“Better the Balance, Better the World” is this year’s theme for International Women’s Day. Research shows that organizations that embrace policies that support women with a means to diversify their boards, their leadership, and their management perform better. It’s the bottom line.
Yet, the gender gap in leadership continues to be abysmal. Though women comprise of almost 52% of the population, only 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, 22% of the board members of Fortune 500s are women, and 30% are university presidents.
“Women are expected to work if they aren’t mothers, and be mothers as if they didn’t work.” Alas, the joy, and pressure, of a working mother. There are so many obstacles in the workplace for women, women of color, sexually diverse women, and working mothers that very well can hinder their advancement.
Organizations must take real actions to support women at the workplace and help them achieve leadership roles. But how?
1. Create flexible work schedules. If you want to peek at a pinnacle of efficiency, it’s a working mother. Who else has time to wake up, get kids ready for school (with lunches and snacks in tow), make a lobster costume for the school play, organize the presentation with the statistics of last year’s growing trends, train new collaborators, and get home in time to help with common core math? Clocking in, clocking out limits women’s advancement. Focus on productivity, not time spent at the desk.
2. Make meetings matter. Late meetings and early-morning meetings can limit women’s participation in the organization. It’s not fair. Many women have to juggle childcare and work and motherhood. Start, and end, meetings on time. Give women the same opportunity to participate as men. (This means no more “after hours” boy's club drinks to connect and close the deal. Oftentimes, those social events simply cannot be attended by many women.)
3. Close the pay gap. Women make less then men. Approximately 23% less. Are you one of those organizations? You might not even realize it. Do a wage audit. Get the hard numbers. Be transparent about any discrepancies and inconsistencies in pay, and work to fix it.
4. New parents need support (women, men, adopting parents, LGBTQ couples and more). Give women the time, and private spaces needed, to pump (if they’re breastfeeding). Work with a nearby daycare to negotiate better prices so that new parents can check in on their babies. The same can go for after-school programs. Support fathers. So much of the burden of parenthood falls on mothers. Organizations like Patagonia, Google, and Facebook have policies to support new fathers. This helps “better the balance.”
5. Hire women. This might seem obvious, but apparently, it’s not. This also means you have to take a long look at your recruiting and onboarding process. How are you reaching out to women talent? How are you attracting them to your organization? Take a critical look at your recruitment practices and be strategic about bringing women on board.
6. Race, gender, and LGBTQ biases abound. Talk about it. Have difficult conversations. Empowerment, Accountability, Courage and Humility (EACH) behaviors are part of intentional leadership. Model inclusion. Protect the rights of these marginalized groups. Create a workplace that embraces diversity ground up through training, workshops, hiring, and continued conversations. Set the standard for the behavior you want to see in your employees.
7. Engage men in the advancement of women. Talk about it. Have clear sexual harassment policies and training. Make sure women have access to a place to report sexual harassment and aggressions. Have difficult conversations. Inequality isn’t a made-up problem, and men and women must come to the table to discuss it – openly. Create ground rules for conversation, giving women voice at meetings. Bring in outside help. Have an expert come in to train collaborators and managers positive communication skills.
Enough is enough. At the rate we’re changing, it might take centuries to close the gender wage pay gap, in particular minority women. Be an organization that truly embraces and values women and women leadership. Better the balance, better your organization.