10 ways organisations can support the advancement of women

 According to the most recent research, the advancement of women in the workplace has, at best, stalled. So what can organisations do to get back on track?

1. Start with the culture

Many organisations over-engineer initiatives to improve gender balance. This often manifests as policies and procedures which research shows to be counter-productive and have a negative impact.  

Organisations should focus less on control and more on creating environments which are genuinely egalitarian. This is achieved by modelling appropriate behaviours and embedding good practice.

2. Ask questions!

Don’t assume that you know why women are not advancing in your organisation; reasons can be specific to the culture of individual workplaces. Without insight, you could spend a lot of time and money developing solutions to the wrong problems.

Independent interviews with current and former employees can help build an objective picture of the challenges unique to your organisation.

3. Support fathers

All fathers are entitled to paternity leave and parental leave. However, only a third took paternity leave last year. Hays Ireland’s Gender Diversity Report 2017 found that 26% of both men and women believe fathers don’t take their full entitlement because parental leave is still viewed as the domain of women, yet fathers are no less interested and engaged in their children’s lives. Encouraging fathers to take leave might not do much for your individual organisation, but this is a society-wide issue and by sharing the child-rearing with women, both parents get the opportunity to nurture their family and career.

4. Don’t outsource managers responsibility

A recent survey by the 30% Club found that, as employees progress, they spend increasingly less time with their manager discussing their personal development. Opportunities for career-relevant advice and feedback are being outsourced to mentors or coaches. Women at this stage of their careers receive less career-related advice from their manager than men, by a ratio of 4:1.

While mentors and coaches are invaluable, it is the relationship with their manager that is pivotal to women’s development.

5. Provide access to gender-specific training

This can be a divisive topic, but research shows that women benefit enormously from training specifically created for women. The chance to share common experiences is especially important when discussing sensitive topics such as gender bias or their personal leadership challenges. However, it is important to ensure that this isn’t the only type of development opportunity on offer.

6. Create dress rehearsals

Developing leadership ability takes practice and requires learning from mistakes. With low levels of women in senior roles, those who do succeed have increased visibility. Organisations can create space for women to enhance their leadership skills without being subject to undue scrutiny. Opportunities such as leading projects or deputising for their managers, when coupled with appropriate feedback, can help provide a ‘safe’ space.

7. Reduce the opportunity for unconscious bias

In organisations, even the smallest amount of bias can have significant consequences. Unconscious bias is prevalent in both women and men. The Implicit Bias Test developed at Harvard University offers incredible personal insight.

Training for unconscious bias has proven to be largely ineffective. Until our conditioning changes, the solution is to limit the opportunity for such bias to occur. For example, blind, systematic processes for reviewing job applications will help to eliminate such bias.

8. Monitor where women are in your talent pipeline

The McKinsey Women in the Workplace 2017 report states that, for women, inequality starts at the very first promotion. Women working entry-level jobs are 18% less likely to be promoted than their male peers. This has a dramatic effect on the pipeline as a whole.

Organisations should be attuned to this. It is easier to correct imbalance at earlier stages in the pipeline.

9. Accept that careers are marathons, not sprints

Organisations often place too much emphasis on rapid advancement, leading people to burn out and subsequently leave, particularly when they have competing demands outside of work. Reframing career development as a long-term objective allows both women and men space to increase and to slow their pace as appropriate to their circumstances without being written off.

10. Focus on output, not presenteeism

If accountability and results are what matter, demonstrate this through flexible working arrangements. This would be a benefit to both men and women who have obligations outside of the office.