To better understand the current state of gender equality in the workplace — and to see where we should look to make improvements going forward — Randstad US commissioned a large-scale survey of U.S. employees. Specifically, we wanted to get a close read on employees' feelings and experiences around equal pay, diversity initiatives and sexual harassment.

Two stats jumped out right away, underscoring the need for management to take a more active, hands-on and responsive approach to promoting equality in the workplace.

  • workplace harassment is commonplace: Our study revealed that slightly more than half of all employees know a woman who has experienced harassment in the workplace, while 37 percent know a man who has experienced harassment in the workplace. In other words, workplace harassment is incredibly commonplace, and it’s something that men experience, too.  
  • people aren't speaking up about it: Half of all employees admit to remaining silent when hearing a colleague make an inappropriate comment about a person of the opposite sex in the workplace. And more worryingly, roughly one in four women said they would rather quit their jobs than report they’d experienced harassment.

Given these findings, what can employers do to promote greater equality in the workplace? Here are three best practices employers should adopt.

introduce training programs

One clear — and alarming — takeaway from Randstad's survey is that not only is sexual harassment commonplace, but so is silence as a mode of response. This needs to change at all levels of the organization, and it starts by providing training on topics like diversity, unconscious bias and workplace harassment.

These should be mandatory at best-in-class companies today. The benefit isn't simply the education these programs offer, but the opportunity to introduce a much-needed dialogue. Indeed, the very act of introducing these training programs critically acknowledges that, unfortunately, incidents can and do occur. Pretending they don't is what creates the seed conditions for silence.

Plus, accompanying these programs should be a formal conversation about how employees should report incidents, as well as a clear breakdown of how — and through what channels — management will proceed with its follow up and response. This should help check a related finding from Randstad's survey: Nearly a third of employees indicated they were not confident that their companies would respond quickly and appropriately if they reported a harassment incident.

use surveys to identify gender biases

In the hustle-and-bustle of everyday work life, gender dynamics play out in a thousand different ways — and not all of them are perceptible enough to amount to an "incident." Cumulatively, however, these experiences can be formative.

For example, a team leader might routinely and without thinking request that a female subordinate take notes during calls with clients, a request the leader rarely makes of her male colleagues. Or a top female sales rep may be snubbed at a meeting by a client, on the assumption that her male coworker — technically a subordinate on the org chart — is her boss. Incidents like this happen all the time and have a way of getting swept under the rug.

That's why you should use ongoing, anonymous surveys to identify and mitigate gender biases in your workplace. Whether you opt to issue these monthly, quarterly or biannually, it's a simple and essential step toward bringing about greater equality and inclusiveness in the workplace.

assign metrics to gender equality and D&I goals

It's essential to have metrics in place that will allow you track your efforts around gender equally specifically, and diversity and inclusion (D&I) generally, on an ongoing basis. Without these objective measures in place, it'll simply be impossible to know where you're making progress and where additional efforts are required.

At the same time, what equality and diversity actually look like on the ground will differ from one organization to the next. It's not something we should be entirely prescriptive about — diversity can be an indelible quality. Take, for example, a company with underrepresented groups in prominent leadership positions might send a stronger message of inclusion than one with, say, a lot of diverse team members in entry-level roles, but an executive board of exclusively white men.

That said, whatever approach you wind up taking at your company, you'll need to have metrics that allow you to evaluate your progress, reflect on your goals and make ongoing course-corrections as necessary.

how you can go the extra mile  

Greater equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace are long overdue. And as Randstad's recent employee survey makes clear, the prevalence of harassment, its attendant silence and management's perceived unwillingness or inability to address it are things that need to change fast.

So start with the three best practices outlined in this article. Soon, you should be well on your way toward ensuring greater equality in your workplace.