You may think you’re an equal opportunity employer, but when it comes to women, is this really true? You might be surprised.
Earlier this summer, I reported on the gaps that still exist between male and female leaders in the U.S. To briefly recap, according to the 2011 Catalyst Census, women are no further along the corporate ladder than they were six years ago. Women still hold only 7.5 percent of executive officer top-earner positions and only 16 percent of board seats.
I recently met a psychologist who studies gender dynamics in the workplace, and she told me that she can’t imagine a world in which the gap between male and female leaders is totally closed. Apparently, there are too many biases and other factors involved—many of which we can’t control.
But what about what we can control? Are there things we can do within our cultures to facilitate the growth of female leadership? These five suggestions are a good start:
Work Towards the “Golden 30”
Your recruiting efforts should aim to achieve an employee ratio of at least 30 percent women to 70 percent men, in all groups across your organization. Make sure your hiring tools (online job ads, website, etc.) are welcoming to female applicants. Examine your roster over the last 15 years—you should be hiring more women over time. You will find that the stronger your female presence is already, the more easily you will draw more skilled talent into your ranks.
Tweak Career Ladders
Hopefully, you already have a performance management system that objectively evaluates your employees for advancement. Right now, chances are good that men and women in your organization are not promoted and do not receive choice assignments at the same rates, and that women are not paid as much as men for the same position. More standardization will help you shrink this gap. At the same time, recognize that all women, like all employees, are not alike, and that the most innovative organizations are moving to a career customization model that better suits the needs of the individual.
Pay Close Attention to Conflict
Many organizations like to sweep employee complaints under the rug, but if you’re serious about creating an inclusive culture, you’ll want to analyze what women are disgruntled about and why. For instance, do they feel like they are victims of stereotyping? Do they think they are treated unfairly and disrespectfully by managers and co-workers? If you’ve had any claims of sexual harassment, have they been resolved satisfactorily?
Launch a Formal Mentorship Program
If you don’t already have such a program in place, you should start one as mentorship is beneficial to all employees at all levels. Once the program is set up, ensure that your female talent is well represented as both mentors and mentees. Sadly, women are not always as supportive of one another at work as they could be. It’s important that young female professionals have the opportunity to witness more seasoned, successful women in action and have structured time to learn from them.
Indoctrinate Work-life Balance
Flexible work arrangements are helpful to all employees, but let’s be honest: They are best for women with children. Push your senior people to be more accepting of women who do their jobs well out of the context of the traditional nine-to-five office environment. You will be more likely to keep your female leaders if you are open to part-time or dialed down scenarios that allow a woman to raise a family while contributing to your organization at a high level.
Alexandra Levit is a former nationally-syndicated business and workplace columnist for The Wall Street Journal and the author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success. Money magazine’s Online Career Expert of the Year, she regularly speaks at organizations and conferences on issues facing modern employees.
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