The recent headlines about sexual harassment in the workplace are a powerful testament to both how prevalent the problem is and how deeply entrenched the culture that enables these behaviors to continue are in our world. 78 percent of female founders have been harassed or know someone who has, and while the bravery and courage of those speaking up is unmatched, there remains significant variance in how companies and leaders support victims.
But with the proliferation of claims and the focus on the problem, it's easy to lose track of the fact that the goal long-term for companies should go above and beyond keeping all employees safe, and instead create a work environment where women can grow and thrive. Below I've outlined a few key ways your company can become a great place to work for women, regardless of size, stage, or industry.
Make Recruiting Female Leaders a Priority: If you don't have as many senior women in your company as you'd like, you're not alone. Women represent just 25 percent of senior leadership positions in companies. So rather than just lamenting your current state, create a plan to change the ratio over time and share it with your employees. Not sure where to start? Simply set a goal to spend the next month meeting with ten female leaders in your industry you don't already know to learn from them, get to know them, and get their perspective. If nothing else, you'll have 10 new leaders to learn from long-term.
Update Your Policies: You can't expect to meaningfully change your ability to recruit, retain, and grow top female employees if you don't have policies that reflect an emphasis on gender equality. If you don't have a policy to protect employees from harassment in the workplace, create and publish one now. But don't stop there---check your maternity leave policy, your approach to flexible work and work-life balance, and your funding for tuition reimbursement, to name a few options. Your benefits reflect what and who you value as a company--take the time to revisit and update them as a team to send a message to your company and your future and current employees on what you value.
Align on and Market How You'll Help Women Grow: It's not enough to attract more women to your company; you then have to decide how you're going to support their growth. At Wyndham Hotels, what started as an effort to protect female travelers grew into a company-wide effort to support and grow female leaders, so a customer-facing endeavor helped spark an organization-wide movement. Data shows that sponsorship by male executives can be more powerful and transformative than mentorship, so identify mechanisms for male and female leaders alike to actively sponsor rising female stars. Regardless of the path you choose, making an internal and external commitment to helping women within your company learn and grow sets a strong tone to your employees that you won't just talk about moving the needle, but rather will actually put time, energy, and effort toward making an impact.
If you've been waiting to move the needle on gender diversity in your company, wait no longer. There's no better time than now to talk about how you're going to recruit, retain, and grow top female leaders. Listen to what your employees value, pay attention to the processes and policies that drive your business decisions and examine ways in which those policies could be improved to address gender inclusiveness as an objective, and find ways to engage your entire leadership team in the conversation and associated action plan. Your business and your brand will thank you later.