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How a culture of dignity improves the workplace for women

Inclusion and Diversity|Talent|Total Rewards|Integrated Wellbeing

By Amy DeVylder Levanat and Rachael McCann | March 20, 2020

In recognition of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day we devote our first blog of the Workplace Dignity series to women.

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About our Workplace Dignity series

This series will feature relevant findings from our latest Willis Towers Watson’s 2020 Workplace Dignity Survey and 2019/2020 and 2019/2020 Global Benefit Attitudes Survey and how a strategic focus on dignity can improve organizational performance.

Most organizations view inclusion and diversity (I&D) as a business priority and work to create or evolve cultures that demonstrate acceptance and belonging. This, in turn, supports increased employee wellbeing, engagement and productivity. Inclusivity also cultivates diversity in talent and thinking, sparks innovation and thought leadership and, ultimately, drives business performance.

A key area of focus for I&D is gender. And with good reason: Organizations that embrace gender diversity on their executive teams are more competitive and 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability, according to McKinsey’s “Delivering through diversity” report. Furthermore, diverse skills and viewpoints can make organizations more innovative and effective in their business decisions. In fact, innovation is six times higher at companies where men and women are treated equally, according to Morgan Stanley’s "Introducing HERS: Employing Diversity Pays Off” report. The statistics are hard to deny — gender inclusivity is a key component to attract, retain and engage the vital talent that is critical to driving business results.  

Dignity — a fundamental element of I&D

As organizations further their commitment to a more inclusive and diverse workforce, we believe there is a significant opportunity to address the fundamental element of workplace dignity — with a particular focus on working women, especially when considering the following statistics from Willis Towers Watson’s 2020 Workplace Dignity Survey,  2019/2020 Emerging Benefit Trends Survey and 2019/2020 Global Benefit Attitudes Survey:

  • 35% of women have been bullied or harassed at their current or former employer
  • 86% of employers believe senior leadership at their organization has a sincere interest in employees' wellbeing, versus only 49% of female employees
  • 52% of female employees believe they get paid enough to support their personal or family’s needs, versus 62% of male employees
  • 45% of female employees report living paycheck to paycheck, versus 32% of men
  • 64% of single working women with children live paycheck to paycheck
  • 35% of organizations today offer paid bereavement leave for a pregnancy loss

While the data tell a compelling story of outcomes associated with inclusive cultures and diverse leadership teams, navigating this traveled road requires strategic alignment between business and human capital or people priorities. It also needs cultural alignment between company mindset, leadership behaviors, and inclusive enablers (i.e., the tangible programs and policies in the form of fair pay and inclusive benefits) to help pave the way. We all say and read often that you can have diversity without inclusion and vice versa and the same is true with culture and the supporting enablers. The enabling programs and policies that support I&D — and the way that employees experience them — are only as strong as the inclusive culture and the leaders and managers upholding them.  

Why workplace dignity matters

The more evolved or further down the journey a company is with I&D, the more likely they are to have a culture of dignity. 

“Workplace dignity in its simplest form can have profound implications on employee engagement and the advancement of I&D efforts, as well as culture. With an increased focus on gender and women, many companies are looking at opportunities to instill a greater sense of dignity in to their employee experience. This often comes in the form of sponsorship (by both senior females and males) as well as many other supporting components,” according to John Bremen, managing director of Human Capital & Benefits and global head of thought leadership and innovation at Willis Towers Watson.

Research from Willis Towers Watson’s 2020 Workplace Dignity Survey and 2019/2020 Global Benefit Attitudes Survey found that a culture of dignity is linked to higher work engagement, lower stress, better health and, ultimately, higher productivity and improved employee performance. Further research shows that 87% of employees reporting high levels of dignity are highly engaged, whereas 60% of those reporting low levels of dignity are disengaged (and not likely to remain at the organization for the next two years). 

Given the correlation between employee engagement, productivity and business performance, it should come as no surprise that nearly three-quarters of employers (70%) recognize that workplace dignity is important to their current success, and nearly all (94%) say that workplace dignity will be important to their success over the next three years, according to our survey.

Three aspects of workplace dignity

Workplace dignity is not a new concept and, in many cases, can be found in company mission, vision and values. What is new is recognizing the impact dignity can have on

  1. fostering respect, relationships and the real me at work
  2. shining light on the meaning and purpose in work
  3. creating a sense of pride, security and the ability to thrive from work

Let’s take a deeper look at these:

Dignity at work: Employees are treated with respect in an environment free from marginalization (e.g., discrimination, harassment, exclusion, bullying). They feel a sense of psychological safety in their ability to be themselves, voice concerns and be heard. A culture of dignity enables organizations to attract and retain diverse talent.

Dignity in work: Employees find meaning and purpose in their work and understand how it contributes to the organization’s broader goals. They take pride in what they do because it is valued, and they see a future where they will continue to be valued even as jobs are redefined with technological changes, and where employers prioritize reskilling and career-long learning.

Dignity from work: Employees feel respected because they are paid what they are worth, can sustain a suitable standard of living, are confident in their benefits to provide the security they need to provide for themselves and their dependents, and have the wellbeing to thrive now and the future.

Making dignity a priority

Creating workplace dignity is an opportunity for employers and employees alike, in both organizational and interpersonal effort and action, and can help to bolster outcomes associated with I&D priorities, further enhancing the employee value proposition.

In parallel with efforts to build cultures of inclusion, cultures of dignity must start at the top, aligning mindset, behaviors and enablers. To be effective, a mindset of inclusion, diversity and dignity must align with — and be reflected in — company purpose, values and mission. Leadership and managers must also endorse inclusion, diversity and dignity through demonstrated actions and commitment to ethical conduct and behaviors. 

Additionally, to be effective, HR programs and policies must align with and enable key priorities, and can leverage high-impact Total Rewards programs that include:

  • Pay programs that are fair, transparent, performance-driven and skill-based
  • Inclusive benefits that are accessible and affordable, and provide flexibility, security and choice
  • Enabled careers that ensure equity and transparency in recruiting, learning and growth opportunities
  • Wellbeing programs that foster inclusion and belonging, promote psychological safety, shine light on workplace stress (including where correlated with marginalization), recognize health needs across demographic employee cohorts, and support financial resilience and growth

A commitment to training programs and compliance related to conduct, business ethics and marginalization (e.g., exclusion, discrimination, harassment, bullying) is also essential in creating workplace dignity, as are opportunities to infuse unconscious bias, resilience and purpose into the employee experience. 

And finally, organizations must be willing to collect employee perspectives on the organization, its culture, leadership, behaviors, programs, experiences, and barriers to dignity.  Understanding the current state ensures organizations can assess gaps between where they are and where they want to go, and ultimately measure progress as they continue down the path of dignity.

In recognition of women in the workplace, we all have an opportunity to be more inclusive in our behaviors (regardless of gender), be true advocates for diversity of talent and thought, and work to bring dignity to all that we touch — at, in and from work. 


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