March 8th was International Women’s Day 2021. The day is meant to highlight the crucial role that women play in society and celebrate the movement for women’s rights globally. This year’s Women’s Day however comes during a global health pandemic. And unlike previous years when companies would jump at the opportunity to try and sell a product using Women’s Day as a theme, the circumstances this year demand more introspection from businesses.

COVID-19 has a tremendous impact on society and the world economies as a whole. And whenever economies suffer, the impact foregrounds those who are most vulnerable – the gender inequality and wealth disparity becomes glaring. The loss of income and the domestic work burden had an unprecedented impact on women in all economies of every size. Women lost work and those who didn’t have to work from home and take on additional domestic work because the children were also at home.

In South Africa, women not only face inequality in the workplace and economically, but there’s a bigger problem of Gender Based Violence (GBV) that plagues our country. You might think GBV is arbitrary and only includes heinous crimes against women, but it’s more nuanced than that. You might not personally or intentionally harm women but you may be complicit in discriminating against or aiding in creating a hostile environment for women in your workplace.

As business owners and managers, you need to expand your understanding of what GBV is and interrogate how complicit you are in perpetuating it in your business. GBV is not limited to physical violence, according to the Council of Europe Convention (The Istanbul Convention) on preventing and combating violence against women, a more comprehensive definition of GBV is: 

‘Physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.’

Workplace inequality, low pay, and hostile work environments also form part of a more insidious aspect of GBV – psychological and economic harm due to gender discrimination. So this year for Women’s Day and every other day of the year, businesses need to rather focus their energies on combating discrimination against women in the workplace.

There are a few ways that you can make your business a more inclusive workplace for women to thrive:

Tips For Creating A Woman-Friendly Workplace

Women’s Day 2021, focus on company culture:

Ensure that gender diversity is high on the priority list in terms of company culture. Put more emphasis on results rather than micromanaging employees about the time they spend at the desk. Offer training for managers and other employees on implicit bias and how that can affect women and other marginalized groups in your business.  

Prioritize gender diversity in the hiring process:

Your recruitment screening needs to be free of gender bias. The application pool needs to be diverse and evaluate applicants equally. You can easily achieve this by ensuring that the people in hiring positions are a diverse group of individuals and by reevaluating your starting salaries for any inequalities when it comes to women starters.

Refine performance evaluation:

Conduct regular evaluations for employees of all levels – this allows you to assess whether compensation is fair and also opens communication channels so employees can voice their feelings. Regular performance evaluations also allow you to upskill employees by providing training and assist in their growth and development.  

Workplace flexibility:

Introduce flexible hours for your staff as much as possible. Staff members who are allowed to take paid family leave or work flexible hours are more productive and loyal. Women with families, in particular, benefit the most from flexible work hours. The majority of people currently work from home during the pandemic, consider not making it compulsory for employees to return to work and treat it on a case-by-case basis. If an employee is more productive while working from home, allow them to do so even beyond the pandemic.

Senior representation:

Encourage a fair culture of succession and structural support that allows women to move up and ascend to leadership positions. Women being excluded from senior roles or management is still a big problem. Actively train and recruit women for senior roles in your company.

Mentorship programs:

Participate in mentoring young women and exposing them to your industry through internships and trainee programmers. Have regular outreaches to universities and other educational institutions to educate and empower young women in your industry.

Above and beyond these tips, keep the lines of communication open in your business. The more people feel comfortable voicing their opinions and concerns, the more you can implement changes and make the workplace healthy for women and other groups in your business. The key is to keep an open mind and support employees so they can be happy performing their duties and stay loyal to a business that cares about their individual needs.