Diversity, Hiring & Recruiting

#IWD2019: Balance Your Workforce by Attracting and Retaining Female Talent

Today is International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. This day, which occurs annually on March 8, also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

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Source: Mangostar / Shutterstock

This year’s theme, #BalanceforBetter, provides a unified direction to guide and galvanize continuous collective action, which aims to balance out pay disparity and other gender inequality issues. The race is on for the gender-balanced boardroom, a gender-balance of employees, more gender-balance in wealth, etc. If you’re looking to balance out your workforce, it starts with the way you attract female talent.

John Taylor—Practice Development Manager at global outplacement and career development firm RiseSmart—is here to help. In the Q&A below, he explains what you can do to attract and retain top female talent in your company.

Q.) For companies looking to attract female talent (of all ages), what tips or strategies would you recommend that would make the company stand out as a diverse employer?

A.) I think a good way to promote an employer brand, no matter what the message, is to tell stories—stories that illustrate how the company has built diversity into its culture. Our friends in marketing are already doing this through content marketing channels. The same strategies can be used to get a message to current and potential employees.

Social media is a great place to share highlights and news about the company. For an organization hoping to attract more female talent, craft intriguing stories that reflect how the company has cultivated a culture where females are encouraged to flourish.

Other platforms for storytelling can be the careers page on your company’s website, job fairs where female executives are available to share their stories, blogs, and candidate interviews.

When a company truly engages in nurturing female executives, that uplifting “good news” story will tell itself on Glassdoor and through word of mouth.

Q.) We’ve heard a lot about recruiting working mothers and the benefits they can bring to the workforce. But what benefits can employers give to this group to keep them retained?

A.) Working mothers value flexible hours and the ability to work from home. Obviously, being able to have some latitude around their work life gives them more child care options. But more importantly, I think the one thing organizations can give working mothers is intangible: It’s reshaping the workplace culture so that everyone is more aware of and sensitive to the sub-populations within a company, including the unique needs of working mothers.

Managers and supervisors should spend time talking to their employees about work/life balance, to find out what is working and what is not. When one overwhelms the other, the balance is sacrificed, as are engagement and productivity. Offering and designing unique solutions that benefit the employee and the company is one way to ensure that a company lives out its promise to provide a supportive environment.

Q.) Research shows that just 5% of women are in CEO positions. In order to get more female talent into leadership roles, what would be the best way to train or upskill these workers?

A.) Training and upskilling are common approaches to developing leaders. Mentoring is another one that can be particularly powerful for women. In many companies, pipelines exist of women waiting in the wings, or being groomed for leadership positions.

Pairing those women with other senior female leaders, or talented male leaders, provides a pathway for those females to become future leaders. Although men and women can both be mentors, a senior female leader will have more experience with the challenges unique to women wanting to move into an executive position.

Women hoping to move their careers in that direction can expand their knowledge through senior-level business school courses and other executive programs. Employers can help develop female leaders by providing best practices for leadership, and encouraging women to take classes and attend events that provide networking opportunities.

Q.) For some women, there is a stigma about working in a male-dominated industry—for example, more pervasive sexual harassment, masculine cultural norms, etc. What tips or advice would you give to recruiters to show jobseekers that women are accepted and respected in the industry?

A.) Any organization that is still tolerating sexual harassment is facing a multitude of potential negative legal and business consequences and should be addressing those critical issues now. For companies that just happen to be in industries that have been historically male-dominated, they need to actively recruit strong female leaders.

Recruiters hoping to attract these individuals should be talking about building uplifting cultures and norms from the ground up and stressing how a leadership position in this type of company is a unique opportunity to hone skills that will inform the rest of their careers.

Q.) What advice would you give employers, in male-dominated industries, to make their companies more appealing to women? How can these employers support their female staff to keep them retained?

A.) Companies in male-dominated industries need to start building new policies and procedures from the ground up. HR leaders and executives need to focus on policies that relate to harassment and inappropriate behavior. Having a set of written rules and guidelines isn’t enough.

There must be processes in place that make it easy to lodge a complaint or concern without fear of retribution. Once a complaint has been made, senior leaders must be ready to act on what is shared. Policies don’t work if there are no processes in place to deal with claims that are made.

Companies that have not been able to attract female workers should adopt a “zero tolerance” policy and ensure that it is clear to everyone in the organization that certain behaviors will not be tolerated and that the consequence for engaging in them is termination, without exception.

Unfortunately, some companies will have to actually experience this pain point. But once one person has been terminated for acting inappropriately in the workplace, the females who work there are more likely to stay and to encourage other women to join the organization.

Q.) Recent research indicates that 48% of U.S. workers believe men are paid more than women at their company. The gender pay gap issue can’t be solved in one day, but what steps can employers take to ensure they are fixing pay disparity issues in their company?

A.) Pay disparity is a very real and necessary, yet difficult challenge to overcome for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, it’s not a problem companies are actively seeking to solve. Often, organizations don’t address the problem until they are forced into a situation where they don’t have a choice.

What many organizations don’t realize is that if they are not keeping up with the industry standard for pay, or if the women in the organization feel there is pay disparity, they will leave the company for a better salary.

Creating pay parity is not an overnight proposition. In organizations where pay equality is a focus, the compensation and benefits teams should begin by identifying pay inequities and creating a plan to stagger “catch-up” pay increases over time.

In addition, it’s important for these teams to craft the messaging around the increases in a way that lets people know they are appreciated and that their contributions are valued—not simply telling them you’re bringing them to the level of pay they should have been receiving all along.

Q.) If an employer is actively working on providing equal pay, should the employer advertise this as a selling point?

A.) I don’t think any employer would want to advertise the fact that they haven’t been offering equal pay for equal work. To let people know that you are “working” on solving a problem also indicates that the problem has not yet been solved.

On the other hand, if your organization actively seeks to solve the pay inequities within the company, people will begin to notice, and the good word will circulate. For instance, if your employees choose to share their salaries on Glassdoor, or talk to their friends about your workplace, the message will be positive, and your company will earn the reputation you seek without having to blow your own horn.