How Businesses Can Tap the Under-Utilized Weapon: Women

February 29, 20168:04 am425 views

Are women getting promoted?  Are businesses really tapping into their strengths to drive results and grow? Not according to When Women Thrive, the research effort by global consulting leader Mercer.

In fact, the report, just released (available here), forecasts what future female workforce will look like based on the actual hiring, promotion and retention rates of over 3.2 million employees in almost 600 organizations globally:

  • Women are under-represented in the workforce globally – The US, like Europe, is struggling to achieve gender parity by 2025, with Latin America being the only bright spot.
  • Female representation will reach only 40% globally in the professional and managerial ranks by 2025.
  • While women are broadly represented at the bottom of the organization in support and administrative roles, their numbers drop precipitously as career level rises.

The Big Business Risk – A Weak Female Talent Pipeline

Perhaps the biggest risk uncovered by the research is the failure to build strong female talent pipelines. While women are making some progress at the top, with only about 20% of those in executive roles, this progress is due largely to the ad hoc hiring of senior women rather than attention to women at all levels of the hierarchy.

This is resulting in a revolving door – while women are 1.5 times more likely than men to be hired in at the top, they are also leaving organizations from the highest rank at 1.3 times the rate of men, undermining those very gains.

Women are an untapped market for sure. Smart companies like Johnson & Johnson, eBay, SalesForce, and UBS are truly leveraging them – not just for their unique strengths but also to drive their business in areas like innovation and R&D.

Helping Women Thrive as a Strategy for Growth

So what should companies be doing to drive their growth through women and, ultimately, create a thriving workforce?  Here are 5 moves:

  1. Re-think Job Roles

Women have unique strengths in areas crucial to solving todays complex problems. The When Women Thrive report found that women are perceived to have unique skills in flexibility and adaptability (39% vs. 20% who say men have those strengths); inclusive team management (43% vs. 20%); and emotional intelligence (24% vs. 5%).

One thing business leaders can do is to re-examine job roles to leverage these strengths, and be sure their experience as a customer in so many areas is not overlooked.

See: Women Representation in Professional and Managerial Ranks Globally to Reach only 40% by 2025

  1. Engage Middle Managers 

Imagine a woman who’s facing a life change, such as becoming a mother. Chances are, her supervisor may not be equipped to have critical conversations with her about how she can best manage her career and stay engaged with work.

In fact, we find that only 38% of middle managers are engaged in diversity efforts despite the crucial role they play in women progression.  One thing companies can do is – offer training to managers on how to have conversations before, during and after a leave.when women thrive-OP-ED Jennifer Openshaw

  1. Integrate the Data

As Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said: “If we review the sales numbers, let’s also review the people numbers.” There are many key places to bring a gender lens to data, such as in the area of pay equity, performance reviews, and employee financial behaviour.

For instance, only 29% of organizations globally review performance ratings by gender and yet this is an opportunity to identify biases. As Mercer points out with its 6P methodology, leveraging proof to improve business processes is the key.

  1. Create Programs for Women’s Success

We know that women are more risk-averse investors and have different health considerations and financial needs than men for many reasons – longer lifespan, their role as caregiver to aging parents, and even different diseases.

This might be surprising, but the research shows that when women are supported with financial and health wellness programs designed specifically for them, it correlates to greater representation in the workforce.

Yet, only 14% of organizations surveyed in the US and Canada offer women-focused retirement and savings programs or monitor investments with a gender eye. If leaders want women to thrive and be productive in the workplace, they should reconsider programs that will truly serve their – and their family needs.

  1. Benchmark Yourself

How can you know and compare to peers, if you do not benchmark yourself? A key first step is to take a diagnostic and understand what your female workforce trajectory looks like and identify top areas needing attention.  Companies may find that they are actually moving too slowly and would need to hire and promote women faster, than they are doing now, to maintain current workforce representation.

The bottom line: If you want a thriving workforce, think about how to help women thrive. A successful gender diversity strategy will both further your growth goals, and also offer important dividends to families, communities and the economy.

About the author: A nationally known consumer financial leader, Jennifer Openshaw is a partner of the consulting firm Mercer and its When Women Thrive research platform.  She founded and later sold Women’s Financial Network in Silicon Valley, served as host of ABC Radio’s Winning Advice, and has become a frequent guest on CNBC, CNN, Oprah and many other programs. She is the author of The Socially Savvy Advisor  and The Millionaire Zone about the networking strategies of the wealthy.

Also read: Little-Known Facts about Women in Tech: Growing to Top Positions at 238% Faster than Men

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