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5 Ways to Build Gender Equity at Work
Equity, in its simplest terms, means meeting communities where they are and allocating resources and opportunities as needed to create equal outcomes for all community members, according to an article from The United Way.
Building gender equity specifically in a workplace is essential so that employees with a diverse range of experiences can contribute their unique gifts to company outcomes. And research from McKinsey & Company shows that when companies commit themselves to diverse leadership, they are more successful.
Leaders at Friendship Bridge, a Colorado-based nonprofit that helps impoverished women in Guatemala grow their businesses, understand this need. They’ve also faced unique challenges in building gender equity for their Guatemalan staff, given the country’s rating as the most gender-unequal country in Latin America, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2022.
Here are some ways they’ve created a culture of gender equity that you can adapt to your workplace.
5 Ways to Build Gender Equity at Work
1. Hire employees that reflect who you serve.
Regardless of the population your company serves, hiring for cultural fit is known to improve employee satisfaction, engagement, productivity, and retention, according to Business News Daily.
One way Friendship Bridge does this is by intentionally hiring employees who have similar backgrounds as its clients—in this case, indigenous Maya women from rural, impoverished areas—which has yielded “increased empathy, increased cultural competency, and the ability to leverage our networks to make our services more impactful…for both clients and employees,” says Chief Strategy Officer Caitlin Scott. “In order to serve [clients] well, [build] a workforce that reflects your population.”
To show they are serious about this, Friendship Bridge offers an extensive, two-month employee training program that goes beyond job responsibilities. New employees are also taught how to interact professionally, trained in the technology needed for the job (rather than expecting them to already know it), then given time to practice what they’ve learned in the field. Friendship Bridge also partners with the MAIA Impact School, which exclusively educates rural indigenous young women, to apply for internships and, afterward, full-time jobs.
Think of how you can take this example and implement it in your own business. Are there ways you can offer a training program or help develop your team? Maybe there are strategic collaborations you can adopt so that you can further the relationship you have with your team as well as with other organizations.
2. Encourage participation in decision-making.
When employees are given opportunities to participate in decision-making, self-confidence increases as they gain mastery in their jobs. Employees begin to participate more in projects outside of their departments, which often translates to becoming leaders, as well as being more receptive to ways they might improve.
One way to do this is to standardize participation through performance evaluations, which are filled out not only by managers but also by colleagues. In addition, include participation as one of your company’s corporate values so it continues to be practiced; allow employees to decide how they will achieve their performance objectives.
3. Enact company benefits that encourage gender equity.
Think about what might hinder both women and men to apply for certain positions in equal numbers. What policy or employee benefit might help change that? Friendship Bridge did this by offering motorcycle loans and motorcycle driving lessons to women. Since the ability to ride a motorcycle was a job requirement for certain positions—in order to reach clients living on unpaved roads with challenging terrain—few women applied. Adding these benefits allowed more women to feel comfortable riding in rural areas, and thus feel comfortable applying for such jobs.
Reflect on any company policies you currently have that may hinder someone from applying. These can range from what the example showed, but really consider who you want to be in your workforce and how you can ease their access.
4. Be aware of employees’ personal needs.
When employees know that you care about their personal life and institute work policies that can help them be more productive, increased trust and more open communication soon follow. By showing employees that you are actively aware of their needs, you will help build an environment of trust and loyalty. When you show your team that you care, they will take that to heart and want to stay with the team longer, advance into new opportunities, and may become your next business partner.
Think of how you can become more aware of your team’s needs and how you can implement a system to care for those needs. Of course, there are boundaries that should be set up, but there are many ways you can create incentives around personal needs. For example, paying for a commuting pass, gym membership, meal planning service, etc. These are incentives as well as showing concern for their personal well-being.
5. Give employees opportunities for advancement.
A healthy organizational culture of gender equity develops when managers point out employees’ capabilities and encourage them to apply for new roles, even when they don’t yet see those capabilities themselves. Carmen G., a Friendship Bridge employee for 15 years and current branch manager, said she wasn’t necessarily looking for leadership opportunities when she started. Managers noticed her skills and encouraged her to apply for promotions, but she was reluctant to say “yes” due to family commitments.
Her managers persisted anyway, and that has made all the difference. “I was afraid to take on such a big challenge…I doubted it so many times,” Carmen remembers. She now reports experiencing personal and professional growth, she just needed a nudge to get there: “All the knowledge I’ve acquired has allowed me to be a very empowered woman so I can empower more women in Guatemala.”
My colleague in Guatemala, Indira M is an inspiration to me and shows that when given the opportunity, women can do amazing things. At age 25, Indira is the first person in her family to go to college, and is the primary income contributor in her household, supporting her mother and two teenage brothers. She works as the communications and visual design coordinator with the Handmade by Friendship Bridge® program, the division that supports Friendship Bridge’s artisan clients. I see how much pride she takes in her daily work, and she is full of innovative ideas. In addition, I am inspired by how much she cares for our clients. She not only works hard to help them build their businesses, but she also cares about them deeply on a personal level and considers them friends.
From my own experience, Friendship Bridge offered me an opportunity to advance in my career at a time when, to some employers, I looked like a risky hire. Though I’d worked part-time for many years as a freelance writer while also working as the primary caregiver for my children, when I began applying for full-time work again, I was repeatedly passed over. Friendship Bridge managers saw past my resume gaps and recognized the value I could bring. And while learning certain business automation tools continues to have a steeper learning curve for me, my managers show patience while I learn. Today, I believe I bring a unique perspective in helping the organization communicate its mission to the general public, not in spite of my less-consistent work history, but because of it.
My advice for any aspiring women entrepreneurs is this – Don’t let fear keep you from trying something new, or taking a risk in your career. If there is another reason you are saying no to an opportunity, that’s valid, and that is your choice. But if the only reason you are saying no is because you are afraid, push through. You just don’t know what this opportunity can teach you. As a person who stepped back from my career when my children were young, I struggle with this, because I feel I am lacking in certain business skills. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have other gifts to contribute.
What’s next for me and Friendship Bridge? I am excited to begin planning and curating a museum exhibit featuring textile weavers from Guatemala, on behalf of Friendship Bridge. I love research and writing and am enjoying digging deeper into the symbolism behind the textiles, learning more about the worldview of the indigenous Maya, and considering the best way to showcase what I’ve learned.
Remember, your company may serve a different demographic with specific challenges of your own to building gender equity. Consider what policies would allow your staff to thrive at a higher level. The hard work to get there is worth it when employees with differing experiences can work side by side, complementing one another’s skills and operating from their unique strengths.
I ask that readers looking for gift items will consider shopping for handmade products made by our Guatemalan clients (Click “shop” at www.friendshipbridge.org). Purchases of these items are truly helping break the cycle of generational poverty in Guatemala and empowering women in Guatemala to change the trajectories of their lives.
About the Author
Name: Lydia Rueger Shoaf
Professional Title: Content and Press Associate
Bio: Lydia Rueger Shoaf is the content and press associate for Friendship Bridge, a freelance journalist and editor specializing in parenting topics, and children’s book author. She lives in Colorado with her family.
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