It was, for a moment, almost surprising to hear Michelle Obama’s chosen topic for her recent address to Silicon Valley executives at Apple’s WWDC conference: Gender equality in the tech industry?
But it’s important to note that for G7 countries, only 22% of senior roles are occupied by women, and 39% of companies have zero women in senior roles, across industries.
But there may be more to lose than their reputation, for companies maintaining a passive stance on gender equality.
Below we explore some of the reasons why the top Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women on their boards are earning higher profits, and 4 key areas you can take real steps towards increasing gender equality in your company starting today, not next week, or next month…
1. HAVE AT LEAST ONE FEMALE ON THE BOARD OR C-SUITE
Clearly you want the best qualified people on your board of directors and in your C-suite and don’t want gender to play a role. But if, when you take a moment to reflect, you realize there are no women among them…chances are gender has already subconsciously played a role. The fact that these groups tend to be all men is not an accident.
Women are frequently overlooked not due to a lack of qualified candidates but because of subconscious favoritism, and open positions getting filled based on who-you-know. Who do the existing male board members know? Other men.
Despite these difficulties, there are many benefits in having a more gender equal board or C-suite. A study found an increase in corporate leadership from 0% to 30% female to be associated with a 15% increase in profitability for a typical company.
Another study found women in leadership to correlate with increased innovative intensity, logical thinking, coordination, planning and problem solving. If you are among the 39% of companies lacking female input at the highest level, adding a qualified female leader into the mix could stimulate similar beneficial results.
2. ENCOURAGE FEMALE MENTORSHIP
Despite the fact that women as a demographic have been attaining college degrees at a higher rate than men for the last 20 years, the ratio of leadership positions held by women has not been substantially affected. The lack of senior level female leadership makes it all the more important to incentivize the women currently in leadership to mentor up and coming female prospects.
One strategy for pairing mentors and mentees within your company can be allowing the mentees to write learning outcome goals (e.g. improve work life balance, learn a new skill, branch into a different role) and allowing mentors to select mentees based on their goals.
Female mentorships should be all about giving women the confidence to put themselves forward, share connections, and foster the personal growth necessary to become leaders. Don’t believe me? Check out these inspiring testimonials.
3. OFFER OPTIONS TO EMPLOYEES STARTING YOUNG FAMILIES
In the discussion of equality it’s important to recognize the different constraints family responsibilities placed on women and their career paths. According to a poll of unemployed adults between the ages of 25 and 54, 61% of women said that family responsibilities were keeping them from working, opposed to just 37% for men.
To deal with this problem, 6 big tech companies are trying out “Returnships” to make the transition back into the workforce easier, by offering 18 month training and accelerated learning paths to offer caregivers out of the workforce for the last two years a fast track to get back up to speed.
Offering work from home options can also increase inclusivity for women. A poll of homemakers found that nearly 75% would consider returning to the workforce if a job allowed for flexible hours or let them work from home. Many companies are beginning to embrace the work from home model, with one report finding an increase from 19% in 2013 to 24% in 2015 of people working remotely for some or all of their work responsibilities.
Another option is to adopt maternity leave policies that don’t punish women for starting a family. The United states has been holding out as one of the last 4 countries in the world to fail to guarantee women the right to paid maternity leave, but that doesn’t mean your company has to follow suit, and you would be among good company.
Amazon and American Express both offer 5 months paid leave, and Netflix offers unlimited paid leave for a year following the birth or adoption of a child for both parents.
By adopting policies that allow women to find better work life balance, and avoid forcing them to choose between one or the other you can increase your overall female employee retention.
4. MORE FEMALE SPEAKERS TO REPRESENT THE COMPANY PUBLICLY AND FOR EVENTS
As research continues to quantifiably show the increased profitability and added benefits to companies who value women’s voices and opinions, the demand for female experts is going to increase.
As the recent public outcry at the announcement of the Northern Powerhouse conferences gender biased lineup demonstrated (98 male presenters vs 13 female) people are beginning to take notice and demanding more female participation.
Seeing an opportunity, one of the 13 female presenters at the Northern Powerhouse conference launched a media and public speaker training program for women.
Some other companies getting female speakers prepped to grab the mic? BBC launched its “Expert Women” training course in 2014 and the BBC Academy, BBC News, Women in Film, and Television UK, came together to promote a free media familiarization day for women, to further develop female talents in television, radio and presenting.
Offering training opportunities for your qualified women to speak at conferences could be a strategic and profitable move for forward thinking companies to take advantage of the increasing demand.
As with everything in the business and tech world, time is of the essence. Businesses who are able to take advantage of the new opportunities and potential profitability by making room for women, will be the companies that benefit the most.
There aren’t any excuses when the right thing to do is also the most profitable. It’s time for the tech industry to make room for women.
Published by Estefania Leon, VP of Client Relations at ZEQR, a global knowledge sharing marketplace that connects like-minded people who seek to impart knowledge and those who are eager to become better informed.