As Women’s History Month winds to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on the women in your workplace who will become the future difference-makers in organizations, governments and societies around the world. Whether you’re leading a team or a company, the attention given to the growth and development of women has far-reaching consequences for the entire workforce.
A recent study by Accenture contributed to the body of research that shows women struggle for advancement, pay equity and representation in most organizations and industries. The confirmation of those findings surprises no one who has studied gender diversity, yet they serve as an affirmation of what most women experience in the work environment. What is remarkable about the study, however, is the link it highlights between the advancement of women and the advancement of others in organizations that intently focus on gender parity and creating a culture where women thrive.
Ultimately, a culture of equality, closes the “human potential gap” created by the underutilization and underrepresentation of women and supports the advancement of everyone else in the workplace. It turns out that hiring, developing and advancing women isn’t just the right thing to do, it raises the quality of your entire team.
Beyond taking leadership accountability for pursuing gender hiring, development and advancement goals, the culture you create is the most powerful lever available to you for infusing your organization with the kind of innovation that drives outstanding results. Culture is created through the set of norms and values adopted by your organization, and it’s anchored by leadership behaviors that drive it.
For example, “valuing diversity” may be a stated cultural norm in your organization, but the underlying factors that allow and encourage employees to adopt this norm is key. Are leaders held accountable for specific diversity goals? Are your company goals widely publicized both inside and outside of the organization? When prospective employees research your company website, will they find women and minorities in top leadership positions? Are your employees rewarded for recommending diversity candidates? Does your company have a women’s network, especially one that is open to men as well? Are your recruiting practices honest about your stated goals and current results?
If valuing diversity is a relevant aspect of your culture, you can honestly answer the questions above with a resounding “yes.”
In a recent conversation with one young woman who had just joined a large multinational company, she shared how her most recent experiences didn’t reflect the description of the company’s commitment to diversity shared with her during the interview process. A regional meeting she had been invited to was in stark contrast to her expectations. “I walked into a large ballroom for the opening session of the event,” she explained. “Of the 250 people there, almost all were white men. There was only one other woman and three minorities present in the room. That’s not diversity!”
Deep attention to hiring and developing women is essential, but the systems you create for advancing women — and the barriers to their success erected in your organization — make all the difference.
Both men and women in the Accenture study agreed that creating a culture where people feel they are trusted and given responsibility, while being allowed to authentically be themselves are the two biggest factors that help them advance at work. Are there other important factors? Sure. Taking direct action to address the gender pay gap is one example, since women still make less on the dollar compared to men. The study points to two factors that are actionable today, so you can make immediate progress in your own organization.
Here are some tips on how to leverage these findings:
- Authenticity: Eliminate any requirement to conform to dress or appearance codes that are not absolutely necessary, and align employee roles with their passions. When individuals are given permission to bring their “whole selves” to work, both in terms of outward appearance and inner purpose, their ability to contribute leads to greater success.
- Trust: Evaluate trust networks in your company. Are you a trusted advisor to women and minorities in your organization? Is that trust reciprocal? When trust networks restrict women and other underrepresented groups, everyone loses.
- Developmental support: Support the development of women with mentors and sponsors. Women need an honest source from which to gain the insight required to navigate their careers and an advocate who speaks on their behalf when they’re considered for key roles or promotions. Mentors and sponsors also expand the network to which women gain access for exposure and advancement.
- Responsibility: Give women responsibility for important projects, and support their success in delivering great results. When you make a practice of identifying stretch or high-profile assignments and assign women to lead them, you create an environment where leadership development is more than a buzzword — it’s a practice that has teeth.
- Fast-tracking: Identify talented women who should be on the fast track for development for senior positions. Getting a woman to a senior level leads to more women on the fast track for leadership. Research shows that even when men and women are almost equally represented in entry level positions, this parity dwindles to 21% representation in the C-suite for women, compared to 79% for men. Moving more women to fast track development roles is an essential action for gender parity at the highest levels to become a reality.
- Safe environment: Eliminate the need for a #MeToo movement in your organization. Make sure that a clear zero-tolerance policy for harassment and discrimination is in place, and that women feel free to report any incidents. Moreover, investigate those incidents immediately and take prompt and appropriate action. If you don’t create a culture where women are respected, your investment in any other gender-parity effort is wasted.
What legacy will you leave behind when it comes to the culture you’ve created and the women you’ve empowered to lead? What difference are you prepared to make, even when doing so is challenging?
Those are questions to ponder not only in the month that we celebrate women, but all year long.
Alaina Love is chief operating officer and president of Purpose Linked Consulting and co-author of “The Purpose Linked Organization: How Passionate Leaders Inspire Winning Teams and Great Results” (McGraw-Hill). She is a recovering HR executive, a global speaker and leadership expert, and passionate about everything having to do with, well … passion. Her passion archetypes are Builder, Transformer and Healer. You can learn more about how to grow leaders, build passionate teams and leverage passion to create great customer outcomes here.
When she’s not working with her Fortune 500 client base, Love is busy writing her next book, “Passionality, The Art and Science of Finding Your Passion and Living Your Bliss,” which explores the alignment of personality, purpose and passion, and the science of how it contributes to our well being. Follow Love on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or her blog.
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