Overcoming occupational gender bias
Companies must tackle social issues, such as workplace gender bias, if they wish to become more sustainable.
Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) covers a vastly broad range of areas, with many regulations and compliance requirements for businesses to pay attention to. Of its three main areas, it’s the Social pillar that’s dedicated to the relations between companies and, among other things, its employees. This strand has garnered significance in recent years, with labor practices on the top of the agenda for social sustainability, such as:
- Promoting equitable opportunities
- Fostering an inclusive work culture
- Ensuring companies align their operations with the principles of social sustainability under the ESG framework
As we dig deeper into labor law practices, however, we’ll find that there are some irregularities when it comes to gender equality.
What is the principle of equality and inclusivity in the workplace?
The principle of equality is fundamental in labor law. A non-discriminatory workplace can be described as a place where workers are respected and treated equally, regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity, or other protected characteristic. It’s a logically step, then, to see how one form of equality principle breach is personified by gender bias.
Gender bias means the tendency to prefer one gender over another. This may not be intentional, but it can still cause physical and emotional harm to the neglected gender.
There are some examples of the impact of how governments have attempted to tackle gender bias in labor laws, such as the right to equal pay in the European Union.
Gender equality in the workplace
As mentioned above, according to Article 157 of the Treaty of Functioning of the European Union TFEU, men and women are entitled to receive the same salary for doing the same job. But that isn’t the whole picture when it comes to gender bias. As important as equal pay is in the workplace, equal treatment at work should mean equality on a broader spectrum.
The general principle of equality is also laid down in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, providing that “all humans are born (…) equal in dignity and rights”.
When interpreting this principle, one must understand that its foundation is to understand everyone’s unique differences and circumstances. It should be no surprise that women and men are different and have different demands, even in the workplace. By acknowledging these differences and accommodating them in a proper way, companies can achieve a more inclusive workplace. However, there are numerous instances where it’s precisely the inconsideration of the difference between men and women that exemplify gender inequalities in the workplace.
Here are some examples:
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is vital for employees exposed to hazards during their work day. It’s also designed for men – more specifically, the typical body size and shape of a Caucasian male. Studies have revealed that only 29% of women using PPE are provided with equipment designed to adjust to properly fit their bodies.
It comes as no surprise that poorly fitted PPE can lead to accidents and injuries. It’s therefore essential for employee safety that PPE is suitable and comfortable for each individual worker, and that can only be done by acknowledging that women and men have different anthropometrics.
Luckily, some PPE design companies are starting to tackle this issue with bespoke equipment designed for women. “Women have different feet; they need different footwear” is precisely a confirmation of the principle of equality that one company has been making. Research from J.J. Keller has found that more than 50% of women find PPE, such as shoes, uncomfortable.
This was also shown in 2020 when reaching for Covid-19 PPE became as ordinary an activity as picking up our keys. The Guardian put this rather succinctly in an article from that year: “PPE is made for a 6ft 3in rugby player”.
Increasing safety in the workplace make businesses more ESG-compliant, so taking the necessary measures to look at the PPE needs of all staff — of all shapes and sizes — is one step toward a forward-thinking adaptive working environment!
Where issues regarding PPE can be addressed with research and continuous design improvements, menstruation and menopause aren’t such easy factors to find a general solution to. Initially, the impact it has on the lives — and consequently — careers of those who menstruate needs to be acknowledged and addressed.
It’s commonly recognized and accepted that hormones affect the brain and emotions. And as people experience hormonal fluctuations during menstruation, it stands to reason that this can lead to psychological and emotional stress — and even physical pain.
Menstruation is also associated with Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). Both have severe physical and psychological effects on people menstruating.
It can only be seen as an advantage that companies adopt suitable measures to make their employees feel more comfortable when menstruating. Not only does this lead to productivity during these times, but it generally improves employees’ lifestyles and their relationship with the work environment.
Some countries have faced this issue head-on. Spain, for example, has passed a law allowing those who menstruate a paid leave allowance of up to three days per cycle. This can be a significant improvement in women’s health and productivity, as companies that have already implemented it will tell you. By showing understanding and compassion, encouraging those who menstruate to get proper rest, these companies are not only developing a better relationship with their employees by acknowledging how they feel, but also ensuring that during the time they are working, they’re more committed, empowered, and engaged.
Some of these measures can be:
- More flexible working from home policies
- Break and rest rooms
- Providing basic hygiene products in bathrooms
- Provide areas for sitting or stretching
Enabling a more sustainable workplace, specifically by preventing gender bias, involves recognizing differences between employees and addressing those differences in a more inclusive way. Ignorance to the impacts of gender bias actions in the workplace can risk not only physical, but mental safety of employees. Companies must always consider the principle of equality in their daily interactions with their employees, for example by acknowledging and tackling issues such as PPE design and menstruation.
Only by first considering differences can companies consider equality.
Get guidance on global gender equality
Jurisdictions have different mandatory requirements – as well as societal expectations – for many aspects of ESG, including gender equality.
Be sure to have quality insight into recommended best practices around the world with Enhesa’s ESG Global Guidance.