As 2017 comes to a close, I’m reflecting on what the year meant for women in the workplace and thinking about what the new year may usher in. Here are my top 5 predictions for what trends to expect in 2018:
1. Continued scrutiny about sexual harassment culture
This year, #MeToo become a bonafide movement that moved beyond the rarified world of Hollywood celebrities into mainstream workplaces and industries. Women working in the restaurant industry to the manufacturing floor started speaking up about the abuse they had experienced and from which perpetrators too often had previously escaped from without serious consequence.
There is strength in numbers and the more women and victims of sexual harassment speak up, the easier it will be for the next person to do so. Many of the worst stories have gotten mainstream headline attention but based on the fact the overall statistics suggest 40% of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, I believe that unfortunately, many more stories are yet to come in 2018.
2. Expanded employer-sponsored training on sexual harassment and new policy adoption
In response to the number of women willing to speak up about their experiences, companies will have no choice but take the business risk of this employee behavior more seriously. Already Facebook has published its sexual harassment policy publicly — something that would have been unheard of prior to #MeToo movement — and Microsoft has announced a change in its forced arbitration policy, which often helped silence victims of sexual harassment.
3. Improved parental leave policies – including gender neutral or “primary caregiver” policies
Parental leave has had a few good years of progress in terms of companies updating often decades-old policies that reflected an outdated socio-economic reality. With more women earning college degrees now than their male counterparts, and 40% of households with children under the age of 18 having female breadwinners, employers are being forced to adjust to a world where women’s economic parity cannot move forward if they have to choose between being child-bearers and caretakers at home and earning a living on terms that accomodate their full identities.
Men, too, are demanding their due as caretakers as lawsuits in 2017 have shown. Government support of gender neutral policies is expanding as well. Therefore, it’s likely this momentum will continue in 2018 and account for the creation of a greater number of gender neutral and more generous parental leave policies.
4. Greater workplace flexibility
Related to the aforementioned demographic changes, I believe more employers will adopt flexible working policies and practices in 2018. It’s already the norm at many companies that certain kinds of workers are tethered to their computers and digital devices. Technological advancements that make work-anywhere possible for those employees hasn’t always manifested itself in greater flexibility, however. This is largely due to the fact that employers allow policies about flexibility to be determined at a manager or departmental level and certain managers remain stuck culturally in another era.
If there continues to be a talent shortage in some of the most competitive labor markets, however, flexibility will be increasingly adopted simply in order to attract new employees — both millennials as well as the sandwich generation who is increasingly tasked with caretaking for aging family members.
5. Disclosure of diversity data
Shareholders — led by activist investors such as Arjuna Capital — are demanding greater transparency about employee diversity and gender pay gap information. This trend is being driven by mounting evidence that diversity strengthens business performance — and conversely that things like gender diversity may reduce the risk of legal and operating risk (read: companies led by gender-balanced management are probably less likely to be taken by PR fiascos regarding sexual harassment).
All of this is to say that I’m hopeful that 2018 will continue to bring more transparency to the workplace and we’ll see more employers’ adopting programs and evolving their culture to be supportive women. Now that’s something to look forward to!
By Georgene Huang
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