Corporate Social Responsibility

International Women's Day: monitoring unconscious biases and promoting diversity

08 of March of 2020

More than 100 years have gone by since International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time. It was in 1911, after a hundred female representatives from 17 different countries, approved German politician Clara Zetkin’s proposal in Copenhagen. Since then, the role of women in society worldwide has been becoming more and more prominent until now, whenwe are aware of the achievements made on this long road, but also those that remain.

Equality between men and women is a universal legal principle recognized in several international texts on human rights. There’s no doubt about that. However, real, actionable equality still poses a challenge, and the workplace reflects that. For instance, the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO’s) report ‘Women in Business and Management: Gaining momentum’ shows that only 19% of managerial positions worldwide are occupied by women, less than 5% of leading businesses have a woman in the role of general manager, and just 13% of companies have a balanced board of directors in terms of gender, that is, with female representation of 40% to 60%.

The United Nations Development Programme summarizes the advancements made in terms of gender equality in primary education, the female employment rate – currently the highest in history – and the increase in the number of women and public office, but the gender equality program is, in turn, within the program for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In SDG 5, the UN prioritizes “ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls”. The international organization has also determined that the lack of objectivity in decision-making is one of the great obstacles to overcome on the road to equality. So what can we do to ensure impartiality and meritocracy in the business world? Working on it can be a good place to start.

Unconscious biases and their impact on decision-making

Every day, we make many decisions, and very few of them are conscious. The vast majority of them are the result of unconscious biases – mental shortcuts that our brain takes when, for instance, it must act quickly. These biases may show up in each of the decisions we make, both personally and professionally, especially in team management, anything from how a job offer is written to the moment when someone is promoted. The most common conditions in the decision-making process are as follows:

Similarity bias. People tend to consider those who think similarly more highly for a job, resulting in less diverse staff.
Proximity bias. There are times when it is decided to promote a colleague on one’s own team without considering other candidates, leaving individuals who may be more suitable for the position out of the process.
Gender bias. Sometimes, people’s abilities in the work environment are evaluated differently depending on whether they are a man or a woman.

The SHE Project: master your biases, determine your future

At Ferrovial, one of the main objectives of our diversity strategy is fostering a culture based on meritocracy, ensuring objectivity in the decision-making process. We have therefore launched an interactive, online course to raise awareness of unconscious biases. SHE, created in collaboration with AIWIN, is presented as a video game, and it aims to detect unconscious biases, their strength, and steps to take.

Through SHE, our employees learn what unconscious biases are and the impact they may have on their daily decision-making. This will help them make more objective decisions and therefore be more efficient in their work. This training was launched for more than five thousand employees in our different lines of work and in the countries where we operate.

One more step forward on the road to equality

We believe that every individual brings different ideas, perspectives, and knowledge to the table. As such, we promote a culture that is collaborative, flexible, diverse, and inclusive, which allows us to offer unique, challenging experiences to all of our employees in an environment that fosters equal opportunities.
As proof of this commitment, Ferrovial was one of the first companies to obtain the seal of excellence (DIE) from the Ministry of Health, Social Services, and Equality 10 years ago for promoting workplaces that offer equal opportunities, with merit and talent taking precedence. We are also listed in Bloomberg’s 2020 Gender Equality Index, an endorsement whose main objective is evaluating companies’ commitment to gender equality through developing policies in this regard, as well as female representation at the company and transparency around this information.

On this International Women’s Day, more than 100 years later, we are celebrating and renewing this commitment, a commitment to the present and, above all, the future.

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