The global pandemic disrupted the workplace as we knew it. And unfortunately, it exacerbated many issues and challenges that existed pre-COVID.

Women, in particular, have been significantly impacted.

According to LeanIn and McKinsey & Co’s ‘Women in the Workplace’ report, over 1 in 4 women may downshift or leave their careers. It also revealed that COVID-19 could set women back half a decade.

Despite the benefits of having women in the workplace, women are still underrepresented at every corporate hierarchy level, with the gap becoming more significant at senior executive levels. The good news is, there is progress. According to the 2021 Women in Business report by Grant Thornton, the proportion of leadership roles held by women worldwide stood at 19% in 2004, and the number has risen to 31% in 2021.

As reflected in our Talent Trends 2021 survey report, 24% of senior executive job openings in Singapore were filled by women in 2020. We saw a 3.5% increase in the number of new female appointments for senior executive job openings last year in the Asia Pacific, reflecting a slow but steady increase in senior leadership diversity across Asia.

So now more than ever, businesses need to step up as progressive companies and break down barriers for women to move into leadership roles and be better represented in the overall workplace.

Related: Women in leadership: improving the gender balance in the legal profession

Here are 7 things businesses can do to help build an inclusive workplace for women.

1. Ensure leaders are responsible for lifting women up

Leaders have the power to influence, drive and change business culture. They need to be held accountable and set an example. Having transparent discussions at work about what is and what is not acceptable behaviour from your staff is a strong starting point. From there, building an environment of support for women should filter down and across all levels. But it needs to start from the top.

2. Challenge gender bias in the workplace

Businesses can create opportunities for women to gain more exposure to scenarios that will enable them to move into leadership levels. In addition, acknowledge and correct double standards that still exist: congratulating men when they take time off to look after the kids, meanwhile, women who do the same thing are often seen as lacking commitment to their employer.

3. Offer equal pay and greater flexibility

As reported last year by the Ministry of Manpower, Singapore’s current full-time gender pay gap is currently at 6%. That makes up to be over $300 lesser every month for doing the same job. And after taking away adjusted factors such as industry, occupation, age and education, the real gender pay gap is 16.3%, which is comparable to the global pay gap of 16.1%.

The continual preference of men over women for senior roles in organisations perpetuates the gender gap issue. The gender pay gap is also the result of social and economic factors that combine to reduce women’s earning capacity over their lifetime. In addition to this, many women continue to be the main caretaker in the household. So women require more work flexibility than ever, as they are always ‘on’ and balancing double shifts (of work and parenting) and therefore can be more susceptible to stress and burnout. Genuine flexibility will help ease this burden.

4. Acknowledge and celebrate the work of women

Due to certain male-dominated industries and sectors, workplaces can become a ‘boys’ club’. This holds women back from networking opportunities and being excluded from promotions. Part of this problem can be addressed by proactively flipping it – continually recognise and highlight the talented women in your organisation and choose scenarios that are inclusive and welcoming over ‘boys only’ settings. 

5. Stand up for your female colleagues

Allowing your female colleagues to have a voice is important, if not more important, than speaking up for them. Providing opportunities and platforms for women to speak contributes to workplaces fostering equal representation and value of their staff. Businesses can go further by providing both men and women with the tools to encourage workplace inclusivity such as reading material and resources, external speakers and educational webinars.

6. Call out casual sexism and bad behaviour

Failing to address poor behaviour in the workplace typically results in a culture of disrespect, low trust levels and fear. Sexist attitudes and practices can also predict tolerance of more harmful behaviour toward women. Silence is not golden and inaction can be interpreted (or misinterpreted) as support for the status quo.

7. Choose to play your part

Don’t just recognise International Women’s Day and don’t treat it like any Hallmark holiday, but consciously decide every day that you will celebrate women’s achievements and accelerate women’s equality. No matter your role, everyone plays a part in contributing to positive change and helping to forge inclusive work cultures where women’s careers can thrive.

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Discover workplace focal points for Singapore, and insights into the future workplace, and the latest trends in hiring, salaries and bonuses by downloading our Talent Trends 2021 report now. Report results are derived from over 5,500 businesses and 21,000 employees in the Asia Pacific.

Ready for a new role? Check out our current job opportunities or speak to one of our recruiters today.

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