After the 2018 midterms, women represented a record breaking 23 percent of Congress. That's good progress, especially given U.S. history, but women are still largely underrepresented.

We see something similar in the business world. According to a 2018 20-First Gender Balance report, just 22 percent  of executives at the top 20 U.S. companies are women.

Researchers are still working out the exact impacts of more diverse leadership teams, but have made some promising connections. For instance, a 2016 study from the Peterson Institute for International Economics shows that there's a positive correlation between women in leadership positions and firm size. Researchers suggested that the presence of women in corporate leadership positions may improve firm performance.

These findings, as well as the midterm momentum, serve as reminders that women get things done. They also teach important lessons about diversity in the workplace and how you can encourage it in your company. Here are some of those lessons.

Make sure women know they have opportunities for involvement and growth.

Recent research by Meghan Christina McLean at the University of Rutgers found that Impostor Syndrome, the belief that one's own high achievements are not valid, negatively affects women's pursuit of success. She concluded that "imposterism was especially detrimental to women's pursuit of a graduate degree, but only when they faced negative feedback about their potential."

McLean showed that because of this environment, women may tend to be less likely to take active steps towards advancing their careers. Ask yourself, are you offering female employees opportunities for growth at your company, and do they know about it?

A 2018 PPRI report showed that more young women (age 15-24) are now donating and attending political rallies than ever before. A quarter (25 percent) of young women said they donated to a campaign or cause they believe in, compared to young men (18 percent). 22 percent of young women said they attended a political rally. With these trends and a greater recognition that they can put money toward causes they care about, women have strengthened their voice in the political world.

Your office should mirror this. Does everyone know when they can volunteer for new responsibilities? Are you encouraging women to step into new roles? Are you keeping an eye out for what kinds of tasks each employee excels at or wants to try?

I'm reminded of a colleague who keeps a position or duty "open" until he has at least one female candidate to discuss. The important point here is that if you make the opportunities available, women will come.

Know that diversity will probably make your company more profitable.

I've noticed that teams operate more effectively and creatively when there's a diverse skill set at the table. Different points of view help company leaders prepare for situations they may not have thought of themselves.

For example, one of the startups I worked for years ago was marketing a product toward women. I had not considered how new mothers would see our efforts until a female team member spoke up. This perspective was one of many that altered our strategy. It helped us avoid messaging that would be perceived as negative and brought in new customers, which boosted our bottom line.

Provide role models and mentorship.

A huge inspiration for the increase in women running for office has been the emergence of prominent political figures like recently-elected New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or California Senator Kamala Harris.

A 2015 study from The Annual Review of Political Science found that there's a positive correlation between the number of women in a state legislature and the number of future women in that state who engage in political discussions and activities.

Duplicate this "role model effect" in your office. A ScienceDirect 2018 study found that mentorship advances women's career outcomes. Put women in positions where they can serve as role models. Promote your current female role models. Encourage them to step up.

Help younger employees find these mentor-mentee relationships. They don't have to be male to male or female to female. If you're a man, take it upon yourself to mentor female employees. Search out and find an amazing female business leader to mentor you. 

We're long past the days when "traditional mentorship" activities like playing golf or grabbing a beer after work were "just for men." Invite your female employees to such gatherings as well as coffee in the morning or lunch during the workday.

By making a conscious effort to both support and encourage women to excel in the workplace, you'll be able to ride the momentum we see in our government. Be part of a movement that is enabling women to bring more of their knowledge and power to every aspect of society.

Published on: Nov 26, 2018
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