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Another Voice: How to level the gender playing field in business

By Gary Quenneville

We marked International Women’s Day on March 8, a day to celebrate achievement but also continue working toward gender balance.

Gender diversity is critical to any company’s success – particularly when it comes to leadership roles. A recent study found companies with more women in board positions had a 66 percent higher return on investment compared to companies with fewer women.

In 2018, a record 248 women were appointed board directors at some of the most prominent U.S. companies, but they make up just 31 percent of total new board directors selected last year. Also, women are still earning 77.9 cents for every dollar earned by men. The main cause for a gender gap in pay is not necessarily that men are paid more, but they’re more likely to be promoted faster because they have fewer obstacles to overcome.

It’s essential for existing leaders to create a workplace environment that removes unconscious bias. Here are three best practices to instill an equal gender playing field.

Foster open communication: Research shows when women are exposed to female role models and leaders, they are more likely to endorse other women who are well suited for leadership roles.

With more women entering the workforce, it’s important for all employees to be comfortable in order to build trust. Even more, the advice, mentorship and feedback that a female leader shares with those around her can have an impact on generations of workers to come.

Adjust rigid policies to address employee needs: Women now outnumber men on college campuses nationwide and represent more than half of the U.S. workforce. Thirty six percent of businesses are women-owned. However, there’s still progress to be made.

Currently, by midcareer, men are 70 percent more likely than women to be in executive positions, in many cases a result of external factors, such as the impact of traditional familial roles. Women are five times more likely than men to take extended absences from work for child rearing and the parenting that follows. Consider allowing work from home or flex hours to help women better balance their two full-time jobs as a mother and employee.

Flip the script on traditional HR practices: Whether business leaders admit it or not, unconscious bias exists and factors into procedures like hiring and promoting. In an effort to close the gap between women and men in more senior roles, consider reviewing candidates blind. When you remove identification factors such as a person’s name, you are required to be more objective when evaluating skill, knowledge and potential to succeed.

Gary Quenneville is a regional sales executive for KeyBank.

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