Decades of studies have shown that diverse leadership teams outperform on virtually every business metric. We know that increased representation of women on C-suites and boards boost profits and company valuations. We know that productivity almost doubles when a company eliminates gender discrimination. We know the underutilisation of women in the workforce costs the global economy $7 trillion each year.
And, we know that change isn’t happening fast enough.
Change is in the air
In 2024, smart organisations are actively working on solutions to their pipeline problems. Fortunately, there are a lot of best practices we can all embrace to accelerate change. In Powrsuit fashion, we’ve broken each one down into small, achievable actions that can be kicked off while we’re all still feeling that New Year motivation #noexcuses 💪
1. Hire for diversity
Leaders are usually confident in their ability to make objective hiring decisions, but mirrortocracy reflects a different reality. It’s not our fault – our brains can only process a tiny fraction of the information they’re presented with, so they resort to cognitive shortcuts. These shortcuts enable us to make decisions but also mean bias is baked into every one of them.
Did one of your mental shortcuts just categorise hiring discrimination as a ‘men’s issue’? Check your bias because women struggle with it, too. Just like men, women show a preference for male candidates at every step in the recruitment process.
The antidote to unconscious bias? Make it conscious
Self-awareness and understanding are a must for any organisation that wants to address its natural preference to reproduce itself in its own image. Diversity programmes aren’t enough – without buy-in from participants, they make the situation worse. Even if participants are willing, one-and-done training is as effective as a one-off yoga class.
Hiring managers should lead by example and continually practice busting their biases. If you don’t think you have any, then you probably have work to do! A quick test: What traits immediately come to mind when you see the words ‘confidence’, ‘bossy’ and ‘leader’?
There are well-researched behavioural differences between genders and ethnicities, and you may be unintentionally missing top talent simply because you don’t understand them. Google is your friend here.
2. Fix the broken rung
Were you passed over for a promotion in the early days? We hate to break it to you, but that one event has likely continued to hold you back.
The biggest obstacle to women’s advancement is the “broken rung” – the very first step from entry-level to a management position. For every 100 men who secure a promotion, only 72 women do. As a result, men hold almost twice as many manager-level roles as women. Rinse and repeat up the ladder, and it’s no wonder women only make up around 10% of c-suite roles.🪜
Women are often unconsciously held to a different standard; men are judged on potential, while women only advance if they have a strong track record. The principles to remove discrimination from the hiring process also apply to internal candidate progression. At Powrsuit, we love the saying ‘hire for passion, train for skill’ (unless you’re our brain surgeon, of course).
3. Boost learning and development opportunities
Companies that invest in their employees retain top talent more easily than those that don’t. That might explain why professional development is shifting from a ‘nice-to-have’ to a ‘need-to-have’.
While everyone deserves training, women need additional support to address our unique career challenges – from those sneaky biases to microaggressions and juggling the household load. We’ve met over 100 Powrsession participants, and it’s shocking how alone and overwhelmed many of them feel – even though they’re surrounded by women experiencing the exact same thing. Equip women with tools to navigate these challenges or risk losing them to burnout.
But simply offering professional development still may not be enough. Confusion around budget and access is rife within the Powrsuit community. In our December survey, more than 10% of respondents admitted they don’t know the dollar amount available to them, and a third haven’t used any budget at all this year.
4. Create a true meritocracy
Writing meeting minutes, organising social events, serving on DEI committees, and shopping for gifts. Sound familiar? These tasks are important to the smooth running of an organisation, but they go unrewarded and unrecognised when it comes to performance reviews and promotions.
Working women accept ‘non-promotable work’ as just part of the job. And we do a lot more of it – up to 200 more hours each year (a whole month’s worth of dead-end tasks).
What about initiatives that disproportionally support women – think flexible and hybrid work? Well, many are rolling them back. Hybrid policies increase the number of women in full-time work, so reconsidering the return-to-the-office movement might be one of the most powrful things decision-makers can do.
The same goes for networking: consider the needs of all employees when it comes to unofficial team-building activities. If facetime is important, then so are timing and activities. And health: men and women operate on different hormonal cycles, so the standard 9-5 workday can disadvantage women – and that’s before you consider the challenges posed by periods and menopause.
True meritocracies require an even playing field. Given most modern workplaces were designed for men with a wife at home, there’s still plenty of ground to clear.
- Catch yourself when you assign non-promotable tasks – can it be made fairer?
- Include ‘critical to the organisation work’ in role responsibilities and formally recognised it.
- Train leaders on menopause and periods.
- Where possible, advocate for flexible work.
- Plan inclusive socialising opportunities.
5. Solve your pay equity problem
You know about the gender pay gap; worldwide, women only make 77 cents for every dollar men earn – with The Nordic Region and New Zealand considered the most gender-equal, closing in on 90 cents. Lower salaries, alongside other gendered financial setbacks (caregiving, divorce), mean women risk missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time they retire.
We are beating a dead horse on pay equity now; a diverse talent pool improves financial performance, and top talent should be paid what they’re worth. In recent years, women have been leaving leadership roles at the highest rates ever as they realise on mass that the cost/benefit equation doesn’t stack up for them anymore.
It’s 2024, and it’s time to get this one right.
- Sign up to pay transparency registers, like the one in NZ called Mind the Gap.
- Conduct a pay equity audit (google the many PEA options!) to assess gaps – and then fix them.
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