since the passage of Title VII which banned gender discrimination (along with race, religion, color and national origin discrimination) by employers. Since that time, workplaces have become increasingly diverse. Women now make up almost half of the labor force (approximately 47%), and have entered a number of fields once known only known to men. Still, women continue to lag behind.

Although the gender pay gap has narrowed somewhat, women still earn an average of 80 cents for every dollar a man makes doing similar work. Further, all too often women are mommy-tracked and not taken as seriously as their male counterparts. And, they continue to generally lag behind when it comes to leadership positions in government, business and law firms regardless of their educational qualifications.

That’s why it is truly up to each individual employer to step up to the plate to combat gender discrimination and ensure that women are treated fairly in the workplace. Here are eight steps to make it happen:

1. Make Gender Equity a Goal

From the start, an employer should make gender equity a goal and a focus, including aiming to have a diverse and inclusive workforce. All job descriptions and job advertisements should be gender-neutral and free of bias.

Avoid interview questions that discriminate based on sex, such as inquires about an employee’s caregiving responsibilities, pregnancies and married/family life. Throughout the employee life cycle, do not stereotype women when it comes to job duties and responsibilities and don’t steer them into lower-paid positions with limited opportunities.

2. Maintain a Multichannel EEO Complaint Procedure

It is critical to develop, maintain and enforce a multichannel complaint procedure for EEO complaints and permit individuals to bring complaints of discrimination, harassment or retaliation to various members of management.

Once it’s aware of a complaint, the employer should commit to undertaking a thorough investigation by gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, creating a report and taking any necessary interim or disciplinary measures. The employer should make clear that it takes all complaints seriously and ensure that all individuals in the organization, regardless of their position, will be held accountable for their conduct and behavior.

3. Create Gender-Neutral Dress and Appearance Policies

An employer should make sure that all dress code and personal appearance policies are neutral and free of bias. Individuals should be permitted to dress in the gender that they identity with regardless of the assigned sex at birth. While managers have a right to request that employees look professional for work, they should make sure that any dress code policies do not discriminate against one gender or another, or impose unequal burdens on one gender over the other.

4. Consider Remote and Flexible Work Options

An employer today should be family-friendly and take advantage of technological advances in communications by permitting both men and women to telecommute or work remotely so they can tend to family obligations for young children or aging parents. You also may want to consider flexible schedules or job shares as another way to permit employees to bring value to the company while at the same time allowing them to tend to personal obligations and commitments.

5. Make Equal Pay and Wage Transparency a Priority

It’s important to be all in when it comes to pay equity and being transparent about the wages your organization provides to employees. Men and women should be paid equally unless there is a bona fide reason not to do so based on skills, qualifications or experience. Along these lines, be aware of new state and municipal laws banning employers from requesting salary history information as this may perpetuate an existing wage gap. Additionally, an employer should not prevent employees from freely and openly discussing their wages.

6. Audit Pay Practices

Your organization should also routinely audit its pay practices, job descriptions and salaries of all employees to root out discrimination with respect to:

• Wages;
• Bonuses;
• Equity;
• Benefits; and
• Any other forms of compensation.

Carefully compare the pay of men and women doing the same work, identify any pay gaps and eliminate those gaps that cannot be explained on grounds other than gender. If wage differentials are not supported by well documented and legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons, the pay differences should be corrected.

7. Establish Mentoring Groups

Consider creating mentoring groups where women can mentor other women and provide them with a path to professional development and leadership. In such forums, women would have the opportunity to learn from colleagues about how to overcome challenges and barriers to success.

8. Provide Pregnancy and Lactation Accommodations

Just because a woman is pregnant or breastfeeding, an employer should not assume she is unwilling to take on her duties, tasks and responsibilities. It’s important to make employees who are pregnant, or have a need to express milk for an infant child, feel comfortable at work and provide them with reasonable accommodations so they can perform their job duties.

For pregnant women, an employer should consider accommodations such as:

• Redistributing marginal or nonessential functions (i.e., lifting);
• Altering how a nonessential or marginal function is performed;
• Modifying workplace policies (permitting longer breaks));
• Modifying work schedules;
• Permitting an employee on bed rest to telecommute;
• Providing additional leave;
• Providing equipment to assist with the essential job functions (i.e., a stool to sit on); or
• Temporary reassignment to a light-duty position.

When it comes to employees who are breastfeeding or have a need to express milk, an employer should consider:

• Providing breastfeeding breaks;
• Designating a private room as a lactation room that is safe and clean;
• Providing a storage area for breast milk; and
• Providing access to a sink, an electrical outlet for a breast pump and a comfortable chair.

In response to an accommodation request, an employer should engage in a good-faith interactive process and attempt to find an accommodation that works for both the employer and the employee.

How does your workplace measure up? Feel free to share your thoughts with us.

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