How can we take action on gender inequality and bias in the workplace?
Salma sits down with her publisher Koganpage to share her thoughts and experiences on gender equality and discuss her approach to support businesses to take action against gender bias in the workplace.
K: What does IWD mean to you?
SS: IWD is a global celebration of unity in action and an opportunity to reflect and share why we still need to keep the conversation alive on gender equality.
K: Have you ever experienced gender bias, or any other bias during your career? Is it different now compared to when you started?
SS: With hindsight most likely, however, at the time I probably didn’t realise what was happening or just got on with it regardless of the blockers and barriers to entry in certain powerful in-groups. So I knew I was excluded, but felt helpless to change anything. Although there is much discussion around the areas of inclusion, belonging and equity, things haven’t drastically changed over the last few decades. On a more positive note there is a greater sense of awareness and a desire that something needs to change - so I remain hopeful.
K: What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
SS: The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is where to expend my energy and feel empowered. When to walk away and which battles to fight. Who I want to surround myself with and where I can make a real impactful difference.
K: How do you think businesses can tackle workplace inequality and bias?
SS: To start businesses, and those in positions of power, need to acknowledge that there is inertia and systemic barriers to change. Then look at how they can tackle the inequality and bias at every level of their organisation from supplier diversity to driving workplace equity through career development.
Communication to raise awareness, enable open conversation on the subject and ‘normalise’ the objectives… this is a people power thing. Have a process for spotting diverse raw talent and identify and empower internal and external stakeholders who have lived experience and insight into recognising that raw talent.
But key to all is not just getting the talent through the doors, it is retaining and nurturing it.
Avoid setting up individuals to fail in poorly devised off-the-shelf vanilla programmes which can do more harm than good – equity it achieved by understanding individual needs. By creating a a psychologically safe culture where people can be coached and developed by those who understand their lived experience will enable the development of equitable human resources policies that support all talent to thrive.
K: What advice would you give to others who might be facing similar issues?
"I’m a big believer in if I can’t change the system, what I can change is the role I play in that system "
SS: Surround yourself with people and networks where you feel valued, listened to, supported and trusted – this could be home, friends, a social group. If you are do not feeling empowered to speak up in the workplace and are unable to leave (yet) then you will need to build up your own resilience. Resilience, the healthy kind not just to survive, is something I dedicate a chapter to in my book as I feel it is critical to empower ourselves – but this doesn’t mean we buckle down and tolerate the status quo. Do the work on yourself, master your power, find your voice, maintain an open mindset of abundance and gratitude but aim to get your needs met not ignored. Through this self-empowerment you may well start to see that your actions are having a positive effect not just for you but on those around you.
All the key themes raised here are covered in my book with case studies to help understand lived experiences and coaching techniques to offer ways to start taking action in your own situation or to support those you work with.