7 Leaders Weigh In on How Companies Can Better Support Women in the Workplace

women in the workplace

According to a report from the World Bank, women still face huge inequalities worldwide. They spend between 2 to 10 more hours a day than men caring for children, the elderly or the sick. And they earn, on average, about 60% to 75% of men’s wages. If the pay gap between men and women were to close, the world’s GDP could grow by $12 trillion by 2025. Yet in 100 countries, laws still exist that restrict the type of work women can do.

This begs the question on International Women’s Day, how can companies support more women in the workplace? And what needs to be done to enable women to succeed more in their careers? We turned to a power lineup of female executives who chimed in to find out.

Raena Saddler, VP of People & Managing Director at Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation

Advice from Raena: “It’s important for companies to understand that women are not all having the same experience at work. Companies should design and implement solutions that directly address the biases that inform our workplace cultures and impact women’s lives. Five years of LeanIn.Org’s research shows that women with disabilities, lesbian and bisexual women, and women of color are having distinct — and largely worse — experiences than women overall. They face more barriers to advancement, get less support from managers, face more micro-aggressions, and receive less sponsorship. Companies can use our Women in the Workplace report to create a toolkit that drives solutions for D&I leaders around the world.”

>> Lean In has resources this International Women’s Day to level the playing field through #EachforEqual. One easy activity to do is host a turn-key hour-long company event on International Women’s Day at your organization.

Romy Newman, President & Co-Founder at FairyGodBoss

Advice from Romy: “In my opinion, the single greatest factor that impedes greater gender diversity is promotion standards. As McKinsey & Co found, when considering promotions, men are evaluated based on potential while women are evaluated based on performance. These unequal standards lead to the extremely skewed management structure that we see in most workplaces — where entry level ranks are split 50/50 men/women, but management ranks are dominated by men. The results of this discrepancy become extreme: There were more men named Jeffrey on Fortune 500 CEOs last year than there were women in total. 

So to me, the number one thing companies can do this year to advance gender equality is to change the way that they evaluate women for promotions — ensuring that they are on a level playing field.”

>> See how Lever tailors their job descriptions to hire for potential in our guide, Rethinking the Job Description.

Lauri Metrose, EVP, Communications at CBS Television Studios

Advice from Lauri: “Companies need to lead by example. Firstly, women need to be in visible leadership positions. Also, companies need to create an inclusive culture that nurtures and provides growth opportunities for employees. Opportunities, mentorship, empowerment, and support are the keys to success, which is why we created Eye Speak, a CBS initiative to promote female empowerment and help develop the next generation of leaders through insight and opportunities.”

>> To learn more about Eye Speak, check out the awesome things CBS is doing to support female empowerment here and see how you can empower more females into leadership within your organizations.

Katee Van Horn, CEO at VH Included

Advice from Katee: “Organizations need to take the time to teach leaders how to give effective and actionable feedback to everyone. Lack of valuable feedback leaves women not knowing what they need to improve and hinders their ability to change and improve. If women receive frequent, specific, and actionable feedback, they are able to improve their performance and move up in the organization. Research done by VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab at Stanford University has confirmed that vague feedback is holding women back in the workplace.  

Also, stop asking for previous salary information from candidates when hiring for a new role. Determine what the role pays and use that as a guideline for what the person who is hired is paid, regardless of their gender. Women carry baggage from every single job and lose millions of dollars over their career because we are paying them based on their previous salary.”

>> Instead of talking about salary, see 10 things your candidates are seeking other than salary when they evaluate their next job opportunity.

Amy McKee, Senior Executive Search Consultant at Summit Search

Advice from Amy: “Companies that offer flexible work environments, including work from home options, are appealing to women who choose to have both a career and children. There are so many technology options available that connect teams virtually, so working in an office every day isn’t critical to promote collaboration. Managers should set clear goals and focus on results versus where employees are sitting each day. Companies should encourage men to take paternity leave. It’s not only a great benefit for men, but also takes some of the stress off of working women after the birth of a child. It’s important that the company culture supports this benefit for men. Also, opportunities for an extended maternity leave, if desired, is an attractive benefit.”

Kirsten Davidson, Senior Partner at Employera

Advice from Kirsten: “Across the board, more companies are interested in increasing the balance of men and women in senior roles in order to ensure a diversity of experiences and perspectives and improve bottom line results. But, creating balance at the top requires balance at every level. According to Catalyst, among the S&P 500, women represent 44.7% of the total workforce. Yet, only 26.5% hold “executive/senior-level officials and managers” titles and only 5% hold the CEO spot. One of the most important things companies can do for themselves and for women is to make a conscious effort to dramatically increase their efforts to identify and develop high-potential women in their organization at the entry and middle levels. In order for women to grow into leadership positions, they need the exposure and experience necessary to be considered for promotions all the way up the ladder.”

Sarah Nahm, CEO at Lever

Advice from Sarah: “Create an environment that is safe for women to speak up and feel heard. Inclusion drives business efforts, helping employees feel safe to take risks when needed to grow or innovate. The benefits of physiologically safe environments are manifold, according to one Harvard study, including that it allows ‘people [to] believe that if they make a well-intentioned mistake, others will not think less of them for it, nor will they resent or penalize them for asking for help, information, or feedback.’ The result? More innovation and trust. 

It’s incredibly exciting that exponentially more organizations are focusing on diversity in their hiring efforts compared to a decade ago. But it’s time for inclusion to catch fire, as well. Building an inclusive work environment makes good business sense. You want every new hire to be successful, so that they are productive and retentive, and inclusion is about making the parameters for success wider and wider.

Failing to deliver on inclusion will be increasingly likely to result in employee churn. D&I is top-of-mind for the next generation workforce. And if they’re not seeing organizations ‘walk the walk,’ they’ll be the ones walking.”

Final thoughts: How companies can support more women in the workplace

Companies are beginning to understand the power of unlocking inclusion and walking the walk within their organization. It’s a flywheel that shows candidates the type of future you’re hoping to create. It starts with attracting a diverse pipeline of qualified talent, a consistent interview process to eliminate any bias, and then ongoing fair practices throughout the employee lifecycle, like how you handle performance reviews and promotions. It’s an exciting time for women in the workplace and we hope these resources inspire you to have a happy International Women’s Day at your company.

To learn more about how you can track and improve your D&I goals, download our Diversity Scorecard and start measuring your progress in key areas today!