Women in the Workplace — What’s the Solution?

It’s not a quick fix. It’s about changing the culture. Here are 9 new ways — beyond WFH — to do just that.

McKinsey’s “Delivering Through Diversity report shows companies in the top 25th percentile for gender diversity on their executive teams are 21% more likely to experience above-average profits.

But, according to Sheryl Sandberg’s diversity report, moving from entry-level to the C-suite, female representation falls by more than 50%.

It’s not just the C-suite that has a diversity shortage. The percentage of roles held by women steadily decreases at every seniority level along the career path.

At entry level, representation is almost equal, with 52% of positions held by men and 48% by women. But by the managerial level, the number of women drops by 11%, and the decline continues from there. Between entry level and the C-suite, the percentage of female employees more than halves.

Here’s the thing about that funnel…

The last conversion rate in a funnel always makes the biggest impact on your final result. If you can improve it — it will drive more significant results than any other part of your funnel. So while many companies point to their hiring, saying they’re looking to bring more women in in entry roles, your biggest point of leverage for making an impact today is probably actually at end of the funnel — the last step to the C-suite. Focus there first.

Why do women fall out of the funnel?

Due to a number of reasons: most other women leave so the women left are in the uncomfortable situation of being outnumbered and having few confidants, pregnancy and children (though only 2% of women who plan to leave say they’d do so to focus on family, with 1% of men saying the same), stress from picking up the emotional work from the work place, going back to get an MBA because they believe they’re not influential enough without it or want to pursue something new, etc. So much of this can be changed with a focus on building a more supportive culture that puts an emphasis on making women successful by adapting processes to their unique style of work. There are the staples (or things that should be staples by now) such as pay woman an equal salary to men, offer flexible work hours and work from home, and foster sponsorship.

Here are a few different ideas:

  1. Optional attendance for a select group at certain C-Suite meetings.

Identify your top performing women (and men, but skew more heavily women — 80%) at your Senior Director or VP Level during your review cycle, and invite them to be part of a development program for the C-suite. Because women are sometimes held back by male managers it’s important to have a check in place, so another means of qualifying such as “nominated by three C-Suite members” would also be good to have. Participants are then invited to a certain number of C-Suite meetings every month. Their role there is to simply to observe. More exposure to the types of conversations and the way those conversations are run, will set women up to be ready to step into an environment that is often unwelcoming to them.

2. Standardize new methods of decision making.

No big decision should happen in one meeting. There should be a discussion, a break, and then a reconvening at a later time where the decision is actually made. Making a decision in a meeting where you’re learning the facts is not a good idea because it’s been proven that one person can totally steer the conversation toward a bad decision with the early seed of an idea and the subsequent group think. However, how decisions are made is particularly important because women tend to internalize information more, and not be as outspoken. This method of decision making will give them adequate time to prepare and weigh in however they feel most comfortable.

3. Automatically assign more of the “sweeping up the floor” tasks and emotional labor to men.

To meet expectations, women often take on many of the daily culture-building and housekeeping tasks. This stuff doesn’t help women move up the corporate ladder because no one cares about it and it takes time away from the high-value work that can help women move into leadership roles, not to mention that they may need to put in extra time just to make up for that which was lost. So, mandate that if there’s a note taker during a meeting, it’s a man at least 50% of the time. Mandate that if there’s a party planning committee the spots need to be filled with men, and women can join as optional. Create a task wheel for things like who’s making the coffee. Call out this type of work as important by ensuring it’s evaluated in every single person’s review (something such as using a scale on three dimensions — work performance, culture performance, “caretaking” performance).

4. Ensure your promotion review board is at least 50% women.

People like people like themselves. It’s really that simple. Find the best women you have, and add them, regardless of their level, until you’ve balanced the ratio.

5. Evaluate women based on their potential, not just their past experience — similarly to how you intuitively evaluate men.

There are fewer women at the top, which means it will be nearly impossible to find someone with the exact experience you want. However men are often promoted based on “their potential” while women that exhibit the same good decision making and hard work ethic are left behind. Create a scoring system that holds you accountable to this bias — for example, a test/scenario/actual work from the future job.

6. Pay women more. In fact, invert the pay gap.

Women are paid about 20% less than men on average for doing the exact same work. Pay women 120% of what men in similar roles make, at least for their first year of employment. Beyond the instant boost to your hiring funnel, and the instant boost to your bottom line from actually achieving the diversity you were seeking, imagine the goodwill your company will get from those women, men who see women being treated well, and the news cycle because you’ll sadly be the first. All other companies — pledge to do a complete salary analysis at least every three years, and bring every woman up to the right amount.

7. Create a monthly rising leader award.

Then make sure you’re giving it out to those who identify as women 50% of the time. This will force you to seek out leadership qualities early and often. And it will put an emphasis on celebrating women in leadership which sets a good tone, making it feel like a norm.

8. Ensure the CEO runs point on the communication around women’s diversity issues.

A company’s entire culture gets driven by its CEO, and too often, CEOs hand diversity initiatives to the HR team to push and communicate. The HR team is almost guaranteed to be women, who already know and want these things and are doing as much as they can — but they simply don’t have the influence on men. Sidestep the chicken and the egg by leading the charge yourself as a CEO (whether you’re male or female) — your company’s bottom line can’t afford for you not to. Set a public facing diversity goal when you set your yearly goals. Attend women leadership meetings, set yourself a quota on thanks/feedback you want to provide to a woman each week to build confidence, talk about women issues at your exec meeting, make it a stated company goal and add projects under it just like every other goal, etc. Every chance a CEO gets s/he should be sharing knowledge, understanding concerns, and identifying next steps. Your presence will dictate importance, and will have an impact on how the company views and embodies the initiative.

9. Only cover the expense of team building activities that are inclusive.

Women often miss relationship-building events due to family responsibilities that men don’t carry. Consider offering get togethers at inconsistent times, so they can at least come to some, or try afternoon lunches where everyone is likely to be on campus.