Outside of fear and appetite, there are few things we are more primed to pay attention to than trust and fairness. “Is this a fair deal for me?” That’s the fundamental question we all ask ourselves at work—either consciously or unconsciously—on a regular basis.
A reasonable expectation of trust and fair treatment are the foundation for employee engagement and commitment. Offer a fair deal, our research shows, and employees are willing to go the extra mile. Create inequity, and employees pull back. We know from decades of research that fairness and the trust that accompany it form the bedrock of any employee’s willingness to dig deep and work hard when it counts. This is precisely why leaders should pay close attention to employees’ perceptions of these topics.
In recent years, much has been written about the pay gap between men and women at work. Our global norms show that women experience a trust gap as well. Each year we survey over 1 million employees working in organizations around the world. When we look at our global norm results and note where the gender differences are significant, some alarming findings emerge:
- Only 1/2 of female employees perceive favoritism at work (in distribution of promotions, work, etc.)
- Only 1/3 of female employees do not feel they can express their ideas/views without fear of negative consequences
- 1/4 of female employees do not believe they can report an ethical concern without fear of retaliation
These results paint a picture of a work world where a significant number of women do not feel empowered to speak up, speak out, or that their voices are being heard. In light of recent sexual harassment claims and a renewed focus on women’s experiences in the workplace, employers have a moral obligation to ensure they are creating a culture where women and men are treated fairly and can voice their opinions without fear.
Additionally, there’s a financial case to be made for creating a culture of trust and fairness. When we can trust our colleagues, we are primed to do our best work, share our brightest ideas, and share our resources. When trust is difficult, we pull back. We become skeptical, stop creating and start protecting our turf. Ask any economist: Without trust, markets stand still. Organizations spend millions of dollars recruiting promising female employees. When organizations close the trust gap they are creating a workplace where all employees can thrive.
For leaders and managers seeking to build a robust talent pipeline and a culture of engagement, this data points to a central question: How much are concerns with trust and fairness costing us in terms of the performance and commitment of our talent? And, what can we do to close the gap? As we think about the future of work, transparent pay practices, clear career maps, and work environments that are inclusive, collaborative and psychologically safe are a strong place to start.