Changing the Toxic Culture Surrounding Equitable Workplaces

Whether it is reporting sexual harassment, spurred by the #MeToo movement, or demanding equal pay, prominently led by the soccer world cup-winning United States Women’s National Team (USWNT), companies and workplaces seem well on their way to achieving gender equality.

But, despite the popular nature of such progressive movements, the latest report published by United Nations found that not a single country is on course to attain gender parity by 2030. In fact, the journey towards equitable workplaces has “stalled”, according to McKinsey’s research findings.

To make matters worse, women in the workforce continue to spend twice as much time as men completing house chores and taking care of children — a trend which has not shown any signs of changing during the last ten years.

Companies have attempted to plug the gender gap in their workplaces primarily through supportive policies: paid family leave, childcare facilities in or close to the workplace, and greater employee control over time and place of work.

While such policies are certainly helpful, they are simply not adequate enough to change centuries-old “traditional roles”. Workplace culture has turned out to be far more resistant to change. Why is this so?

Because the society at large has bought into the myth of achieving success by choosing excessive hard work over everything else. Such a philosophy is unsustainable in practice for women, most of whom have childcare or caregiving roles to fulfil once they get home.

Hence, organizations simply have to do much more to achieve the ultimate goal of equitable workplaces. If they’re serious about realizing that dream, they can start by implementing some more forward-looking policies: judging the competency of employees based on their work-life balance, nurturing a diverse and socially inclusive workplace, and cutting back policies that reward long hours or regular office attendance.

But, if such radical measures are to thrive, companies should first implement the following strategies to get rid of toxic workplace culture:

1. Lead by Example

Changing an entire culture requires a movement. A movement requires certain individuals to lead by example. Within an organization, leaders can create a path for others to follow in a variety of ways: They can stop sending work emails late at night and during the weekends; they can stop expecting employees to be at their beck and call at all times of the day; they can talk about life outside work with their employees and urge them to share theirs; and they can promote the advantages of paid family leave by not only utilizing it themselves, but also encouraging their subordinates to avail it. Leadership, research shows, is vital to changing ingrained cultures.

2. Train & Hold Managers Accountable

A manager’s roles and responsibilities are pretty well set. But what if they were enlarged to help support subordinates with family problems and guiding teams to operate flexibly? Managers would need extra training to carry out these tasks, of course, but the benefits derived are simply too good to ignore. Research has established that employees working under such specially-trained managers report improved sleep cycles, greater job satisfaction, better work-life balance, less stress, and greater loyalty. Worth exploring, eh?

3. Family-oriented Policies

An equitable workplace doesn’t mean more maternity leaves; it means equal number of maternity and paternity leaves, so that men have the opportunity to take up a greater share of the parenting burden. It doesn’t mean paid parental leaves that should be opted-in for; it means paid parental leave that have to be opted-out of, so managers can no longer influence when an employee can or cannot take leave. When employees exert greater influence over their schedules, when work-life balance becomes a key barometer for weighing up performance rather than remain as a futuristic concept that is paid lip service to, then only will we truly make progress towards achieving gender parity in the workplace.

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