The impact of positive discrimination in the workplace
Today we celebrate the social, political, cultural and economic achievements of women worldwide and most importantly: our collective commitment to a gender-equal world. That commitment includes amongst other the introduction of the women’s quota for companies. The quota exists to reduce the gap between the number of women and men in diverse positions. But how does that work out in practice?
In this article, we zoom in on positive discrimination and answer frequently asked questions regarding gender-equal recruiting.
Three types of discrimination in the business world
Discrimination exists everywhere and comes in different forms. In the business world, discrimination mainly occurs based on origin, skin colour and gender.
For example, individuals of Asian descent are disadvantaged, some people are less likely to find jobs because of their skin pigmentation despite their competencies or women, for example, are treated unfairly during the recruitment process.
Gender equality in Belgium
In Belgium, we are doing quite well when it comes to a more inclusive workplace. A major reason for this, are the innovative HR approaches of several organizations. Gender diversity exists in an increasing number of companies across all types of job roles, as well as more female employees in high-paid positions.
The chart below, published by Statista Research Department on Dec. 14 2022, shows the percentages of men and women working in Belgium by gender and region.
The Gender Equality Index
Have you heard of the Gender Equality Index? This index gives EU member states a score from 1 to 100. The higher this number is, the more equality exists between women and men.
In 2022, our country scored 74.2 overall and 75.5 in the workplace, according to the European Institute for Gender Equality. The latter score indicates the extent to which women and men are treated equally in terms of work opportunities, and has risen remarkably in recent years.
Although 75.5 seems like a high score, many other European member states score higher, with Sweden, Lithuania and Estonia topping the rankings.
Positive discrimination at work
In general, the increase in the number of working women is quite remarkable. In fact, some people even talk about positive discrimination. When employers or recruiters have to choose between two applicants with similar profiles, the preference often goes to the female candidate or the applicant with an immigrant background.
Apart from the ambition to create more gender equality in the workplace, imposed quotas are also driving the positive discrimination.
The woman’s quota: a tailwind for progress
At the end of 2019, the World Economic Forum gave our country a score of 0.75 where 1 means full equality between women and men. To boost this figure, the women’s quota was brought to life.
The women’s quota sets how many positions in a company must be filled by women at some point in the future. The quota leads to more women applying for jobs, more female talent recruited, and equal opportunities. Although some people question this latter consequence.
Frequently asked questions about gender equality in corporations
Whether the women’s quota brings positive discrimination is a tough topic to debate. The question of consideration is whether candidates are being recruited today because of their abilities, or because they are female.
What benefits does the women’s quota actually generate? And how does the quota affect the behaviour of potential candidates? Let’s address some frequently asked questions.
1. How valuable is the implementation of the women’s quota?
Many companies strive to meet their quotas. For this reason, they are often looking for female profiles, as well as candidates with diverse ethnic or religious backgrounds.
But is it valuable to select those specific profiles with the goal of meeting their quota? Perhaps they overlook a male candidate who is more competent for the position. We outline some pros and cons below.
- The structural barriers to hiring or not hiring women are being reduced. Employers and recruiters are now more open to recruiting both men and women.
- Diversity in the workplace is growing and there is emerging a healthy balance of men and women in a variety of positions.
- The women’s quota encourages the number of female employees in an organization, which gives other women increasing role models, as well as more motivation to study, work and eventually apply for their dream jobs.
- There are many women who have the appropriate abilities for a particular job, but they believe beforehand that they will not be considered. The women’s quota will make these women more likely to apply.
- Businesses do not quickly reject women for certain positions, whereas this was often the case in the past.
- The women’s quota does not lead to positive discrimination; it merely offsets an existing discrimination.
- During the selection process, recruiters are more likely to consider gender instead of focusing on competencies. As a result, they may overlook candidates with the appropriate knowledge and skills.
- Equivalent hiring is questioned, as successful candidates may not be recruited despite their skills, which subsequently narrows the odds of hiring the best profiles.
- Men feel discriminated, which causes people to refer to positive discrimination and even unlawful discrimination.
- Recruiters have less freedom in the selection and decision-making process when hiring new employees.
- Some women tend to feel that they are hired because of the quota rather than their abilities, which makes them feel unappreciated and less motivated to perform the job. They may also feel a sense of inferiority, which can lead to dissatisfaction at work.
2. What added value does female talent bring to an organization?
Because of the women’s quota, clearly more women are being hired than before, leading to a more diverse workplace in companies. This diverse workforce might also lead to a more diverse customer base and a positive well-being of each individual in the organization.
Not unimportant to mention is that a diverse workplace usually has a positive impact on a company’s work atmosphere, its corporate culture and the overall results. Women in general get along quickly with other employees and are very effective in terms of communication. Most women also enjoy working together for the benefit of the organization.
What works out well for a business is that women usually desire a good work-life balance more than men. This makes them smoothly deal with flexible work schedules and work-from-home opportunities. Because in this way, they are able to efficiently combine their work life and family responsibilities.
3. What is the added value of women in leadership roles?
Women in general tend to attach more importance to skills development and fair pay. Therefore, a company with women in management positions will usually invest in the career development of its employees. As a result, employees feel more engaged, which makes them stay longer and perform better.
In companies led by women, the workforce is more likely to feel that they are part of an innovative enterprise. These kinds of companies also tend to give more importance to welfare and health programs for women, which makes female customers more easily engaged.
When an inclusive work environment is led by women, employees usually have a clear understanding of their job and what they are expected to do. Employees naturally experience a positive work atmosphere. Female leaders are also role models for other women who aspire to rise to higher job positions.
4. How does positive discrimination affect candidates?
Positive discrimination exists as recruiters are increasingly looking for female profiles. Women are more likely than before to have a career and are therefore more motivated to study and apply for a job that interests them all the way. While woman know that they are able to climb higher, they have more confidence in the future of their careers.
For men, positive discrimination implies fewer job opportunities, which creates a competitive job market for them. Besides that, men will have to work hard in order to develop a very attractive profile so that they still get selected over female candidates.
5. Does positive discrimination add value in the work field?
Positive discrimination leads to a balance between men and women in companies. The different perspectives of both genders creates different market insights and ideas, as well as more innovation and creativity.
As a consequence, companies find solutions to problems quickly and effectively. Not to mention that they recognize new opportunities to seize. In the end, all this results in better business performance and outcomes.
Best practices of gender diversity in the corporate world
When a company prioritizes gender diversity, they are able to unleash all their potential and enjoy financial benefits. But to do so, they need to do it well.
Diversity as part of a strategic business objective
First of all, the HR department plays a crucial role regarding the progression of female talent. Making diversity and inclusion activities part of a strategic business goal and corporate culture is essential. If women start working in a male corporate culture, they are likely to look for another employer very soon.
An engaged work environment is key
It is important for an enterprise to not only commit to (gender) diversity, but also to an engaged work environment. Only when employees and leaders build confidential, open and supportive relationships with each other the benefits of a diverse workplace will emerge.
Only when there is open and confidential communication in a business environment, the diverse workforce is able to share their different perspectives, skills, ideas, knowledge, talents and behavioural traits in order to move the business forward.
Happy International Women’s Day to everyone!
Let’s strive together for a world where no one needs to feel discriminated. A world where organizations turn their back on stereotypes and welcome inclusiveness. A world that is equitable and where the achievements of both women and men are celebrated. #EmbraceEquity
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