The World Economic Forum has estimated that it will take 208 years for women to gain true equality in the U.S. To decrease that timeline, campaigns like Melinda Gates' Equality Can't Wait are prompting people to take action, rather than just continuing to point out the problem. As the co-founder of a female-focused company, I often think about how to focus on equality from a leadership perspective as well.
Women's Equality Day on August 26th is an excellent opportunity to continue talking about how to achieve true equality for women at work--and in society at large. But talking will only get us so far. Without urgency and action, nothing is going to change.
When it comes to equality in the workplace, I know for a fact that plenty of companies want to become more diverse and offer more opportunities to people from a variety of backgrounds. But if you don't make diversity a goal, then it won't happen. You won't see change unless you tell people it's a metric to measure.
If you truly want your company to become more diverse, then you need to take tangible actions. Here's where to start:
It's more difficult to stop and think about how you can improve a process than to keep doing what you've always been doing.
Hiring is a great example. If your startup only hired men for its first 10 job openings, then you're probably going to hire men for the next 10. The key is to actively look for your own biases, rather than assume it's just coincidence that everyone looks the same and comes from a specific background.
Trust me, I know that my own network is full of people like me--women from New York and San Francisco who went to certain schools and have similar work experiences. But creating a diverse organization is about recognizing that fact and then actively working to get outside of your network.
For instance, at ThirdLove, we've always had more women than men on the team. While our demographic will always skew that way, we do believe gender diversity helps balance the environment and the culture. So when considering candidates for a position, we take a moment stop and ask ourselves, "Have we been open to people of a certain gender, age, or ethnic background? Do we even have that type of person in our pipeline?"
If the answer is no, we expand our efforts to bring in more diverse candidates.
Start conversations at work.
Due to limited budgets, startups generally don't often think about hiring for diversity of age, ethnic background, or gender until they've grown.
To combat that norm, one method you can take from Gates' campaign is to start conversations at work. If you look around the office and realize that your company skews young, white, or male, you should question that. Why aren't there more women in leadership roles? Why aren't certain demographics represented on your team? Does your company offer paid parental leave? If not, why?
I realize that a small company can't tackle all of this at once. At ThirdLove, we now offer four months of maternity leave and six weeks of paternity leave. As we've grown and gained more resources, we've increased the amount of leave. And our policies will continue to evolve as we continue to scale.
Talking about diversity--and what policies or practices can contribute to it at every stage--is crucial to affecting real change.
Create groups and support networks.
Hiring for diversity is a great step forward, but it's not the final step. Even if you hire a diverse team, you still need to make sure they're supported.
According to the Equality Can't Wait website and research in the Harvard Business Review, women are much less likely to have what they call a "sponsor" at work. In this sense, a sponsor is analogous to a mentor--someone who actively advises and helps you on the road to success.
But this support doesn't have to be a formal mentorship. At ThirdLove, some of the moms on our team formed a group to support each other and talk about balancing family, kids, work, and everything else life throws at them.
There's always work to be done making sure that everyone in your office is supported and has access to the same networks and opportunities as everyone else.
Give to organizations that assist diverse groups.
Creating a diverse work environment within your own company is an admirable goal. But if you want to help make a larger change worldwide, then you should look into extending your support beyond your company or customers.
For instance, our team partners with the bra donation program "I Support The Girls" as a way to help women in a basic, but also very tangible, way. Even if you don't make a product that can be donated, money talks. There are hundreds of organizations in the U.S. that support women and minorities, so you don't have to search across continents to find ways to use donations effectively.
Taking action is what will get us to equality. It doesn't matter if it's donating to cause that promotes equality or reexamining your hiring and promotion practices--it just needs to happen. And there's no day like today to start.