Evidence-based tips to increase women’s participation in your organization

Do you feel we are talking and doing a lot to make the workplace more inclusive for women? New regulations on reporting gender pay gaps and quotas for women in top management are visible examples. However, achieving balance is still a distant goal.

At Balance HR, we take an evidence-based approach to HR, so we looked at what scientific research shows organizations can do to support women's inclusion. The issue is so vast that it's impossible to summarize all the problems and solutions in a single post – so today we’re focusing on just two effective practices that are easy to start with.

Flexible work policies only yield positive results when combined with employee autonomy.


A flexible approach to working

When organizations allow employees to choose when and where they do their work, it helps people to better allocate their time, attention, and energy between different work and non-work activities. Research shows that these practices are particularly important for women. One reason for the gender imbalance in the workplace is that women still spend more time on family activities than men, even when they work the same number of hours. Flexible working policies help women to balance work and family roles while increasing their autonomy at work. As a result, women experience less conflict between work and family. They are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs – even those who don't use the policies but know their employer is family-friendly.

Remember that these policies can help not only women but all employees who are juggling family activities. It could also indirectly help employees' partners by allowing them to take on more household activities with more work flexibility.

So what can you do? Allow employees to start and end the workday when they want. Let them work from somewhere other than the office. You can set some limits, such as core hours to facilitate collaboration or a few days per month in the office. However, these flexible work policies only yield positive results when combined with employee autonomy and control. If the organization dictates the variability of work hours or the exact location of work on a day-to-day basis, they're much less likely to work. For example, it may not be a good idea to make Mondays and Thursdays ‘office days’ for everyone or require people to plan their start and end times for the upcoming week. Instead, set the minimum ground rules at the beginning that will allow the organization to continue functioning and give people freedom for everything else. Monitor how this affects both performance and feelings of inclusion for women in the workforce.

Show me the role models

In companies where women are in leadership positions, other women are more likely to apply for similar roles. This and other research points to the importance of role models: seeing women in leadership positions inspires others to follow the same path, showing that it is possible to break through the glass ceiling.

However, role models can also have the opposite effect: research has shown that women sometimes report feeling inferior and having fewer aspirations after seeing women in high-level leadership positions. The key is to ensure that the role models are similar to those you want to inspire: the women in leadership positions should feel relatable, not ‘superwomen’ juggling impossible responsibilities such as demanding work, long hours, and childcare obligations.

As an organization, you can leverage the women you already have to inspire more women. Highlight their stories, accomplishments, and experiences in company days or newsletters. Organize special events (not just during March!) where women can see, hear, and be inspired by role models. When preparing for these events, help the women role models share their relatable stories. And if you can't find such role models, but only ‘superwomen’, ask yourself if you're doing things right or if this is really what it takes to advance as a woman in your organization.

We know that the two practices above are just scratching the surface – they won't solve the gender gap in the workplace, but they can be a practical starting point for doing something to support women and move the needle.

Picture by Raf Michiels



Center for Evidence-Based Management (2019) Rapid Evidence Assessment of the scientific literature on the effectiveness of interventions for achieving gender balance in top management

LATU, I. M., Schmid Mast, M., Lammers, J. and Bombari, D. (2013). Successful female leaders empower women's behavior in leadership tasks. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49(3), p. 444-448.

Kalaitzi, S., Czabanowska, K., Fowler-Davis, S. and Brand, H. (2017). Women leadership barriers in healthcare, academia, and business. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 36(5), p. 457-474.