The call to #BreakTheBias stems from the ongoing struggle of different groups, particularly women, to achieve greater equality and equity in all social spaces. The workplace is no exception.
As HR leaders told People Matters, some of their lessons – gleaned from fighting prejudice and fostering a safe and healthy work environment for women – have translated into concrete action.
It's worth noting that the battles that women confront in their personal space are also shaped by their experiences in the workplace, whether they're applying for a new job, returning to work after a hiatus, or negotiating for a pay raise or promotion.
"I suffered a redundancy in 2020. I was more than qualified for the roles I applied for, but what I was confronted with was poor candidate experience, failure to provide timely – if any – feedback and massive amounts of ghosting," said Paula Kilby, Talent Acquisition Manager at Australian tech firm Cyara.
"I posted an article about my experience on LinkedIn and received 40,000 hits in 48 hours, so I knew it was widespread. While this is not unique to females, the negative effects of poor candidate experience on women within the male-dominated sector of technology are often long-lasting."
The experience led Paula to change the way she and her colleagues chart the candidate journey.
"I train our global hiring managers on how to engage and nurture relationships with female candidates. By evolving our talent acquisition business process, we now provide every candidate with the best chance of a positive experience – whether they secure a job or not. This includes feedback at all levels of the hiring process, from a real person candidates can contact."
Personalising their approach, she said, has made a huge difference to their employer and talent brand. They've evolved recruitment processes and successfully engaged female candidates:
Through a quick and simple application process and easy uploading of resumés and credentials
By assigning a recruitment contact person for every applicant
By providing candidates with a personal response at every step of the hiring process
As a result, the female workforce increased by 18% in 2021, while time-to-hire was reduced from 120 to below 60 days.
Beyond the job hunt
It isn't just the job hunt that can be harrowing for most women. Lamia Lee, Executive Director at research tech firm Lucid, believes "much more needs to be done" in supporting women, especially working mothers, and their partners in the actual work environment.
"This can be in the form of organisations providing more flexible arrangements for mothers re-entering the workforce and offering dads and partners more paternity leave to support their spouses," Lamia said.
"Governments can also help with childcare subsidies; as we know many times, the high cost of childcare is a barrier to many mothers returning to work."
The pandemic has also shown HR and business leaders that "there is scope for organisations to move to a more flexible mode of working, which can significantly help mothers in having a more equitable work-life balance," Lamia said.
Other organisations across the world are following suit. Trip.Com, for example, not only introduced a flexible global hybrid work model that allows employees the option to work remotely up to two days a week, but they also provide a financial maternity gift and allowance to pregnant employees. Women on maternity leave also receive a travel allowance.
Meanwhile, Ina Bajwa, Senior Director of Human Resources at Tata Communications, levels the playing field through awareness-raising initiatives.
"People of different genders, backgrounds, skills, and perspectives enable us to anticipate and respond to changes in our industry with agility and address our customers’ evolving needs more effectively," Ina said.
"One of the key approaches to breaking bias is through constant education on being aware, and regular listening opportunities with employees. We do regular pulse surveys, which provide a safe channel for employees to share the improvements they’d like to see in the workplace, policies and practices.
"In addition, we also run an annual survey where we seek feedback on all possible dimensions of working from the employees, and the results are viewed holistically, and action plans are put in place to introduce relevant changes," Ina said.
The past few years have been a watershed moment for HR leaders. But are times changing for the better?
"When I started out in technology 25 years ago, it was a man's world. I witnessed an experienced female colleague get offered a junior role because she was coming back from maternity leave. She was expected to start at the bottom again on a lower salary. Similarly, I was asked whether I had children, or was planning to have them, when applying for roles," Paula recounted.
"Experiences like these were the catalyst that saw me move into recruitment."