Consider these cases.
- A woman spokesperson in a company while discussing the topic of diversity with media nonchalantly mentions that there must be greater parity in the salaries among both genders at the workplace. This statement is picked up by other media who question the practices of the company putting the HR Head and the CEO in a spot.
- An organization creates a campaign to educate employees on the issues surrounding sexual harassment at work. In the communication, a poster depicts a man making advances at a woman. This visual creates a bias at the workplace that only women are harassed by men even though the reported cases are equal among both sexes.
It is that time of the year (March 8th is International Women’s Day) when organizations debate and discuss plans to make the workplace more inclusive. I can already witness a flurry of action with e-mails seeking women leaders as speakers, Whatsapp groups inviting ideas to engage women employees, suggestions sought for activities that will make people ‘feel’ good during the event and notes getting passed on which events worked and which failed.
Recently I attended a forum for women leaders and as one of the few men in the room it helped to gain insights on the issues that workplaces need to address. One among them is communicating parity inside the organization. Often buzz words like transparency and openness are shared widely to convey how organizations want to make the workplace inclusive. However, there is a gap between what is said and messages that get unsaid. Events and interventions end up seeming ‘gimmicky’ and employees get the feeling that employers aren’t walking the talk when they see bias creeping into decisions taken. The world isn’t fair and the evidence is compelling.
What is visible gets attention: Most organizations tend to devote a lot of energy in increasing the percentage of women at the workplace because it is on the radar of senior leadership. Media also looks at the ratios in the board rooms and labels organizations according to their ‘inclusiveness’. Internally, managers are asked to hire more women to ensure there is a balance in the team and more diverse thinking. All this because it is visible to the leaders and sought after by stakeholders as ‘proof’ that an organization is living its code. As communicators we have a role to play in making the real issues ‘visible’ to people who matter.
Spot it, communicate it: What if in the above mentioned cases, the organization’s leaders made it a point to call out why the media message wasn’t appropriate employees would have been more convinced about trusting the firm and their leaders. Often, organizations take the safer route of letting ‘issues go by’ so as to avoid raising more dust than needed. This can probably do more harm than good in the long run. As communicators we can be the conscience keeper for the organization and call out when interventions are needed.
Focus on the year, not on a ‘day’: Look at what your organization communicates and practices year-long and not get side-tracked by the ‘days’ that come and go. Your employees are looking at a consistent experience and not a one-off showcase or event that wows them. They can see through any false promises and attempted calls for parity. In an organization of repute, the women’s washroom was located further down the floor as compared to the men’s. Sensitizing men on one day isn’t going to get results. Demonstrate that your organization walks the talk.
Respect, not roses: While not everyone will agree, your workforce isn’t going to be swayed by a splendid lunch or a bunch of roses handed by managers on a particular day. They are looking for proof that the workplace respects and treats them fairly. And that swift action is taken when someone acts inappropriately. Furthermore, they are keen to see the results of such actions reported widely, not kept for a committee to check the boxes. Look up your company policies, internal forums and other platforms for opportunities to bring in parity in the tone of voice, access to resources and to make your workplace welcoming.
What we focus on conveys who we are as an organization and communicators are front and centre of the change that can take place within.
Do you agree? What else can be done to communicate parity at the workplace? Do share your views.