A diverse workforce brings varied perspectives that contribute to an organisation’s prosperity, yet only one in five C-suite leaders is a woman and fewer than one in 30 is a woman of colour, according to a new study from LeanIn.org and McKinsey.
Overcoming this disparity is critical to the success of top companies. In fact, investment analytics firm MSCI ESG Research found that companies with strong female leadership generated a higher return on equity versus those without and suffered fewer governance-related controversies.
INSEAD alumnae from the INSEAD Women in Business Global Club and National Alumni Associations weighed in on what women need to thrive in the workplace, as well as how companies can attract, retain and leverage top talent to cultivate a more diverse workforce. Based on their input, here are eight tips for companies.
1. Assess the situation
First, understand what your company is doing right and where it can improve. Conduct a salary audit to review pay equity within your firm and identify any problems. Rather than asking, “How many senior women do I have?” ask “How easy is it for women to progress through my organisation?” Make sure women are putting themselves forward and you are considering them properly.
2. Create a supportive culture
Gender disparity in the workplace happens over time, often evolving in three stages: recruitment imbalance, promotion imbalance and retention imbalance. Ensure that women are considered at each stage and progressing to leadership positions. Identify potential senior candidates and groom them. Create the necessary infrastructure, support and culture to retain women in top positions, including roles that are not traditionally considered “women-oriented corporate functions,” such as within commercial teams, finance, strategy or business development.
3. Focus on inclusivity
An inclusive company ensures that important business decisions are not made outside office hours (e.g., during dinnertime or at golf outings), when women with children may have limited availability. Maintaining good relationships with peers and superiors should not require meetups that take place after office hours.
4. Mentor female talent
Men in senior management roles should make an effort to mentor promising female candidates for leadership roles. Women in senior leadership roles should also engage in mentoring programmes with younger women to provide role models and offer counsel. Women who are experiencing career transitions or advancing within a company also need mentors. In fact, women in the C-suite often have little or no mentor support, as most programmes focus on women starting their careers.
5. Offer training
Invest in training programmes that equip women with tips and strategies for networking and provide tools for self-advancement. In addition, consider business communication courses that can coach women on asserting and expressing themselves. Often, women are told not to show frustration, disappointment or anger, but this self-censorship can make it appear as if they are not contributing much in meetings and discussions.
6. Review and revise policies
Ensure all company policies are unbiased and revise those that aren’t. For example, policies on parental leave should be the same for men and women. In cases of sexual harassment lawsuits, remove any forced arbitration. Prohibit HR departments from asking job candidates for their salary history—a practice that New York City legally banned because it perpetuates the gender wage gap. In addition, create pay equity policies that correct for “unconscious signaling” in which women are paid less than men in similar roles. Implementing structured diversity programmes can help attract women and minority candidates. Offering options such as flex time and childcare programmes also supports gender balance.
7. Measure progress and correct
Use metrics to measure your progress and address any setbacks or challenges that occur. One way to do this is by engaging employees in unconscious bias training and giving them an Implicit Association Test (IAT), which can make them aware of any existing bias—and take steps to correct them.
8. Foster female networks
Launch a female network initiative that offers mentorship of women by women. Who you know and who supports your next career move matters, because someone convinced of your performance needs to suggest your name for a job at the right time. Networks offer women a chance to make connections and discuss career goals and achievements.
Editor’s note: To gather input for this story, the WIBGC posted a request to Facebook Groups (IWIB, USNAA) and emailed WIB Global Club Leadership and NAA Leadership and Councils in US, UK, Switzerland, France, Germany, Belgium, Canada, Singapore, and Brazil. Special thanks to Bharathi Sathurappan, Ruchika Kapoor, Tara Marsh, Yuni Rohmann, Katarina Hasbani, Dheeraj Motwani, Supriya Goswami, Marie Chevalier, Cintia Tavella and Liana Slater for contributing to the article.