Published in Inc on Oct 5, 2015
At long last, the world is paying attention to the issue of gender
diversity. In May 2014, top tech companies started reporting the dismal
numbers of women in their workforces. When these statistics were
released to the public, a spotlight shone on this disparity, sparking a
conversation on the need for gender equality amongst corporate America.
While this conversation has been discussed at length in the media and exhausted by panels at conferences all over the world, the fact remains that little change has actually occurred. We have a long way to go. As a new report from Lean In and McKinsey shows, we are more than 100 years away from gender equality in the C-Suite. To top it off, NY Times reports, the modern workplace is "toxic" and "the ranks of those women still thin significantly as they rise toward the top, from more than 50 percent at entry level to 10 to 20 percent in senior management."
It might have taken 100 years for women to be able to vote in the U.S., but it shouldn't take 100 more years before we achieve gender equality at the office. If you want your company to benefit from the economic advantage of a diverse team, there are five actions you can implement at your own company to grow the number of women on your team. Here are some actions you can take now to act locally and change the number of women on your team.
1. Women attract other women.
Do you have at least one, preferably two, of your operational leaders who are women? "Operational" is an important distinction. There are plenty of teams where the HR person is a woman, or the communications person (occupying the pink ghetto), but when you start looking for R&D leaders or P&L managers, the number of women thins out drastically.
What few people realize is, if you have women in technology and operational leadership they will attract other women. Women want to see other women ahead of them in the company they are joining so they have positive proof that they can get ahead in that company. Likewise, if there are no women for your younger employees to look up to, you will lose them over time. Before you say you can't find them, determine going in that you will interview both women and men for your open positions. In your interview process you will find highly qualified women and you will hire them. These highly skilled women will be magnets for other women considering your team and open your talent pool up significantly.
2. True, not fake, flexibility.
Many teams talk flexibility and yet the subtle competition and mindset of one-upping each other that some teams exhibit can make working flexible hours feel unsafe for many women. True flexibility means actively respecting every employee's wish to get their job done where and when it works for them. If you can establish a culture where it's completely acceptable to call into a meeting if you need to be home or use video to hold one-on-ones to support a teammate that needs to leave early (rather than look down on it), you can keep women (and men) on your team who have to juggle their home responsibilities with their job. But you have to be proactive and out spoken about your support for flexibility (provided people get their jobs done of course). Passive support is not enough.
3. Talk about diversity openly.
It takes courage to talk openly about your belief on diversity. Many of your team will agree with you, but some will not, and not everyone will tell you. I have found that a few men will complain to each other and be passive aggressive on the issue, but you still need to speak out so the women and other minorities on your team hear you. There is enough evidence now that diversity creates better financial results and better products. It makes no sense to omit 50% or more of the potential talent from your workforce. By having the courage to speak out, be consistent and be fair you will keep more women on your team and improve your company in the process.
4. Invest in your women.
Many fields are hostile to women, especially technology. Facebook's Mary Lou Jepson is just the latest in the long line of women to speak out about it. Knowing that the workplace can be toxic or hostile, one way you can be better than your competition at keeping and growing women is your willingness to invest. Send women to female career oriented conferences like the Grace Hopper Conference or the 3% Conference. Support them forming Lean In circles. Speak openly about your wish to see them invest in staying with their chosen field and find ways to grow within their field rather than dropping out or moving to a more female friendly industry.
5. Hire a few good men.
There are many men today who believe strongly in the need for gender diversity. Their motivations are varied. Sometimes they have daughters and want their daughters to have every opportunity. Sometimes it's "just right." Other times it is understanding the need to hire the best and the brightest and not wanting to miss out on half the talent. Whatever the reason, these male allies are important in the quest for gender diversity.
Bring men into your team who want to work on a diverse team. Find men who don't tolerate prejudice towards women and will support the advancement of the women on your team. Make a conscious effort to support these men when they work hard to bring women onto the team and identify unconscious bias in the people around them.
It's time. The dearth of women at the top of companies is not just a pipeline problem that stems from companies not proactively working to improve their culture for women. We need to address the culture that causes 50% of women to drop out of tech within 10 years of graduation because it's hostile. They don't stop working, they just leave tech. However, you can change the outcome for your team if you work hard to bring women in and to keep them; your company will be stronger for it.