Over the last two years, the global pandemic has radically shifted the way we work and live. Creating an environment in which all employees can thrive is even more important given the rise of new barriers faced by women in the workforce. According to McKinsey, 1 in 4 women considered downshifting or even abandoning their careers as a result of increased domestic responsibilities. More so, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO), female employment around the world declined by 4.2% in 2020 compared to the previous year.

This decline in female employment coupled with women’s reduced participation in the labour force was a major setback to efforts made over the past two decades at increasing gender equality. Also, it came at a time when violence against women was at an all-time high, and many women found themselves restricted inside their homes with abusive partners due to lockdowns and restrictions.

But hard times reveal true character — and true culture. For better workplaces and a more equitable society, all business leaders have a responsibility to empower women to further their careers. An equal workplace is one that is diverse, and inclusive, where differences are celebrated, and women can move ahead free of deliberate and unconscious barriers.

The way to create more balance is by committing to equal pay for equal work. By implementing inclusive business practices, processes to tackle biased businesses and open doors to others, companies and organizations can be powerful platforms for social change and further equality for all.

Re-imagining hiring systems and ways of working

It’s no secret that workplaces with greater diversity tend to be more innovative and successful. Taking action to ensure equal access begins with re-imagining our hiring systems.

Embedding a diversity recruiting team, implementing a more equitable referral process, and creating insider programs connecting candidates to current employees are just some examples of how companies can open up opportunities for women. Introducing company-wide bias training and inclusive hiring practices for managers and recruiters can help reduce bias throughout the hiring process.

In this all-digital work-from-anywhere world we are living in, companies have an even greater responsibility to create an equal and inclusive environment that translates both in-office and virtually.

Recognizing employees' different roles and situations, and being helped by collaborative technologies, everyone can explore what's possible in terms of flexible working arrangements. Some prefer to come to the office every day, others might not need to be office-based at all. Facilitating an environment that better suits employees' needs and new working habits will allow businesses to shape the future of the office to be a greater place for human connection and a hub for collaboration.

Focus on experience and skills

Representation does not hinge on hiring alone - companies must focus on experience. To be inclusive means everyone must feel supported, valued, and empowered to succeed.

Tackling bias can’t be a one-and-done exercise, but rather a continuous journey. Company leaders need to give employees – especially managers — the tools they need to recognize and address bias, foster belonging, create access, and advocate for others.

By listening to employees, research, and data insights, companies can take steps to improve the experience of women. Strategies can also include initiatives and tailored training to address microaggressions and embrace inclusive language and promotions practices.

The greatest challenge to advancing gender equality in the workplace, particularly in the technology industry, is addressing women’s under-representation in emerging roles, such as cloud computing, engineering and Data and AI.

With a focus on improving skills and reskilling, workforce strategies must ensure that women are better equipped to take advantage of the opportunities that the digital economy offers. This includes creating intentional career pathways for women to get into and succeed in the technology, wherever they are in their journey.

To help make gender stereotypes a thing of the past and build a workplace that looks like society does, women need to be represented at every level, particularly on corporate boards and C-level positions. Supporting women at all stages of their careers, investing in leadership development and mentorship programs, and granting inclusive promotions processes will bring more women to the decision-making table and inspire more to rise from the ranks.

Taking action together

Companies cannot be alone in this work — together, we must collaborate with governments, our partners, customers, the ecosystem, our industry, and our communities to drive equality for everyone.

The time for action is now; to use our platforms to break biases, advocate for and open doors to underrepresented talent, to create a more equal world.

The writer is Illy Ben Haim, Employee Success Site Lead at Salesforce Israel