Women at Work: Choosing to Challenge in the Workplace

Female employee discussing an issue with a male employee

March 8 marks International Women’s Day (IWD) each year, but why is that important? Well, it’s a day to recognise how far we’ve come towards achieving gender equality since the first IWD back in 1911, and an opportunity to highlight that there’s still plenty of work to be done.

This year, the theme of IWD is centred around the notion; Choose to Challenge. It’s based on the idea that as individuals, we all have the power to call out gender bias and inequality. We can also all choose to celebrate women’s achievements and together, work to create a more equal and inclusive world. 

One area where we can all choose to challenge more in 2021, is in the workplace. Whilst the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were far-reaching and saw thousands of Australians lose their jobs, experience reduced work hours, or be stood down, men and women were affected differently.

Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show overall employment decreased by 7.5% between 14 March and 18 April, 2020. During this period, female employment dropped by 8.1%, while male employment fell by 6.2%. Despite many of the jobs done by women being vulnerable to loss as a result of the pandemic (the overwhelming majority of workers in education, healthcare, retail, food services and social assistance are women), it’s not only in these highly casualised industries that we saw female employment decrease.

According to official figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in May last year, almost 98,000 fewer university-educated women had work than at the start of the pandemic. This compares to 37,000 fewer young men. Whilst it will take some time for the economy to recover, and everyone who was left unemployed to once again find meaningful work, there are some simple things that employers, recruiters and everyone in the workplace can choose to challenge to make a positive impact on the lives of female job seekers and workers across the country.

Choose to Challenge: Three impactful actions you can take in your workplace right now

1. Remove gender biased language in your job ads

Be mindful about the language you use in your job ads. Certain words, such as “dominant,” “competitive” and “driven” are commonly associated with masculinity. Meanwhile, words such as “interpersonal” and “support” are associated with being feminine. Using gender-coded terms like these in your job ads can impact whether a job seeker feels like they belong at your company, and may even deter female candidates from applying.

2. Create a culture where everyone feels comfortable speaking up

LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Company’s fourth annual study of women at work, found 20% of the time, a woman is often the only female in meetings or other situations at work. This increases to nearly 40% for women in senior-level positions. Encourage a culture where every idea matters and nobody is cut off when contributing. Additionally, many of you may have heard the phrase, “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept”. All employees should be empowered to call out unfair treatment if they witness or experience it, without fear of repercussions.

3. Show your support for female employees by starting an IRG

One great way to support women in the workplace all year round (not just on IWD), is to start an Inclusion Resource Group for women. IRGs are voluntary, employee-led groups that serve traditionally marginalised or underrepresented employees via both formal and informal events — like structured meetings to address complex issues impacting the community, or virtual coffee chats so members can casually connect. It’s important to remember that you don’t need to be a woman to join a women’s IRG. Membership should be available to everyone with a goal of open conversation, education and allyship. With ongoing support and resources, IRGs can help contribute to a culture of inclusion and belonging in the workplace.

You can show your support for International Women’s Day on social media by using the following hashtags:  #ChooseToChallenge  #IWD2021.

Your Indeed Company Page is a great place to highlight your organisation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Clearly list benefits such as paid parental leave, flexible working arrangements, on-site childcare facilities, subsidised healthcare etc, on your Company Page so that candidates can easily find this information when researching your organisation and deciding whether it’s a good fit for them.

Subscribe to Indeed to go - the monthly newsletter you'll actually want to read