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Businesses need to convince women in much greater numbers to join, stay and progress through their organisations. This is especially true in the UK following its decision to leave the EU and possibly curb immigration, thereby shrinking the available talent pool. Grand corporate gestures do not work, says Amanda Flint, principal at Mercer, the consulting group.
Here she offers tips on bringing about a real and lasting change.
Leadership and commitment — Men as well as women need to show commitment to achieving gender diversity. This means exemplary behaviour at the top. For example, leaders could mentor junior women, make sure women have a voice and challenge unconscious assumptions about men and women. Leaders then need to ensure this approach extends throughout the organisation. This can be done by accounting for diversity when evaluating all layers of management.
Build a pipeline — Decisions made early in a woman’s career shape her destiny. Leaders need to ensure women are progressing in equal numbers to men throughout the organisation. They should be asking what they can do to address gaps. Concentrating on hiring at the top might avoid adverse media attention but it is an ineffective short-term fix.
Performance and promotion — Does your company review performance ratings and promotions by gender to spot differences? If there are differences, why have they arisen? It may be that a review of job design and evaluation could help to ensure that women’s talents and abilities are evaluated properly. Leadership competencies in evaluating performance may also need to be reviewed.
Flexible working — If all part-time workers are women with small children, part-time work is more likely to become a career-stunting move. Flexible working needs to be well-managed and promoted as positive for men and women. The workforce and management need to perceive it as culturally acceptable to work flexibly. Lead from the top — leave early on a Wednesday for choir practice or attend a school event, for example. Just as importantly, encourage others to do the same.
Pay equity process — Governments, academics and campaigners are stressing the importance of employers being more open about what they pay women compared to men. Companies need to consider the potential impact of this increased pressure and of possible new government rules and guidelines. If women perceive that your organisation is discriminating against them on pay, they may quietly leave for competitors they see as having a fairer pay process.
International assignments — Those who do not experience international assignments are often disqualified from future career advancement. Never assume a women does not want to be considered for an overseas post just because she has children. To include staff for whom it may be difficult to accept an overseas posting, consider short term assignments, split-base assignments or assignments with an international remit.
Support unique health and wealth needs — Women over 45 often grapple not only with their own health problems, but also with those of their parents and children. This can be stressful and distracting. Support and assistance from the organisation and a sympathetic ear from management can be very effective.
Return to work — Many companies lose discouraged mothers to competitors and self-employment. Good maternity leave processes help reduce this. Employers who get it right allow new mothers to keep in touch while they are away; help them phase back into work; encourage them to pursue their careers and show them that they are valued through giving them career-boosting opportunities, such as training and mentoring.