March 8th is International Women’s Day. It’s celebrated in different ways around the world, but the idea is to celebrate women and their contributions to society. The day was made official in 1975, but the gender disparities among male and female in the workplace has a long history. In February 1908, female garment workers protested their working conditions by going on strike. Much like today, women were less organized in the workplace and were working for lower wages all while enduring harassment. The 67th anniversary of these strikes was the first National Women’s Day in the U.S.
Because some people will ask, yes, there is an International Men’s Day. So why the focus on women? There are numerous benefits to adding diversity to your team and many teams do not have women on them, or women in leadership positions, even though a recent study showed that women are better leaders during a crisis.
Additionally, a study showed that having more women in the workplace has a positive effect on employee engagement and retention. Having a higher percentage of women also means everyone at the organization is more likely to say their organization has a positive culture—a culture where every employee enjoys work and feels they have opportunities to make a difference. These attributes of a workplace that attract women, end up being beneficial to all employees.
At Awardco, we have a Women’s Employee Resource Group with the goal of recruiting, retaining, and developing female talent. It’s still new and we’re learning as we grow, but here are some things we’ve learned about recruiting, retaining, and developing talent in a way that doesn’t just improve the experience of women, but all employees.
Retaining and developing talent starts with listening.
Listening can be hard, for all of us, and interruptions happen, especially during meetings. Even when we’re trying hard to listen, we might find ourselves cutting off our teammates. However, something interesting happens when you increase the amount of women in a room. If a woman is alone in a group with four men 70% of the interruptions from men are negative. However, when that number is increased to four women in the room, just 20% of the interruptions were negative. When the number of women in a room was increased, the negative interruptions decreased. And we can all agree that fewer negative interruptions are a good thing, right?
Having just one “token” woman in a room is not enough to really change the dynamic. Women are more likely to speak up when they aren’t outnumbered, whereas even if a man is the only man in the room, he typically will have no issue talking as much as he wants. But the experiment above that studied group dynamics found a solution, when the decision had to be unanimous, the time inequality in women’s participation disappeared. When it’s a “majority rules” situation, women, or anyone else in the minority might not feel their opinion is valuable. As you can probably imagine, as more voices are heard, more unique and better solutions are presented. This is a win-win for everyone.
The amount of interruptions or speaking time in a meeting matters because when researchers asked who in a group held the most influence it was, understandably, the people who spoke the most. Simply by increasing the amount of speaking time and visibility of women, you can increase their perceived authority, influence, and credibility.
So, the solution is not only for women to feel empowered to speak up more, it’s to get everyone else, women included, to listen when women (and other marginalized groups) are speaking.
Flexibility is important to women (and everyone else).
If you want to retain women in your workforce, consider creating more flexible schedules. This is especially important for women who are caretakers. Many women don’t want to leave their jobs after having a baby, but feel there isn’t another option because their workplaces don’t allow for the flexibility to continue to work after having a child. 42% of women said it was either difficult or extremely difficult to get back to their career after taking a break.
The top factors for mothers looking for work are flexibility and work-life balance. These factors are even more important than paid maternity leave and salary (though those are important too).
Plus, when you offer a flexible work schedule, it will improve retention and recruiting of all kinds of candidates. A study from 2018 showed that 80% of U.S. workers would turn down a job that didn't offer flexible working schedules. Flexibility benefits people who are caregivers, who may have mental or physical limitations, or any other number of issues. Life happens in unexpected, and often unscheduled ways. Offering flexibility acknowledges that you know your employees are humans with a life outside of work that sometimes needs attention at inconvenient hours.
Are there even enough women in the workforce to hire?
We often have discussions about women in the same group as other minority groups, but at the beginning of 2020 women made up a little over half the workforce. The pandemic had a negative effect on this that resulted in 860,000 less jobs held by women than men.
While the pandemic had a huge impact on women in the workforce, that means there are still plenty of women working or willing to work. In fact, with so many women leaving jobs to manage home learning, there is a chance there will be a resurgence of women looking for jobs, especially once schools reopen. This is a perfect time to add qualified women to your team.
Allow for gaps in work history when hiring. When it comes to recruiting women, consider the fact that many women find it difficult to re-enter the workforce after taking a leave of absence. Many people feel intimidated going into an interview knowing that they’ll have to explain any gaps in employment. This is particularly true right now when women have had to leave the workforce to manage at-home schooling.
Remember to avoid affinity bias when hiring. It’s easy to want to hire people who seem similar to you, so you have to make a conscious effort to look at potential candidates without those biases. A tech company made of mostly 20-30 year-old men may not feel like a 60-year-old woman will be a good fit, but diversity will help your company innovate and grow.
Developing female talent.
Be aware of your biases and start advocating for women. Both men and women need to advocate for women. "When men advocate for women, change comes ten times faster," says Patricia Arquette (Oscar winning actress). In addition to men, women need to recognize their own biases. Throughout time leaders of countries and businesses have been a certain type: White men (often tall and with a specific economic status). It makes sense that we imagine these people as leaders more often than a woman or a woman of color. But the data shows that women make excellent leaders even if they don’t fit the historically dated view of what a leader looks like.
Assess equality in how employees are compensated and promoted. After International Women’s Day there’s another day in March about women’s equality. March 24, 2021 is Equal Pay Day. This date symbolizes how far into the year women have to work to earn equal to what men made the previous year. There are many factors that go into women making less: they may find it harder to advocate for themselves, or gaps in work history make them appear less qualified. Make the choice in your organization to compensate women equally compared to men who do the same amount and same level of work.
Consult with the women on your team. Think about the product you’re selling or offering. Women spend more time purchasing consumer goods than men. Consult with the women on everything from product development to marketing and you’ll find they can often resonate with your target market more than someone else might be able to. Even if the women aren’t specifically in decision making roles, make them a part of the decision making processes, because their input is invaluable.
Help women find sponsors and mentors. Everyone needs a mentor, but it’s been shown that a lack of sponsorship keeps women from advancing into leadership roles. It cannot be emphasized enough that as you encourage women to speak up and lead, everyone will benefit. For example, gender diversity on executive teams is strongly correlated with profitability.
Everyone is an individual.
Just remember, when in doubt, ask women what they need! Just like anything else, everyone is an individual, and while broad policies like flexibility and work from home options will do a lot for your employees, everyone will have different needs. As you see everyone as an individual it does two things: first you will begin to eliminate your own biases about how you perceive people. Second, you will be able to address their specific needs that might be different than your own. And like we said earlier, that’s a win-win for everyone involved.