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Inclusive Talent Challenges for Women: Attraction, Retention and Advancement

Date: 23 May 2017

Diversity should be a key priority within every organisation. Studies suggest workplaces with a diverse mix of talent achieve better fiscal results than their less diverse counterparts.

Research shows that Fortune 500 companies with three or more female directors typically see an increase in sales of 42%.[1] In addition, Gallup found that diverse teams featuring women had a 22% lower turnover rate. Despite the demonstrated benefits of female leadership, studies have revealed that only 14% of executives at Fortune 500 companies are women.[2] Women are particularly underrepresented in STEM fields; according to Department of Labor figures, only 11% of engineers in the US are women.[3]

Unconscious bias is at the root of the issue and a study from Yale University saw two groups of scientists given an identical lab manager application – half bearing a ‘male’ name and half a ‘female’ name. Scientists rated applications with the ‘female’ names significantly lower for ‘hireability’ and ‘competence’.[4]

Diversity is not only about hiring to raise the statistics, but also about considering candidates from underrepresented groups without bias. Increasing the diversity of the workplace should be a business issue. Majority group members – that is, typically men – will be vital when it comes to implementing genuine change in this area.

To mark International Women’s Day this year, we’re highlighting some of the reasons why it’s so important to attract, retain and advance female talent in today’s modern workplace…

Attraction

According to Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey, although women make up 48% of the US workforce, they only represent 24% of STEM employees. This is despite the fact that women now make up 49% of college-educated workers as a whole.[5] Attracting diverse candidates to underrepresented fields is a vital part of the equation for improving diversity.

Flexibility can be an effective policy for attracting female candidates, from flexible working patterns, to paid maternity leave. "Offering paid parental leave for men and women is critical to both attracting and retaining female tech talent,” says Jen Dulski, of Change.org. Family-friendly policies should extend to both men and women to help support the cultural shift of parenting from purely a woman’s domain to the responsibility of both genders. It’s important that these policies can actually be used without stigma.

Perception can be one of the biggest barriers when it comes to some fields. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics), for example, is an area often seen as male dominated. In order to help attract more female talent, a company should focus on the inclusivity of its employer brand and make it part of the wider employer value proposition. This will help attract more diverse candidates who will be able to envision themselves succeeding within the business.

Retention

Women leave the tech industry at a 45% higher rate than men.[6] This is thought to be due to an inherently ‘masculine’ culture of success in these organisations. In order to retain female talent, companies must focus on nurturing an inclusive culture. Leadership is an essential part of this process; including both executive level buy-in from male leadership as well as female leaders serving as mentors and role models for younger talent.

Additionally, equal pay is still one of the most pertinent issues for women today. Unconscious bias also has an effect on unequal pay and advancement, and is a motivational factor behind why so many women leave STEM careers. By introducing accountability and KPIs for diversity, a business can help reinforce a more inclusive infrastructure, which will, in turn, lead to a more diverse environment.

Advancement

Despite active directives by many key industry players to attract and retain female candidates, there’s a key area which still lags behind: advancement.

Women are struggling when it comes to securing leadership roles in business. Just as the gender pay gap lives on, the gender promotion gap is an issue.  According to a 2016 report by McKinsey and Co and Lean In, the company founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, 130 men are promoted to management roles for every 100 women.[7]

Managers need to be more inclusive when it comes to promotion and advancement. One suggested method is asking for a democratic-style vote so employees can suggest who they would like to make influential decisions to shape the business. This will then highlight to management potentially overlooked female candidates who could thrive in leadership roles. Evaluation protocols which look beyond the traditional criteria and processes are needed to help uncover ‘hidden leaders’.

Mentorship is also a vital vehicle when it comes to female advancement. This includes senior male figures being more inclusive as well as female figures actively supporting diverse talent within the organisation.

Diversity as a key directive

Company models which feature women in senior positions are often rewarded with high performance. Despite this, women are underrepresented even in iconic businesses known for their innovation; Google, Twitter and Apple are all only 30% female.

But change is on the horizon. Apple has made a commitment to increase the diversity of its new hires, 54% of which are minorities. The tech innovator is striving to create a culture of inclusion, stating, “We want Apple to be a reflection of the world around us.”

The problem with diversity needs to be addressed at all levels of the chain. If women make up more than one-quarter of engineers in tech companies, and technical positions naturally lead to senior roles, then it follows that underrepresented groups such as women will not end up in management roles if technical careers such as engineering do not make an active effort to nurture inclusivity. [8]

Diversity is not just the responsibility of women and underrepresented groups – it is the responsibility of senior management and hiring managers as a whole. Equally, the success of diverse companies speaks for itself – if you value success, then you should value diversity.

As we celebrate the achievements of women on International Women’s Day; it is also important that we look towards the future and how making diversity a key business priority can benefit both the careers of female talent, along with the organisation as a whole. 

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