Diversity isn't just a social imperative; it's a good business decision. Studies have shown that companies with gender diverse executives are 15% more likely to have financial returns greater than average; companies which achieve ethnically diverse C-suites often see even better performances.
But even with this knowledge, many companies struggle to hire and retain female executives. When they try to understand why, the answer often comes down to company culture. So how do businesses create a company culture that is inviting to women?
Value Listening Over Talking
Many women, in the business world and otherwise, struggle to feel heard. Research has shown that in business and educational setting, when women speak for 30 percent of a meeting, men tend to feel that women have "dominated" the conversation. Both men and women are also more likely to interrupt a woman than another man.
If your female executives can't get a word in edgewise, they will be unable to influence the direction and priorities of your company, and odds are that they won't stay.
To counteract this, focus on creating a culture where everyone is welcome to speak. Train yourself to notice when people interrupt each other, and stop them from doing it. Bonus: This will also support men who, for whatever reason, are less comfortable speaking up and being vocal in meetings.
Minimize Overtime and After Work Demands
Both men and women are struggling to maintain a balance between work and home life, but because so much of childcare and family support traditionally falls to women, women executives in particular can feel the stress of trying to manage both work and family. This has conflicted, for many years, with the typical picture of the executive who works 80 hours a week, and then goes out for drinks with their coworkers after the fact.
All that work isn't good for anyone. It leads to burn out, poor decision making, and increased stress levels in the workplace. It also has a trickledown effect; if one executive stays late every single day, their direct reports will start to feel that they need to as well, and it becomes company culture, even if that is not your intention.
To counteract this, find ways to support flexible scheduling. Assign reasonable amounts of work to get done in a reasonable amount of time. There will be times when a project takes up after-hours time, but it shouldn't be a constant. When all hands are on deck, there should also be rewards given. This practice benefits all employees, who will feel a greater commitment to work when they have the ability to flex their job around their life, instead of the other way around.
Review Policies And Benefits
For many years, it has been obvious that employees aren't just looking at their salaries to decide if their job is worthwhile, they're considering an entire benefits package. With considerations like flextime, relocation options with children, and childcare benefits on the table at some companies, many women are making very different calculations about their payments. Healthcare, the cost of adding dependents to healthcare, and options available if they need to take care of a child or other sick relative all become important.
The good news is that, again, taking a critical look at your benefits package isn't just helpful for women employees and executives. Offering a more competitive, flexible benefits package helps all the employees in your organization and positions your company as more intriguing in a very complicated business sector.
Have Women On Search Teams And Interview Panels
Including that you are committed to gender and ethnic diversity in your job listing is a great start, but don't for one moment believe that this will solve a diversity problem at your company. Women and people of color tend to be highly keyed to looking for signals and signs that the work environment will be supportive of them. To signal this, you need to have a diverse search committee, a diverse interview panel, which features many different faces, instead of a sea of white men.
If you're just beginning the work of diversifying a company, that may mean that your first few hires will be hand-invited, and after an honest conversation about what you're looking for. Expect to have some tough talks about the places your company is going wrong, and what can be done to fix the problems.
The work is worth it. Your company, over time, will thank you.