Although Congress declared March National Women's History Month 30 years ago, it only seems to have entered the national consciousness of late.
When I joined the public relations industry shortly after Southern forces had bombarded Fort Sumter, there wasn't a single female CEO among the top 50 PR firms! Today, according to a leading industry trade publication, 17 of the 50 largest PR firms are female-led.
Attracting, engaging and supporting bright, talented women is no longer the nice thing to do, it's the smart thing to do. Countless surveys have proved women bring numerous benefits to the workplace, including increased productivity, enhanced morale and better top and bottom-line results.
But it hasn't happened fast enough.
I began my firm, ranked us among the nation's Top 100 employers for women.Peppercomm, 21 years ago. Today, I'm proud to report 60 percent of our executive management team is female. I'm even prouder to report that Fortune Magazine
So, what are the qualities needed to become recognized as a great place for women to work?
I asked three top female executives to share their best practices with Inc.com readers.
Here's Peppercomm's Culture Czar, Sara Whitman:
1.) Allow women to build the lives and career paths they want. "It's critical you provide your female employees with the flexibility to manage their professional lives (with no guilt attached)," she said. As long as each contributes, you should incentivize a single, 26-year-old who prefers a fast-paced week that may include several long nights in the exact same way you would a mom who logs the same amount of time, but needs to do so from home several days a week. "That," says Whitman, "creates a foundation of security and trust that drives every female employee to give her best."
2.) Promote the best of the best and empower those women to become role models. Just because a woman is promoted to a senior rank, it doesn't mean her boss has empowered her to serve as a role model to the younger females in your organization.
If that's the case, change it immediately. "As you do," says Whitman, "you'll see more and more of your junior female employees step up and contribute more ideas. You'll also witness far stronger and more meaningful bonds being forged between experienced and less seasoned women. That'll translate to enhanced morale, greater productivity, and increased bottom-line results.
I next turned to Kathy Gilbert, Founding Board member of Women in Automotive and Director of Sales and Business Development at CDK Global, who provided three other pieces of advice:
3.) Encourage their involvement in networking. In her industry, Gilbert strongly supports her female employees and suggests they join AND become involved organizations such as the American Business Women's Association, the National Association of Professional Women or even a MeetUp for Young Professional Women.
Gilbert also recommends collaborating with a strategic charity that promotes women's causes, such as technology education through ChickTech and The Society of Women Engineers or even supporting a broader global cause like Every Mother Counts.
Since not all of your employees can attend trade group or association events during the day, Gilbert says you should free-up their schedules while still supporting their work/life balance.
4.) Reassess your benefits. Many companies offer benefits targeted at women that, says Gilbert, are often cookie-cutter and not reflective of what today's woman wants. In addition to personalizing each woman's work/life balance, examine professional development programs, paid time-off to volunteer at local charitable events and an experiential sabbatical that places a special focus on women.
5.) Show them the way. Gilbert says it's essential to commit to fair, balanced hiring and employment opportunities. CDK Global created a women's group called EMPOWER, a global resource group providing the tools for women at CDK to advance their careers and drive total business performance.
Gilbert was quick to point out that female-friendly initiatives are especially important in male-dominated industries such as automotive. CDK Global boasts the highest percent of women employees in their sector, a fact that will become increasingly important as the corporation competes for the best and brightest female college graduates.
Last, but not least, I had the opportunity to speak with Carolyn Hosna, senior corporate director of marketing of White Lodging and founder of WL Women. She added these two gems:
6.) Call time out. Hosna says it's essential that female executives take a step away from their day-to-day work and mentor their juniors. WL Women, for example, offers a date, time and place for female employees of all levels to talk about issues, trends, recruitment and advancement.
7.) Put it in writing. Women's initiatives aren't a 'sometime' thing. Hosna urges entrepreneurs everywhere to take the time and make sure all employees ALWAYS feel welcomed, appreciated and included. "WL Women truly felt solidified once the company recognized the group, formalized it and routinely included it in corporate messaging,"' summarized Hosna.
So, what are you waiting for? There are still 16 days left in March to make a difference (and help the cause of women while helping the cause of your business as well).