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5 Things Preventing You From Making Real Progress on Gender Diversity

More companies have committed to gender diversity every year from 2015 through 2018, yet this commitment isn’t translating to real change within the workplace.

While women have earned more college degrees than men for some 30 years now, studies show that women (especially those of color) are still underrepresented in the workforce. Worse, progress in this area seems to have stalled. This stagnancy doesn’t only have ethical implementations — it can also affect business growth.

Research suggests that companies with higher gender diversity are more likely to have higher returns and more innovative processes (these benefits are even greater when racial and ethnic diversity is a part of the picture). That’s because an inclusive workplace culture promotes engagement, productivity, and more diverse ideas.

If the benefits of improving gender diversity are so clear and so many companies have publicly committed to this goal, why has progress slowed to a near standstill? The answer isn’t that companies are lying about their goals; it’s more likely that several factors are going unnoticed and severely undermining their gender diversity efforts.

If your company is dedicated to improving gender diversity in 2019, make sure you’re not doing any of the following five things that can prevent your progress.

Lacking Awareness of Diversity and Inclusivity

A lack of awareness as to what diversity and inclusivity are, and how to accomplish them, may be quietly undermining your best efforts to recruit and welcome women at your organization.

Diversity and inclusivity are two different concepts, and both are essential for a higher female presence at your company. Diversity is a measurable number that reflects fair representation — say 50/50 for gender or a specific percentage of people of color.

Inclusivity is more complex: it refers to how employees feel. Do they feel valued, safe, and respected as individuals in the workplace? You must ensure that employees belonging to marginalized groups have the support they need to integrate and succeed at your company. Welcoming women onto the team without treating them like token hires goes a long way towards making your workplace inclusive — but setting that tone is easier said than done, especially if you’re behind on gender diversity.

For starters, it’s hard to attract more women to a workplace if they don’t know anyone’s looking for them. If you’re wondering what’s stalling your gender diversity goals, ask yourself whether the female candidates you’re seeking actually know that you want them. You may have to expand your recruiting grounds to reach more diverse candidates or to use job fairs to better communicate your culture.

A lack of awareness inside the organization is even more detrimental. Everyone at your company must be aware of the importance of inclusivity in the workplace in order to help you make progress. From management to HR to the employees on the floor, make sure your entire team understands how and why the company is committed to gender diversity and inclusivity. You can improve awareness through ongoing business communication, training opportunities, and exemplary executive behavior. This will help change your workplace culture, retain top talent, and empower your current employees to get the word out to potential hires.

Setting Unmanageable Goals

In order for your team to know how you will be making the workplace more inclusive and diverse, you need a concrete plan of action. Setting goals is essential to making progress on gender diversity — provided that the goals make sense for your company. If your staff is aware and on board with improving inclusivity, but you aren’t achieving your goals and milestones, check whether your goals are realistic. Excessively lofty or idealistic goals set you up for failure and kill momentum, while goals that are vague or lack clarity are hard for your company to take action on.

Consider the “SMART” approach to goal setting: goals should be specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time bound. Rather than committing to hiring “more women,” commit to hiring a certain ratio, describe how you’ll do it, and put time limits on your expected milestones to stay motivated and accountable.

Don’t forget you’re not alone — other businesses and organizations are also committed to driving gender diversity in the workplace. Reach out to like-minded organizations, industry associations, unions, and even local women’s groups to help you strengthen your goals and gain new insight.

Once you have determined your SMART goals for 2019, record them and share them with all relevant team members. This will allow you to refer back to the goals and use them as benchmarks for progress this year and in the years to come.

Not Meeting Employee Needs

If you aren’t meeting the needs of your female employees, they are less likely to stick around and far less likely to refer new candidates to your company — steadily offsetting your efforts to hire more women.  

Experts identify five key metrics to workplace gender diversity: recruitment, retention, advancement, representation, and pay. While recruiting more women is part of the solution, it’s only the very first step. Taking care of women after they start working at your company is vital.

In addition to providing equal pay and opportunities for advancement, consider policies that will help women feel more engaged and enthusiastic about staying with your company. The women who already work on your team can be a huge asset in attracting other women, so treating them well is one of the keys to success.

Improving the work-life balance at your company is an effective way of supporting female employees. Studies have shown that women are more likely to prioritize a healthy work-life balance when selecting a job than men are. Whether due to family obligations or other differences in lifestyle choices, workplaces that exercise a degree of flexibility in scheduling, time off, or work hours can help attract women to your company.

Overlooking Employee Mistreatment

In order to create a more gender-diverse company, it’s important to have a zero-tolerance policy on all forms of mistreatment and to enforce it. Your existing female employees can be your greatest advocates in recruiting more female employees; but if they feel mistreated, you’ve not only lost potentially strong advocates — you can also damage your company’s reputation.

Overt sexism is one kind of mistreatment female employees might be subjected to, but there are also more subtle kinds that you need to watch for. “Microaggressions” describe everyday, often unintentional, forms of sexism that can be equally hurtful. Examples of microaggressions can include:

  • assuming someone’s gender or sexuality
  • talking over a marginalized coworker
  • criticizing women in the workplace for something a man in the same role might be celebrated for
  • making assumptions about someone’s abilities due to their gender or race

Offer ongoing, company-wide training on the different forms of sexism to ensure that your employees are never in any doubt about how to behave toward fellow employees. Create systems to stop mistreatment in its tracks, help support those on the receiving end, and educate the employees at fault. With the proper policies in place to address mistreatment, you can continue to promote gender diversity in the workplace.

Not Having Mentors and Networking Opportunities

If you are making real progress in hiring more women, but they aren’t staying or advancing at your company, it may be due to a lack of mentorship and networking support they need to build their careers. Mentors are priceless resources for people who are new to any industry or company. They can provide smooth transitions, help new hires work through challenging problems, and even open doors for advancement.

Employees often choose to mentor — or be mentored by — someone of the same gender due to a higher likelihood of shared interests. The shortage of women in leadership roles often results in fewer mentorship opportunities for other women, which continues to inhibit female growth in the workplace.

You can combat this vicious cycle by purposefully taking inventory of which existing employees might make good mentors to the different members of your team (male and female). Once you have set up or refined your mentorship program, ensure that all employees have the opportunity to get involved and develop themselves.

Overcoming the Obstacles to Progress

The real danger of the five scenarios above is that they can go unnoticed if you’re not looking for them. They may be quietly seeping into your company culture and undermining the active efforts you make to improve gender diversity at your organization.

It’s important to find and target the talented female candidates in your talent pool and recognize the exceptional ones already at your company. However, your efforts to do so will go nowhere if your company culture is inadvertently working against you — whether through a lack of awareness about inclusivity, subtle mistreatment of female team members, or an absence of mentorship and opportunities to move up the ladder.

In order to make true progress on gender diversity this year, your company needs to find and remove any lingering obstacles to inclusivity at your workplace. By removing more obstacles from the picture, your active efforts to increase female representation will have a much higher chance of succeeding.

Have you read?
# Top 500 Best Universities In The World For 2019.
# World’s Top 50 Universities For Medicine And Health Science Degrees, 2019.
# World’s Top 50 Universities For Life Science Degrees, 2019.
# World’s Top 50 Universities For Physical Science Degrees, 2019.
# World’s Top 50 Universities For Psychology Degrees, 2019.

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Michelle Stedman
Michelle Stedman, Vice President of Operations and Talent Management Strategist, joined the BirdDogHR team in 2012 and leads the Professional Services, Product Development and Customer Care teams. Michelle's multifaceted background in corporate recruiting and agency staffing gives her a unique perspective into developing professional services that help BirdDogHR customers achieve talent management success. A published author and frequent presenter, Michelle speaks to AGC of America and SHRM audiences across the country. Michelle is a regular contributor for the CEOWORLD magazine.