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March 9, 2022

Women at Work: 23 Experts on What Employers Should Stop, Keep and Start Doing to Make Work a Better Place for Women

Company Culture
women working jobs on top of the international symbol for women.

If you think gender inequality is yesterday’s problem, think again. 

From emailing clients via a man’s email address to refusing to be pigeonholed into a note-taking role during meetings, women still have to do some major acrobatics just to be taken seriously at work. And unfortunately, we’ve seen some pretty devastating backwards strides since the onset of the pandemic.

We sat down with a group of female-identifying business and HR professionals to determine exactly how employers can step up and do better. Here’s what they had to say about what companies should start, stop, and keep doing in order to empower women at work.

This article is part of our annual series on Women In Talent. To see how this conversation has evolved, feel free to check out our past roundups, Women in Talent: These 5-Word Statements Say It All (2021) and What Winning Looks Like for Today’s Women In Talent (2020).

What women want:

  • An inclusive workplace
  • Equal pay
  • A clear path to leadership
  • Support for all parents
  • Diversity beyond gender identity

Creating an inclusive workplace 

Between work, bills, and family responsibilities, day-to-day life can get pretty overwhelming. 

While we are seeing society move away from traditional gender roles within relationships and marriage, the pandemic has pushed us backwards in some important ways. Between family-related expectations, as well as logistical and financial decisions within a household, we’re now seeing 1 in 4 women considering downsizing their full time career or leaving the workforce entirely.

What employers should start doing:

Compared to men, women in corporate America are under a lot of pressure. With the pay gap forcing households to prioritize men’s careers, we’re seeing more women having to pick up the slack with changes in childcare, household responsibilities, and balancing their own workloads. 

“Accommodate for the changed needs of women in a post-pandemic world. Some of these could include flexible work schedules, leniency around working from home and childcare assistance.”

Sara Shah, Co-Founder & Co-CEO,
Journ 

With so many women considering leaving the workforce, creating an inclusive environment that supports work life balance will be key when it comes to employee retention. Workplaces should focus on finding new ways to meet the needs of female employees, while also improving their overall culture. And this is also true for today’s recruiters and hiring managers because a strong culture of gender diversity starts with a strong hiring process. 

“Retraining management to be intentional about hiring people who are more forward thinking will help to establish more opportunities for women.”

Erin Mohideen, People & Culture Lead,
Inspirant Group 

What employers should keep doing: 

Outside of the pandemic, women made some serious strides to bridge the gender equality gap in the workplace. Recent years saw quite a culture shift and yielded some positive economic empowerment for women. Many women note that these shifts finally felt more sincere than in the past.

“We’re seeing fewer cases where there’s one woman who might appear as though they’re tokenized, just to prove a point about diversity in the workplace.”

Carolyn Betts Fleming, Founder & CEO,
Betts  

With the needs of many employees changing throughout the course of the pandemic, it’s always good to practice allyship at work, and continue to check in. Whether it’s a set performance management meeting or an impromptu one-on-one, take extra time to check in with your female employees who may be under additional stress.

“Taking opinions from women or giving them opportunities, where the employers think they can do better, should be encouraged.”

Meera Watts, Founder,
Siddhi Yoga

What employers should stop doing: 

83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress. Despite increased buzz around this topic, many workers still aren’t granted leave for mental health issues in the same way they would be if they were experiencing physical symptoms. Yet, studies show that companies that invest in the mental health of their employees see higher productivity and retention rates. 

“Employers should stop looking down upon emotional expression or viewing terms such as ‘emotional’ or ‘sensitive’ as wrong or incompatible with the workplace.”

Rachel Hammerton, Director of Psychotherapy & Gabriella Gordon, Director of Recruitment,
Spark Lifecare

With work-related stress at a high, it can be difficult for employees to give and receive feedback, especially surrounding a topic as hot as gender bias. Keeping in mind that the whole world has a lot to worry about at the moment, it’s important to be an open and empathetic leader when it comes to receiving feedback around bias. 

“Don’t wallow in feelings of guilt or embarrassment if you realize your company has not been acting equitably. Instead, keep it R.E.A.L.: Receive the feedback; Explore the behavior; Adjust your practices; Lead by example.”

Jewel von Kempf, Head of People,
Coinme

Embracing equal pay 

We all know that women are paid less than men. On a global level, this is due to various factors such as women working in industries that are generally lower salaried than men, as well as women having rockier paths to leadership. That said, unequal pay for equal work is still happening in the US and other countries.

What employers should start doing:

Discussing finances is taboo in many cultures. But when it comes to pay gaps, the lack of conversation can be devastating. In fact, transparency around pay has been shown to completely eliminate unintentional bias when it comes to salaries. Research shows that women who agree that pay is transparent at their organization earn between $1 and $1.01 on average for every $1 a man earns.

“Open compensation frameworks, and structured performance calibrations are two crucial tools you need to build in order to promote and recognize fairly based on outputs.”

Jessica Zwaan, COO,
Whereby

Creating a salary framework and coaching hiring managers to provide transparency around how workers are salaried is a great way to combat the pay gap starting from the questions you ask in an interview and leading all the way through to the way you advance and promote your people. With the well-established fact that men are significantly more likely to negotiate their salaries than women, the burden of compensation bias falls on employers to fix.

“It’s well known that women tend to be less comfortable and skilled at negotiating their salary.”

Sarah Corboliou, Employee Success,
Unito 

What employers should keep doing:

When women feel empowered at work, they stay. Part of closing the pay gap is ensuring that women have equal opportunities when it comes to career advancement within your company. While women are reportedly less likely to negotiate pay, they are more likely to leave a job in order to find another that pays better or offers greater flexibility

“Keep promoting women within your organization and granting greater representation for women throughout your organization.”

Robin Corralez, Global Vice President of Human Resources,
PandaDoc 

At the end of the day, ensuring equal pay for women is going to boil down to an employer’s commitment to making a consistent and conscious effort. And for those who are committed to better and more authentic employer branding, it’s not an area you can afford to overlook.

“Keep tracking your company's gender pay gap and aim to do better than your industry's benchmark.”

Sarah Corboliou, Unito 

What employers should stop doing:

Experts estimate the gender pay gap may take 36 additional years to close after just 12 months of the pandemic. This puts increased pressure on businesses to start changing their practices around salary negotiations and move toward a more standardized process for all employees.

“Awarding raises and additional equity solely because employees ask for them continues to perpetuate the gender pay gap and put women at the disadvantage.”

Carolyn Betts Fleming, Betts  

For employers who embrace equitable pay, data shows the results will be worth it. Closing the pay gap has been shown to have a magnitude of benefits with companies that prioritized equal pay reporting benefits such as attracting top talent, improved overall culture, and more motivated workers.

“Combined with general inequities like stereotypes and the gender pay gap, it’s no wonder women-identified employees are experiencing burnout at higher rates and are leaving the workforce in record numbers.”

Mona Eshaiker, Strategic Advisor & Speaker,
The Rise Journey

Clearing the path to leadership 

Over the past three years, we’ve seen women take a hit when it comes to leadership roles. Between January 2015 and December 2019, the number of women in senior vice president positions increased from 23% to 28%. In 2022, we’re now down to just 24.5%

What employers should start doing: 

The general consensus from our panel is that women need a more supportive environment when it comes to leadership development. Unsurprisingly, the data backs them up. A seminal 2007 study conducted by Gartner and Capital Analytics at Sun Microsystems found that employees enrolled in a mentorship program are more likely to be promoted than those who aren’t. 

“Start matching women employees to mentors, help identify their strengths and offer training programs to help them move into leadership roles.”

Sara Shah, Journ 

But the benefits of mentorship go further than just job promotion. Mentorship can actually help close some of the wage gap. The study also found that 25% of those mentored received a salary increase compared to just 5% of those who did not participate.

“Implement resource groups and mentorship programs that aim to accelerate growth and development for female employees. Create a safe space where women can easily support the growth and success of one another.”

Robin Corralez, PandaDoc 

What employers should keep doing: 

Studies show that women score higher than men in most leadership skills. In fact, scores were higher in important leadership skill sets such as taking initiative, resilience, and displaying high integrity, as well as motivating others. Individual companies, as well as society in general, are finally starting to take note of the real value women bring to the workforce.

“Many organizations today are recognizing that women are better people leaders, and more attuned to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the workplace.”

Nettie Nitzberg, Chief Learning Officer,
Saterman Connect

It’s more important than ever that employers continue to make women in leadership roles a top priority. Diversifying a workplace leads to many benefits, but those benefits can only be realized when women and the rest of the workforce are empowered to make it happen.

“Employers should keep diversifying their workforce, particularly leadership positions.”

Barbara Bolotte, Founder,
Clean Creations

What employers should stop doing: 

Overall, a key element to closing the gender gap in the workforce is to provide equal opportunities for female-identifying employees to take on leadership roles. This is another key action that also has the potential to close the pay gap, increase the amount of women in the workforce, and help fight gender bias as a society. 

“While the workforce is roughly equal parts men and women, fewer women are in executive management or key leadership positions.”

Anne Schmidlin, Labor & Employment Associate,
Eastman & Smith Ltd. 

Today, 91% of the population believes working mothers bring unique and valuable skill sets to leadership roles. So why are women leaders so hard to find? 

With daycare prices for infants averaging up to nearly $21,000 per year, many families are left with the difficult decision of one parent needing to stay home to save money. Providing advancement opportunities and higher salaries to new mothers may help increase retention.

“Employers should stop assuming mothers with young children do not have the desire or capacity to take on leadership roles or promotions.”

Angie Davis, Chair of Labor & Employment,
Baker Donelson

Empowering all parents

Making a human is a big deal! 

Whether you’re a biological parent or adopting, families need time to adjust. And while childfree employees absolutely deserve the same respect in the workplace, data shows that 75% of adults report either already being a parent or wanting to be one in the future. Yet many businesses have historically struggled with helping families transition into parenthood. 

What employers should start doing:

Studies show there’s “no measurable effect” on the profits, viability and long-term survival of companies where workers take parental leave after having a child. 

But that doesn’t mean fairer parental benefits aren’t worth your time. The ways in which a company handles parental leave can have a big impact on gender bias across their entire culture. When we offer more time to women than men, we force a gender role on that household, as well as within our own workplace.

“Start encouraging men to take advantage of parental leave so that women who need time off following childbirth are not viewed as stepping back from their careers to have a family.”

Anne Schmidlin, Eastman & Smith

Coming back from maternity leave can be an overwhelming time for new moms. Between worries around childcare, breastfeeding, lack of sleep, and the pressure of getting back up to speed at work, there are many areas where employers could do a better job at supporting new parents.

“Start enforcing company norms, such as childcare, in favor of helping women succeed.” 

Amy Karaman, Founder,
E Woman

What businesses should keep doing: 

Studies show that great parental leave policies increase job satisfaction scores and boost employee productivity and loyalty. Australia is starting to see businesses create gender-neutral parental leave policies, which allow both parents equal time off.

“Keep improving parental leave policies. It is important to regularly revisit and update these policies. Especially now when the cost of living is so high, you should make sure that your policy is a modern one!”

Melissa Kelly, CEO,
Virtual Team Building

During the pandemic, 40% of women with children under 10 years old considered leaving the workforce or downsizing their career. Only 26% of men with children under 10 made the same considerations. Women were also more likely to consider leaving the workforce completely rather than downsizing, whereas men were equally considering both options.

“Employers should keep focused on the needs of women in the workplace.  It became clear through the pandemic that women were forced to decide between work and family and it shouldn’t have to be that way.”

Deanna Baumgardner, Founder & Owner,
Employers Advantage LLC

What businesses should stop doing: 

The hourly wages of mothers are around 5% lower, per child, than the wages of non-mothers. Additionally, mothers make an average of $0.69 for every $1.00 a father makes. This phenomenon is known as “The Mother Penalty”, and makes it extremely difficult for working moms to get ahead. 

“Stop punishing and keeping opportunities from women for having children.”

Amy Karaman, E Woman

It’s a cycle. If we aren’t empowering women to advance their careers, it’s going to be more difficult for them to prioritize going to work as parents, which continues to fuel the bias that mothers need to do both jobs at all times. 

“Employers and people managers should stop assuming that mothers cannot separate their professional work time from their family care time. Stop saying things such as, ‘you must be so busy with work and the kids.’”

Jewel von Kempf, Coinme

Understanding diversity beyond gender identity

While our panelists had plenty to say on gender bias, many of them took a moment to explicitly call out the many diversity issues beyond gender identity.

What businesses should start doing:

With both Latina and Black mothers reporting a higher likelihood of being the breadwinner of the household, as well as being the primary responsible party for household chores and childcare, these women may understably have a more diverse set of needs within the workforce. For example, they may not have the luxury of leaving work to be with their children, and may need more flexibility within their jobs in order to be successful.

“Saying you want gender equity usually equates to improving working conditions for white women, but it doesn’t apply to women of color. ” 

Stacey A. Gordon, Founder & Principal Consultant,
Rework Work

The LGBTQ community also takes a blow when it comes to unintentional bias. LGBTQ women earn an average of $0.87 for every dollar the typical worker earns, while transgendered or nonbinary employees make even less at $0.70 for every dollar. How we speak in job postings, training manuals, etc. has an impact on their satisfaction and success in their roles. 

“Employers should start to remove all pronouns from contracts/ policies/ handbooks. Growing up in the ‘80s, I remember learning to use the default masculine pronoun when gender was not specified.”

Jewel von Kempf, Coinme

What employers should keep doing:

Back in 2003, a study conducted by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission showed that 75% of employees who reported workplace harassment experienced some sort of retaliation. While there isn’t much data out there to confirm whether or not sexual harassment stats have improved since then, many employees still have a fear of speaking out

“Continue the work of allowing an environment where there are no differences because of race, gender, age, and disabilities. Let people work without fear.”

Vasanthi Balasubramanian, CEO,
Origin Learning

No matter which way you look at it, a diverse and psychologically safe workforce is good for business. Key findings in studies show that businesses with more diverse executive suites were 15% more likely to generate above-average profitability. 

“Keep ensuring that DEI hiring is a priority. Everyone wins when the workplace is truly equitable AND when it represents a broad spectrum of ideas.”

Sara Causey, Owner,
Causey Consulting, LLC

What employers should stop doing:

While many employers are making great strides with diversity training, there’s still a long way to go. A recent survey reviewed 279 companies, employing more than 13 million people and found that while more than 90% of the companies said racial diversity “leads to better business results”, only 22% of employees reported seeing racial diversity as a company priority.

"Keep being vigilant, providing feedback and training people on how to be more inclusive. Keep giving more opportunities to women, especially in sectors that have traditionally been male dominated. Keep on encouraging representation of women in your organizations at all levels, not just in entry and mid-level positions. Keep making focused and strategic decisions that encourage mothers, women of color and gender diverse individuals to take a seat at the table. Keep combating prejudice with training, feedback, and awareness."

Hitu Sood, Founder,
HITU HR Solutions

The survey also found that 40% of Black women had their judgment questioned in their area of expertise, compared to only 27% of men. Other reports show that LGBTQ workers of color are confronting burdens of both social stigma and descrimination, facing issues related to education barriers, unequal pay, as well as hiring bias.

“Employers should stop ignoring bad behavior (i.e., sexism, harassment, etc.) just to appease people who are in power and/or top producers. Women should not have to endure this type of behavior to be successful in the workplace. It's traumatic. It's even worse when you consider intersectionality. BIPOC women, women with disabilities, women in the LGBTQIA community, etc. who are too often mistreated based on multiple factors of their identity, not just gender.”

Tamara M. Rasberry, Owner & Principal Consultant,
Rasberry Consulting

At the end of the day, what it all comes down to is education and prioritization. 

If the viewpoints from the experts on the frontlines — and the growing body of evidence that supports them — are anything to go by, the future belongs to the companies that aren’t afraid to prioritize the needs of their people, including their female-identifying employees.

When you’re ready to create a culture that prioritizes genuine diversity, equity and inclusion, Breezy can help. Our visual, candidate-friendly applicant tracking system lets you automatically post your open positions to dozens of leading diversity job boards. And with smart automation (not biased algorithms), you can spend your time screening the right candidates in, rather than blindly filtering out quality candidates.

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