One week ago the world began to mourn the passing of an icon of integrity. Ruth Bader Ginsburg took a leading role in ending centuries of discrimination against women, not just in the US where she led the charge as a Supreme Court Justice, but the world over where brand RBG stood for equality and in many cases, dissent.
Although best known for paving a way to legal and financial equality for women and advocating against discrimination on behalf of both sexes, RBG’s playbook also provided a roadmap for fighting injustices against the LGBTQ community.
One of her legacies – the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which allows employees to complain about discriminatory pay or policies without restrictive time restrictions – exposes the very heart of why the concept of a speak up culture is so important not just for business but society in general.
RBG’s actions essentially created protections for employees who were worried about speaking up about discriminatory practices for fear of losing their jobs. She argued that such discrimination can spread like rot and accumulate over time, quietly stifling women’s efforts to climb the corporate ladder.
Speaking up works
It’s been proved time and time again that there are commercial benefits to a level playing field and in Vault Platform’s own research among HR, Legal, and Compliance leaders, 68% believe empowering people to speak up is the most effective way of tackling misconduct to achieve that level playing field.
Yet we’re in darkening times and with so much work still left to do it’s imperative that businesses do not lose the ground gained in terms of equality and equity. The systemic nature of inequality means that even with the progress made, it won’t be until the year 2277 that men and women will finally achieve equal pay at work, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020.
In a recent paper, Colleen Ammerman, director of the Gender Initiative at Harvard Business School, warns that many businesses may emerge from the pandemic-triggered crisis with a long-term talent problem as key biases re-emerge.
To address this, leaders need to implement four small but critical steps to maintain the parity earned through gender inclusion.
Acknowledge and address the motherhood penalty
Being seen in a caregiving role tends to boost men’s reputation but for women, it triggers doubts about their capabilities.
Leading by example and establishing a speak up culture can foster an environment where questioning women’s competence on the basis of their caregiving roles is not accepted.
Don’t increase the pressure unnecessarily
Although it’s known that remote workers are actually more productive than average, the current situation is new to everyone. In uncertain times it’s easy to apply more pressure to generate results but not only will this approach likely alienate your employees regardless of their gender or family situation, it is guaranteed to mean women with children at home are undervalued and underrecognized.
A speak up culture encourages positive discourse and helps eliminate bias.
Run virtual meetings equitably
It’s already well known that women’s contributions are more likely to go unrecognized in meetings, and this goes double in a virtual setting. It’s important to ensure that everyone has a share of voice and with choppy connections now a common occurrence pay attention to who was asked to repeat themselves, and whose unintelligible remark was simply ignored.
Keep digital spaces inclusive
Virtual meetings open up a fresh new avenue of exclusion. It’s easier than ever to forget to (or intentionally leave someone off) that meeting invite and with no visual cues almost impossible for that person to acknowledge the omission.
In meetings themselves, there’s also the challenge of the ‘invisible side conversation’ taking place among participants in a chat window while the video call is ongoing.
This extends to online work socials and the increasing familiarity we have with colleagues as we spend more time peering into their homes.
A speak up culture is there to ensure inclusion but also to help establish healthy boundaries as our personal and work lives increasingly blur.
Ammerman encourages forward-thinking companies to not let women’s careers become casualties of the crisis but to cement employees’ commitment to women and maximize their contributions. This will not only maintain our hard-won progress toward gender equality but will set your business up to reap the rewards in a future that will surely depend on it.
Photo credit: “2019.09.14 Ruth Bader Ginsburg Mural, Washington, DC USA 257 33042” by tedeytan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0