How to Attract Women to Your Company’s Leadership Roles
October 30, 2019
Written by Kate Bristow, CSO & Partner
See original article on Mogul.
Has the glass ceiling finally shattered? The presence of high-profile execs like former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, former Hewlett-Packard President and CEO Meg Whitman, and General Motors CEO Mary Barra in the news might suggest it has. But the raw numbers say otherwise.
Research from McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.Org reveals that just one in five C-suite leaders is female and only 4% are women of color. Why the dearth of women in top spots? A Pew Research Center survey suggests the problem could partially lie in perception. Up-and-coming professional women have limited role models. For instance, 74% of mid-career women said they had few female footsteps to follow in politics. The same seems to be true in the Fortune 500 realm, where only 6.6% of firms were led by women.
The ascent up the corporate ladder is hardly an effortless experience for female professionals, particularly those representing diverse ethnic backgrounds. From unconscious biases to gender stereotypes, workforce women have put cracks in the glass ceiling, but it’s not enough. The way to eliminate the ceiling altogether is with a full-throttle push to put more skilled female professionals in power.
Overcoming Obstacles to Place Women in Management Roles
Many companies don’t realize they hire or promote men more often than women. Such decisions occur because these companies have monolithic leadership teams that tend toward homogeneity. This keeps the male-female wealth gap at a shocking rate of 32 cents to the dollar, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy in which female achievers can’t increase wealth as quickly as their male counterparts.
Some fields are notoriously tougher than others in terms of onboarding women. Male dominance is particularly strong in the brand communication industry I work in, despite that women make more than half the household purchasing decisions. Male-dominated marketing departments and ad agencies continue to design branding and communication campaigns aimed at men. And even when a campaign is underperforming, few consider how a woman at the table could change the outcome.
Bringing women into the C-suite makes sense for a variety of reasons, not just to give opinions during a marketing brainstorm. At my company, having myself and two other female partners jointly making key management decisions has been eye-opening. Not only have the three of us discovered the joys of collaborative decision-making, but our employees can also see how transparent and inclusive the management role can be. A woman leader can see and coach younger female reports, encouraging them to reach for management roles. Over time, she can help improve her organization’s gender ratio. Plus, having other women around tells a woman she’s valued. Merely bringing women onto a board helped keep female CEOs at the helm longer than the average woman CEO tenure, according to Fortune.
Want a purely fiscal reason to recruit women? A study from The Econometric Society indicates that the more diverse a company’s people, the more likely it is to be profitable. As racial and gender parity increases, so do economic and perceived value. Analysis from the World Economic Forum’s collected figures estimates that America’s gross domestic product would rise by more than one-third if the gender gap narrowed.
Reversing Bias and Hiring Female Phenoms
Even if you currently have several women on your team, you might have an unconscious preference toward bringing more men than women into the fold. Take a few steps to ensure that you recruit with intention.
1. Standardize pay grades.
Demonstrating you’re serious about gender equality starts with pay scale. Examine your pay system, making formal, lasting adjustments when you notice inequity. Don’t be surprised if you see a bigger gap than you bargained for.
A report from the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business suggests that only 35% of businesses take an analytical approach to ensuring pay equity. If this is the first time you’ve investigated salary inequalities, you might find several gaps. Close them, then be transparent with your workforce about both your changes and your future intentions.
2. Establish mentoring programs.
As talented women join your organization, pair them with more experienced managers. If your leadership team is mostly male, that’s OK: Men who mentor female colleagues might become more open-minded when considering candidates for positions in the future. As your pool of women employees grows, you can work to pair more senior workers with new hires.
To get your mentorship program off the ground, consider setting up written expectations so your team can follow a pattern of teaching and learning from one another. Each pair should be able to develop a strong, respectful working relationship that will last long after the mentorship program ends. I have found mentoring young women (and men) in my organization to be one of the most rewarding aspects of my career; there is nothing better than seeing someone you have encouraged later take on a leadership position.
3. Adopt a policy of blind résumés.
Sometimes, résumés can trigger unconscious biases. Whether you’re working with a recruitment company or your HR department, ask that they pass along résumés with all identifying information redacted — that means no gender, age, race, or other information that could trigger an unconscious bias.
From there, you’ll be able to evaluate experiences rather than superficial demographic data. It won’t take long for you to realize how freeing blind résumés can be; when you get to the interview stage, you’ll see that it’s much simpler to focus on each candidate’s aptitude and skill set to find the most talented individuals.
4. Become more family-friendly.
Generous parental leave. Flexible working hours. These are just two ways to make yourself a beacon to women raising families or taking care of elderly parents. The more family-friendly your benefits and working conditions, the stronger you signal your commitment to valuing everyone in your company.
In the report from Berkeley, both men and women executives said they valued family-friendly benefits packages. The benefits allowed them to work around their busy personal schedules so long as they were able to achieve the company’s desired results. Plus, women with flexible work opportunities were bigger advocates for their companies.
5. Update your discrimination policy.
Has it been a while since you revisited your discrimination and harassment policy? Ensure everyone knows where you stand as a company, as well as how they can report unacceptable behavior. Discrimination should not be accepted under any circumstances; your goal should be to create a workplace that is welcoming to all.
While you’re working on an updated policy, keep anonymity top of mind. Both accused offenders and victims deserve to be safe and protected throughout the process until a conclusion is made regarding the alleged actions. Your code of conduct should include guidelines on how to act (or react) when someone observes discrimination in action.
Making these changes is a good start on your journey to a more inclusive workplace. Moving forward, keep an eye on your female employees, encouraging them to challenge expectations and make bold decisions. The more support you bring, the more likely they’ll be to rise through the ranks.