Women in the workplace; #BeBoldForChange

Today (March 8th) is International Women’s Day and this year’s campaign theme is #BeBoldForChange. So we thought we’d take a look at how businesses can be bold when it comes to gender equality, not only in terms of their culture and values but also in relation to their office design.

Women in the Workplace 2016 Study

Last year, LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company published the findings of their Women in the Workplace 2016 study. Its aim was to highlight the current attitudes on gender, job satisfaction, ambition, and work-life issues. The results working as a blueprint for companies to promote female leadership and foster gender equality in the workplace.

One of the largest studies of its kind to date, more than 34,000 men and women at 132 global companies were asked to comment on their experiences in the workplace.

The results showed a continuing disparity between the genders, including:

  • Women are less likely to be promoted than men
  • Fewer women are in line to become CEOs
  • When negotiating, women face more pushback
  • Women had less access to senior leaders

But it wasn’t all negative. Companies’ commitment to gender diversity was found to be at an all-time high. In 2012, 56% of corporations said that gender diversity was a top priority. In 2016, this had increased to 78%.

Women in power

So if it’s such a focus for businesses, what can be done to promote gender equality more effectively? A Wall Street Journal article, “How Companies Are Different When More Women Are in Power”, suggested that higher numbers of women in C-suite positions could be the solution.

It highlights five organisations where female CEOs are helping to shape a more diverse business culture. The corner offices that might have looked more like an exclusive boys’ club at one time are starting to look a little more evenly represented.

Of course, the very concept of the corner office is being questioned, with open plan offices being embraced and dismissed in almost equal measure.

A workplace that balances open, collaborative areas with private spaces reflects the differing working styles of individuals. But could the layout of your office be causing gender bias? 

Reshaping the office

The gender bias of an office layout was explored in a recent Fast Co article.

It mentions research by the University of Toronto that found teams made up mostly of women tended to share leadership roles, while groups made up mostly of men favoured a more hierarchical structure.

It’s tempting to draw comparisons between the egalitarian open plan office being feminine and the more tightly organised, closed office layout being masculine. But life and work are seldom as clear cut as that.

We’re of the view that we shouldn’t be designing for men and women as individuals unless of course the client brief specifically calls for that. It’s more important to design an office space that recognises and reflects the needs of your staff... a percentage of which just happen to be women.

There are more shared needs between the genders than differences, certainly when it comes to the layout of your workplace.

Everything from reducing absence and keeping active to reducing noise and improving comfort can be seen as gender-equal issues that an office design could impact upon positively.

At Paramount, gender equality is certainly an important focus. After all, almost a third of our staff are female. But when it comes to an office fit out project, we prefer to look at the needs of staff, whatever their gender. You can’t get more equal than that.

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