Developing Diversity in the Workplace: What Elected Officials Can Do
I’ve been watching old reruns of the 1970s sitcom, Maude, and I’m fascinated by the clear gender inequality during that era and Maude’s continued fight against it. Most recently, for research purposes of course, I watched the four-part episode where Maude is invited to run for a seat in the Senate. While this invitation to a woman was flattering during the ’70s, her husband is less than thrilled at the prospect of having a “part-time” wife. I’d like to think that this paradigm has changed over the last 30+ years. However, gender inequality is still prevalent today, though it is often not as obvious as it is when watching old reruns. Have women made strides in workplace equality? Without a doubt. Has full equality been achieved? Not yet.
Today, women work alongside men, and women even hold management and leadership positions. But when we look at the rate of the pay, promotions, and opportunity, the research is clear that inequality still exists. While many (hopefully all!) employers have an equal opportunity policy, a statement alone isn’t enough make change. A diversity strategy must be intentional to be effective, and employers have much to consider in implementing these programs. As an elected official, you can help set the tone for diversity and inclusion by considering the initiatives discussed within this blog.
To begin, current employment policies and practices should be reviewed. Does your organization have policies that state in some way that the employer is committed to fostering, cultivating, and preserving a culture of diversity and inclusion? Are your practices clear that the basis for selection, promotion, and other employment actions are based solely on work-related criteria? Does your organization’s mission or value statement reflect diversity and inclusion? Does your community have ordinances or resolutions in place that address its diversity initiatives? If not, an employer should probably consider updating, and more importantly, enforcing these types polices and statements.
Employers can then conduct a diversity audit to determine the current demographic make-up of their organization. In addition to basic employee counts, the audit might look at rates related to workplace conflicts, complaints, turnover, and other criteria to reveal if these workplace statistics are in line with the newly established workplace policies. With an understanding of its current demographics, communities can establish the appropriate diversity goals for the organization. This can be done at the executive level, or by including a diverse (see what I did there) panel of participants to share their input on how to move the organization closer to its goal.
Specific to recruitment, employers should take care in how they develop job advertisements and job descriptions so as not to imply any stereotypical characteristics. For example, words like “analyze” and “determine” have been found to be masculine, whereas “collaborate” and “support” are considered more feminine. The goal is to use neutral descriptions that accurately reflect the work of the position. The recruitment effort should also be targeted to job boards that will draw a more diverse candidate pool. Additionally, employers need to have awareness of and check themselves on the different types of recruitment biases. Training on this topic is particularly helpful, especially if recruitment activities take place infrequently.
In addition to updating policies and practices, there are a few inventive ways a community can make its workplace more attractive to women. An obvious factor is to make sure women are paid equitably compared to their male counterparts. Additionally, developing training and leadership tracks for female employees can be especially appealing to women who are looking to develop and grow in higher level or executive roles. Another area to explore is promoting family-friendly policies to make it possible for employees to have a better work-life balance. This type of work environment makes an employer especially attractive since women are more likely than men to use parental leave or take time off to care for a child.
Throughout all of these suggestions, an employer should also work to create and nurture a workplace culture that embraces diversity and inclusion. This can begin by providing regular training, ensuring leadership and staff are good stewards of the organization’s policies, and regularly communicating the mission and values of the organization. In essence, make sure you practice what you preach and hold everyone accountable to do the same.
During an interview on her senate seat candidacy, Maude is asked why she believes she is ahead in the polls. Her response was applaud-worthy at the time, and I think it’s still a good reminder today. Maude’s response? “…the emergence of women in our society. As New Woman magazine so aptly puts it, Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill went on to complete the assignment, much to the great admiration of her employer, and excelled in all future endeavors far exceeding the expectations of all those who assumed she had no capacity.”
HR Manager, Michigan Municipal League
Mandy Reed serves as the League’s Human Resources Manager. In this role, Mandy oversees all internal HR functions including compensation, benefits, employee relations, recruitment, and organizational development. She also works closely with League membership managing and leading the League’s executive search and HR consulting services.