HR role in protecting employees from gender discrimination

Company culture is a major factor in the world of hiring and business. When it comes to improving work productivity and employee relations, gender bias is often something that is easily overlooked.

Knowing how to respond to gender bias in the workplace isn’t as clear-cut as it may seem, but it’s still important for workers. “Gender diverse companies have higher returns than non-gender diverse companies,” says Sallie Krawcheck, co-founder of Ellevest. “They have lower risk, greater innovation, greater employee engagement. The performance of companies with gender-diverse teams is so much better.”

In the last few years, charges of gender discrimination in the workplace have increased. How exactly should an HR safeguard against discrimination in his or her workplace? What is the best way to handle it?
Dealing effectively with discrimination is a two-step process: become knowledgeable with regard to anti-discrimination laws, and pay close attention to what’s happening in your company.

Here are some general guidelines for HR’s to follow when confronted with a complaint of any type of discrimination:

1. Pay attention to what you don’t see. You can’t always see it, prove it, or stop it, but if you ignore even the hint of discriminatory behaviour, you and your company could suffer in the long run. Low morale, employee conflicts, and even lawsuits are just a few of the serious problems that could arise.

2. Don’t play favourites. If you offer certain benefits to employees, make sure these perks are available to everyone. For example, if you want to provide a flexible work arrangement for your older workers, avoid appearing discriminatory by being sure to offer this option to everyone.

3. Keep your personal beliefs personal. Your personal philosophy regarding race, religion, and other potentially inflammatory issues should not affect your duty to monitor workplace discrimination, nor should it cloud your views regarding what’s legal and just.

4. As it’s easy for an off the record remark — said by either you or an employee is enough to start a whirlwind of bad feelings. Think before you say something that might be misconstrued, and teach your employees to conduct themselves similarly. People should not be afraid to be themselves, but they do need to be careful, sensitive, and knowledgeable about what’s okay to say and what’s better left unsaid.

5. Respond quickly. If an employee expresses concern about possible workplace discrimination, do what you can in the shortest period of time to resolve the issue. Allowing it to delay will only add to the employee’s anxiety. Establish a clear policy for yourself and others for dealing with the problem.

6. Proper Investigation – Who said what? What exactly happened? Who else was involved? Along with the help and guidance of their peer manager, talk to the person who has been accused. Make sure to take and protect copious notes of your discussions.
7. Educate yourself. Stay informed about workplace discrimination. Talk with your peers in similar and different industries, read your daily newspaper for information about what’s happening locally, and conduct research on discrimination and harassment law. Find out what it means for you as an employer.

8. Propose a Gender Equality Training or Workshop – Hosting a gender equality workshop can help with this, even if it’s just by getting the issue of gender bias out there in the first place. “Every time we talk about culture or our people or hiring or firing, every time that we talk and bring in issues of not just gender bias but all kinds of bias, I push that we constantly question ourselves and ask, ‘Is our bias impacting our hiring decisions in some way?'” Being aware of gender bias is the first step toward correcting it.

9.Create and post an anti-discrimination policy. Keep in mind that no anti-discrimination policy will be taken seriously unless you take concrete action against any possible wrongdoing. After you’ve assessed the situation and consulted a lawyer, determine how you’re going to proceed. If you discover that some kind of discrimination has taken place, decide if you will start with a warning, insist on counselling, or formally terminate the accused.

Eliminating bias in the workplace isn’t just a one-and-done kind of thing. It takes continuous, concentrated and committed effort. It is nothing to play with. Don’t start the work if you don’t intend to finish it.

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