It’s well-established that gender diversity is remarkably good for business. According to a 2018 report from McKinsey, companies with a balanced mix of male and female executive team members are 21% more likely to see above-average profitability than their more homogenous peers. These gains aren’t limited to boardrooms, though; research published by Gallup indicates that gender-diverse business units in retail and hospitality have 14% and 19% higher average comparable revenue, respectively, than less-diverse business units.
Female inclusion creates business gains -- it’s as simple as that.
Given a little thought, it’s not hard to see why these benefits appear. Workers of different genders and backgrounds naturally have different ideas, viewpoints, and insights into the market at hand. In a respectful, collaborative working environment, these differences give diverse teams a better ability to creatively solve problems, deliver top-tier performance, and serve a complex consumer base.
The opportunity for profit hasn’t gone unrecognized. Today, some 85% of companies track gender diversity to some degree, and many have made diversity a priority. Microsoft, for example, announced that it would be linking its executives’ bonuses to the company’s diversity goals in 2016. In the same vein, the technology manufacturer Intel crafted a diversity initiative that sought to mirror the percentage share of women and minorities in the broader workforce within the company’s employee base.
Of course, companies have a reason to act beyond diversity gains alone -- talent. According to the 2017 PwC Female Talent Report, a full 77% of CEOs view the availability of skills as the most significant threat to their business. Researchers found that 58% of surveyed employers were actively attempting to recruit female hires to broaden their talent pool; for employers with over 10,000 workers, that percentage leaps to 78%.
Companies need gender diversity -- not only to thrive but to survive. To borrow a quote from a writer for Gallup: “Companies cannot afford to ignore 50% of the potential workforce and expect to be competitive in the global economy.”
However, businesses cannot reap the benefits of gender diversity without first understanding what women value and creating a workplace culture that acknowledges and supports them. Below, I’ve listed a few ways to do so.
Design Forward-Thinking Recruitment Strategies
Too often, qualified women are passed over as a result of unconscious or intentional gender bias. According to the PwC study mentioned above, more than one-fifth of surveyed women across the globe reported experiencing gender discrimination when applying or interviewing for a job, as opposed to just 5% of men.
Though harmful to gender diversity, these exclusionary decisions often aren’t consciously made with exclusion in mind. Some recruiters might pass over an exceptional female candidate for a less-impressive male after seeing a gap in her resume. Others might consider a young, married applicant and worry that she might soon need to take maternity leave; or review a young mother’s resume and decide that she might focus on her family more than her work.
Make no mistake -- though on the surface understandable, these decisions are exclusionary, unfair, and without basis. Researchers for the PwC study found that the stereotype of young women taking an extended leave to care for children is largely unfounded -- in fact, men leave more often than women.
To quote the researchers: “Across the network, more women leave than men at our most junior grades only – and at this point in their lives very few of these women are at the stage of starting a family. At all other grades, more men actually leave than women. But we were replacing both our male and female leavers with predominantly male experienced hires.”
Thus, women too often find themselves shut out of career advancement opportunities because of outdated stereotypes. For the women who do temporarily leave the workforce, it can be incredibly challenging to return -- some remain in unemployment limbo for years at a time.
Companies should make an effort to eradicate bias -- conscious and unconscious -- from their hiring process. Otherwise, they risk losing their ideal candidate to stereotype and assumption.
Provide Women With the Benefits They Want
When companies discuss benefits with female employees, they tend to focus on motherhood alone. However, while family leave policies are important, women want support in other aspects of their professional lives. According to CNN Money, 70% of surveyed female workers cite paid time off, respectful work environments, flexibility, salary equality, and learning opportunities as “must-haves” at work.
The takeaway? Create benefits that support women at all points of their careers, not just during their maternity leave.
Check Your Messaging
If women don’t see their gender represented among company leadership -- or even respected industry roles -- why would they want to join the team? Workplace cultures that don’t present women professionally and undermine their welcome will naturally struggle to gain diversity benefits.
As one writer puts the matter in an article for the Harvard Business Review, “If the ‘fun’ culture being promoted or bragged about is one in which women may be less likely to be able to participate, what are the chances that women are seen as “fitting in” the company?”
Creating a culture that is gender-inclusive is not only the right thing to do, it also empowers you to appeal to the entire available talent pool, not just a small subset.