Three Steps Your Company Can Take To Boost Gender Diversity
By Natasha Engan, Senior Vice President of Global Consulting, Deltek
And a look at how women can take action to drive their careers
About 10 years ago, I took on my first executive role, thanks to the sponsorship of a mentor.
Like many women, I can be hesitant to apply for career opportunities if I don’t know that I have 100 percent of the required skills and experience. This particular position was a stretch, involving moving from managing 150 people to more than 600 in a different area of the business. But my manager believed in me and encouraged me to challenge myself—and I want to make it possible for more women in technology to do the same.
In my experience as a leader, attracting and retaining talented women is critical not just for maintaining a positive and healthy culture, but for promoting diversity of thought and driving overall team results. Yet, although women represent more than 50 percent of college graduates today, significant gender inequality still exists in the workplace.
At the top, women CEOs lead less than five percent of Fortune 500 companies; similarly, in overall management, women hold less than 50 percent of management roles across 12 major industries. The bright spots where women thrive are in healthcare, non-profits and education, in which women hold almost 40 percent of leadership roles. Although change is slowly happening—for example, Heineken USA recently named Maggie Timoney as CEO, making her the first woman to lead a major U.S. beer supplier—there is plenty of work to be done to boost gender diversity across the board in all industries.
Companies that have women in leadership typically have better earnings. According to a recent Forbes article, a study by the University of California, Davis, found that among the 25 firms with the highest percentage of women executives and board members, median returns on assets and equity in 2015 were at least 74 percent higher than among the overall group of companies surveyed.
We have a responsibility to help women grow professionally. Knowing that gender diversity benefits a business, what steps can your company take to recruit and retain greater numbers of qualified, talented women?
Step One: Understand How Female Talent Searches for New Job Opportunities
If you think that women and men look for work in the same way, think again. In my experience, women are more likely to use online job reviews and rely on personal relationships to find employer information and secure new jobs. Women are less likely than men to use mainstream recruiting sites, making female talent more difficult to reach.
I have seen many women (including myself) choose not to apply or interview for a new opportunity because they do not meet 100 percent of the job requirements. At the same time, men often go after opportunities where they fit 70 percent of the job description and feel confident that they will figure out the other 30 percent as they go. Encourage your top female talent to take stretch assignments or apply for growth opportunities that are outside of their comfort zones.
Step Two: Openly Address Work-Life Balance
To ensure that employees aren’t leaving the workplace because of punishing hours or work rules, employers should give them more control over their schedules and prioritize delivering results over logging time in the office. A well-articulated flexibility policy can be a real asset to an employer looking to recruit the best talent. This is a key difference-maker for companies like Deltek that offer employees a healthy work-life balance.
Also critical: encourage female managers to stay engaged and communicate their needs through life-changing events. Personally, it has been a challenge for me to stay in leadership through major life transitions such as having children, managing aging family members, and juggling the responsibilities of a two-parent working family where I own the majority of childcare and household responsibilities.
Step Three: Make Sure Everyone Has Access to Mentors
Women consistently report less access to senior leadership than their male peers. Consider formal programs or informal options to build a mentoring infrastructure at your company. Don’t insist on same-sex matches; if your firm has few senior women, they will be spread too thin and junior women will lose out. Mentors should coach their protégées on how to highlight key accomplishments and ask for a raise.
In my career, I personally benefit from mentors and mentees. My mentors help me navigate challenging employee situations, client issues, internal politics, and hiring decisions. Most notably, as I mentioned earlier, my first executive opportunity occurred when one of my mentors advocated for me with the hiring executive. And when I mentor other women, I often learn new skills, such as how to better leverage social media and communicate more effectively. The role of mentor/mentee benefits both parties involved.
At Deltek, we have a formal mentorship program for employees and we also encourage informal mentoring relationships. Both are effective. Ultimately, success depends on an open, honest relationship and candid two-way communication.
Taking Action: How Women Can Drive Their Careers
But it’s not just up to employers—it’s also up to women in the workplace to seek out opportunities and advance their careers. Here are three ways that women can take action regardless of their companies’ diversity initiatives:
- Leverage technology to travel less and better balance personal and professional time.
- Be proactive about seeking out interactions with your company’s leadership. Ask for skip-level meetings. Own your career and don’t be afraid to reach out!
- Seek out male mentors, sponsors and allies and draw them into supporting you and your career.
Ultimately, diverse management ranks are essential to showing that a company takes gender equality seriously. Take some time to consider whether your management team composition reflects your company’s culture and priorities, and what both you and your company can do to create more opportunities for women in the workplace.
About the Author
As Deltek's Senior Vice President of Global Consulting, Natasha Engan is responsible for leading the company’s services business, Deltek Global Consulting. A 20+ year veteran of the software and services business, Natasha has a strong background in managing cross-functional, customer-facing teams in a global workforce. Connect with Natasha Engan on LinkedIn.
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