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How can business leaders embrace equity in the workplace?

The theme for International Women’s Day 2023 is centred around the concept of equity. If the ideal goal is gender equality, where all genders have equal rights and opportunities, the way to get there first requires equitable treatment. This includes addressing the realities of systemic disadvantage and providing a proportional approach with varying levels of assistance to meet the needs of the historically disadvantaged.

People are looking for fairness and transparency, especially when it comes to the social element in ESG. Consumers are increasing their social consciousness around gender equality and the link that it has to the ethical conduct of organisations within their employees’ environments and communities. This goes hand in hand with attracting and retaining top talent, as people judge a potential employer based on its attitude towards uplifting and developing historically disadvantaged groups, and how business values are reflected in the actions taken within the organisation and the broader community.

A lack of progress towards gender equality is a business risk accompanied by the backdrop of staggering statistics (such as from The United Nations and The World Bank), all of which are telling much the same story: women have fewer opportunities, less economic power, fewer high level positions, and are less likely to enter into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. In the same vein, research has shown that organisations can reap great benefits from taking equity seriously. So, what are the questions Directors and business leaders could ask that will assist in embracing equity, pursuing equality, and mitigating risk within their organisations?

1. Employment equity

- What is legally permissible in relation to employment equity in the organisation, industry or country, and what data can be used for this purpose? - What are the effects of the increasing focus on equality and equity with regard to consumers and employee stakeholder groups? How are the emerging trends in these areas going to affect the organisation’s risk management plan and the ability to attract and retain top talent? - What policies are currently in place to address inequality and historic discrimination, and what is the desired future state of the organisation?

2. Attraction, recruitment and retention

- Do the candidates applying for roles in the organisation reflect the demographics of the economically active population? If not, how is this impacting employee demographics, and what can be done about it to be more equitable in the attraction and recruitment process? - How do the demographics of the selected candidates compare to the demographics of the applicants (including unsuccessful applicants) and the economically active population? - Are employees across the various occupational groups retained at the same rates; if not, what is the cause of the differential?

3. Training

- Is training tracked with regards to employee demographics and training spend? - Are employees provided the same access to training, and how is this tracked? - Is there potential to promote equity by providing under-represented groups with more budget and opportunity for training in order to upskill, uplift and develop these groups for long-term movement towards equality within the organisation?

4. Promotion

- When assessing the organisation’s occupational levels, are the demographics at each level representative of the economically active population? - Do the demographics within the occupational levels indicate that there may be direct or indirect discrimination? - Does legislation allow for candidates from under-represented groups to be given preference if they fit the criteria for the role?

5. Grievance and misconduct

- What are the policies in place to protect employees from unfair discrimination and harassment, as well as allowing them to raise their concerns? - How are grievances and misconduct matters dealt with in regards to harassment and discrimination in particular?

Embracing equity begins with recognising that there are groups of people who face systemic and structural barriers and as a result, are negatively impacted. Meaningful transformation towards equality has to begin with recognising that the empowerment of under-represented groups is critical for risk management and sustainability.

Equity can only exist when those with the power, privilege, and resources are prepared to recognise that progress towards equality can only be made if there is a genuine attempt to eliminate barriers that lead to direct and indirect discrimination. Part of doing that requires relinquishing the power, privilege, resources, and control. In order to see changes, we need to make the changes.




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