LINKAGE Q1 (2022) - BREAK THE BIAS
By Kevan Rajaram & Sabeeha Mohamed
The COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges to developing inclusive economies and flourishing societies.
In a 2018 report, the World Economic Forum anticipated it would take approximately 202 years for the world to achieve gender parity, but new studies have shown that post-COVID, it will take in excess of 260 years to achieve gender parity. It seems that pre-existing gender gaps were extended due to the crisis—asymmetrically between men and women, even though more women than men have been at the frontlines of managing the crisis as essential workers.
The crisis has halted progress toward gender parity in several economies and industries, in spite of rapid digitalisation. This was a result of most sectors being hit by imposed lockdowns, combined with the additional pressures of providing care in the home. Gender-sensitive remediation tactics will be instrumental in making up for lost effort and time during 2020 (and perhaps into the following years) to mitigate long-term scarring in the labour market.
However, this presents leaders with an unprecedented and novel opportunity to build a more resilient and gender-equal society by investing in inclusive workplaces, creating more equitable and distributed care systems, fostering women’s rise to leadership positions, applying a gender-inclusive outlook to reskilling and redeployment and lastly, embedding gender parity into the future of work.
At the heart of these opportunities lies data. Utilising data is at the forefront of a lot of institutional changes, from implementing change management, to paradigm shifts and dissolving gender inequality in the workplace. The following are ways in which the adoption of data and leveraging it can empower women in the workplace:
As more organizations introduce diversity metrics as part of their corporate targets, specifically as they relate to recruitment, training, progression and pay, more data is inevitably created and thus there is more data to analyse. These data points and subsequently key performance indicators will yield valuable insights into patterns, trends and discrepancies between how female employees are treated when compared to their male counterparts. Many organisations, including PwC, have seen a greater impact because of inclusivity and targeted female hires, which at the Global Board level has seen a shift of female leaders from 33% in 2017 to 39% in 2021.
Also as part of the connected PwC community, a Gender Pay Gap tool was developed to empower organisations to identify the key factors that contribute to pay inequity, which helps to inform and drive strategies to improve gender equality. The tool is a system-agnostic that leverages the client’s existing digital assets in an efficient and accelerated manner. Automated and scalable, the digital tool delivers real-time insights, ongoing analysis, monitoring and review. Ultimately, what gets measured can be improved.
It is no secret that data is now being used on many levels of forecasting and predictions, and one great area to harness its power is relating to the reduction of gender inequalities in the workplace. If we take the leadership traits of both men and women and build this into a computer programme via machine learning, it will help future leaders (men and women) to better understand each other and learn from each other's experiences and traits which will then position them for leadership roles in the future.
Additionally, recommendation engines can be created against job profiles to ensure women with the right credentials are equally recommended for positions and that gender is no longer a factor, or at the least not an important one. These things may seem futuristic, but the fact is that these are investments to ensure equality in the workplace and diversity in growth and hiring. Lastly, predictive analytics can help organisations forecast whether certain groups of people are more likely to resign than others, giving HR teams the proactive opportunity to develop initiatives that improve the workplace experience of those groups.
In order to address implicit biases, employees need to work to identify their own biases and ways to overcome them. This entails reviewing existing policies and practices to identify whether certain practices perpetuate bias. Workforce analytics can uncover whether implicit bias exists in recruiting practices, promotion decisions, and employees’ daily experiences.
Through the use of AI tools, recruiters can identify and address bias in job descriptions to develop gender-neutral versions along with masking identifying information on applications to allow for skills-based recruitment.
Tracking promotion and payroll data to ensure adherence to diversity and inclusion strategies will allow companies to easily identify inequality and reveal existing prejudices in promotion practices. Analysing performance reviews by gender can also uncover potential bias, where metrics are subjective. An alternative would be to measure performance using concrete metrics that can be applied to all employees fairly.
As mentioned, workforce analytics can highlight potential issues within a company and data plays an integral part in understanding the required actions to address this. It is also equally important to ensure accountability by sharing the insights and a proposed plan with key internal and external stakeholders.
The under-representation of girls and women in STEM is entrenched in gender stereotypes that send a signal to girls that they are not inclined to certain fields. Currently, less than a third of female students choose to study higher education courses in subjects like math and engineering.
Succeeding in STEM goes beyond digital access. STEM learning develops skills that are applicable throughout life such as thinking laterally, problem-solving and innovating. Knowing how to operate, use and create technology and science-based solutions will be critical for girls’ and women’s health, education, voice and empowerment in an age that is shaped by technological advances.
Parents, guardians and teachers play a crucial role in encouraging a mindset of growth and showing young girls that STEM is exciting, fun and fulfilling. Mentors are also essential in countering gender stereotypes and negative messaging by driving the conversation about girls and women in STEM fields. Highlighting female pioneers in the area of STEM will instill interest and help them see themselves in STEM majors and careers.
Thus, investing in girl-centered solutions and innovations will allow young female innovators the opportunity to develop and refine their solutions to take them to scale.
While the COVID-19 crisis has compounded challenges for women and girls as well as exacerbated barriers for them to participating in the economy and public life, there is yet hope for improvement and incidentally, they can be validated through the use of data.
Across nations, long-run GDP per capita would be almost 20 percent higher on average if gender employment gaps were to be closed. The preceding points highlight some key areas to reduce gender inequality through organisational change and education. Ensuring that all people have access to quality education and safety nets also makes people and societies more resilient to disturbances caused by health emergencies, climate change or economic crises.
Kevan Rajaram is a Senior Manager | Data Scientist
Sabeeha Mohamed is a Senior Associate | Data Scientist at PwC
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