Women are underrepresented at every level in corporate America. Despite earning more Bachelor’s degrees than men, women are less likely to be hired into entry-level roles, and also less likely to be promoted.
In a world in which women are only 5% of CEO’s, the rise to the top of the corporate ladder is even more of a challenge for women, and they simply face challenges along the way that men generally don’t.
Many organizations would like to increase the number of women at the top leadership level, and yet they see a gender gap in who gets promoted and who stays at the organization, with women less likely to be promoted and more likely to leave the organization. If you’re seeing a high attrition rate among women employees at your company, take a hard look at how the organization is supporting women as they grow in their careers.
If your company would like to see more women in leadership positions, consider these practical changes to help women thrive.
Start a mentoring program, and pair early career women professionals with top talent.
Even without a formal mentoring program, young professionals will still seek out mentoring on an informal basis. However, the benefits of informal mentoring tend to disproportionately fall to men when top leadership is male-dominated.
Male executives may be hesitant to mentor a woman, with concerns about the optics of the propriety of such a relationship. Further, men may feel more of a natural rapport with other men due to shared background.
Yet, it’s these kinds of mentoring relationships that are key to helping women progress in their career. A formal mentoring program doesn’t need to exclusively focus on women (and there’s plenty of arguments for why it shouldn’t focus only on women), but making sure that talented, early career women professionals get the mentoring they need should be an organizational priority.
Also read: Tips for Mentoring Women
Create a flexible work policy.
The work of caregiving and household chores disproportionately fall to women. In 1989, sociologist Arlie Hochschild coined the term “second shift” to describe the unpaid work at home of which women bear the brunt, even among heterosexual couples in which both partners work. Even in 2020, men and women simply do not have the same experiences and responsibilities in the home.
Companies with inflexible work policies promote an unspoken assumption that each employee has a partner at home to take care of personal matters. Men may be more likely than women to be able to join and stay with organizations with inflexible policies, simply due to their relatively light workload in the domestic sphere.
Flexible work policies can include work-from-home or remote work options, flexible start/end times, or job sharing in which two people work part-time and share one full-time job. Different policies work better for certain types of organizations or work. The key is to maximize the ways in which employees can work while still meeting the business needs.
Ensure that social activities aren’t exclusive.
In an effort to become an employer of choice, companies will sometimes offer social events to employees, or these kinds of events may be necessary to entertain clients or for other business purposes. Companies should take a hard look at whether these events are equally accessible to all employees.
For example, women aren’t often able to attend the informal “catching a drink after work” type of socializing, because they are busy picking up and caring for their children at that time of day.
Unfortunately, this kind of socializing can be important to network and advance in one’s career, and the fact that women are often shut out from this opportunity to socialize has been dubbed the “happy hour penalty”. Instead, consider moving some of these social events during the workday, such as luncheons, to allow people with “second shift” responsibilities the opportunity to participate.
Provide support for new mothers.
Women are most likely to leave the labor force when they first become mothers. Often, this isn’t out of a desire to “optout” of the workforce, but a stark cost-benefit evaluation of the challenges that a new mother faces with nursing, child care costs, increased stress, inability to access the overwork premium, etc. and determine that it’s just not worth it.
Employers can shift the calculus by providing a supportive environment for new mothers. A comfortable retreat to pump or daycare on-site can make the difference between a new mom deciding to stay in the workforce or drop out.
To increase the number of women at the highest leadership levels, organizations need to be more attuned to the specific challenges that women face, and make changes accordingly.
In doing so, companies will see added benefit: many of these tactics benefit men, too. People of all genders benefit from things like mentoring programs and flexible work policies, and these tactics can help organizations become employers of choice.
Looking for ways to leverage mentoring to create a more inclusive organization?