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Creating a future of work for women

Women have come a long way in the quest for greater workforce equity and opportunity but there are plenty of roads left to travel. Women remain significantly underrepresented in leadership roles and are paid, on average, less than male coworkers. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on women, particularly working moms.

Taking actions to eliminate the gender gap and create a promising future for women at work is not only the right thing to do, but it is also great for business. A more equitable workforce is good for your business’s bottom line and future prospects. According to McKinsey, the most gender-diverse companies are 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability, while a Deloitte study found diverse companies enjoy 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee

Beyond those financial benefits, an equitable workforce increases your talent pool, injects different perspectives into your teams, improves the chances for greater collaboration, and boosts productivity. Gartner found that inclusive teams improve team performance by up to 30%  in high-diversity environments.

Organizations that want to reap these many benefits can take proactive steps to increase opportunities to recruit, hire, retain, and promote talented women that can help provide a competitive edge and take their companies to the next level.

Gender equality

Steady progress toward gender equality in the workplace took a body blow from the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, women—especially those of color—are more likely to have been laid off or furloughed.

A recent CNBC/SurveyMonkey poll found that from career setbacks to infrequent career growth conversations, most women (and Americans overall) find that the pandemic has made things worse for women in the workplace. Meanwhile, a LeanIn.Org|SurveyMonkey poll captured the myriad challenges women face with concern for the well-being of their loved ones, worries about being able to pay their bills, and negative physical symptoms at greater rates than men related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

McKinsey’s most recent Women at Work Report echoed the findings of the SurveyMonkey polls, calling the current climate, “an emergency for corporate America,”

“Companies risk losing women in leadership—and future women leaders—and unwinding years of painstaking progress toward gender diversity,” the report states.

Indeed, these findings are a clarion call for employers to double down on efforts to enhance opportunities and resources to support women and minorities. Amid this challenging landscape exists clear opportunities for companies that are committed to gender equity. As pandemic-associated challenges subside, diverse and inclusive companies that have a culture and policies that women value will be positioned to attract and retain the best talent.

Deeper dive: SurveyMonkey’s Chief Legal Officer Lora Blum shares her perspective on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on working women and other pressing issues in a recent Women’s History Month interview.

The gender wage gap

Despite an increased focus on equal pay by business leaders, activists and lawmakers, the gender pay gap persists. Based on Census Bureau data from 2018, women of all races earned, on average, just 82 cents for every $1 earned by men of all races for the same work. The disparity widens even more for women of color.

Against this backdrop the gender pay issue can be highly contentious. Yet companies that are more proactive and transparent are in a strong position to build trust among employees.

The first step is to do a thorough review of compensation policies, with an eye toward establishing clear pay scales and bonus incentives that apply to all employees, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation.

If your company is in a situation in which a significant pay gap exists, acknowledge that the issue exists, and the steps you will take to move toward greater paycheck parity. While difficult, opening the discussion about the gender pay gap will likely earn you respect and greater understanding from your workforce.

Deeper Dive: Insights related to Black Women’s Equal Pay Day from SurveyMonkey CEO Zander Lurie leaders of the company’s Blacks United in Leadership & Development (BUILD) employee resource group.

Flexibility in the workplace

Workplace flexibility has become the new norm for many companies amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

For organizations striving to assure a promising work future for women, they must continue to offer and expand a range of flexible options that allow greater work-life balance that is important for all employees, but particularly women.

The need for flexibility is more acute for women based on the current reality that inequities also persist on the home front. Women spend a disproportionate amount of time handling housework and childcare responsibilities, according to data from Pew Research Center that found women are also more likely than men to adjust their careers for family.

Roughly 31% of women who took a career break after having kids said they didn’t want to stop working, but were forced into the decision because of a lack of workplace flexibility, according to a 2019 Flexjobs survey of more than 2,000 women with children under 18.

Creating flexible work options such as remote working, flexible schedules, and job sharing give women more choices, ultimately benefiting them and the organizations that employ them. B creating greater continuity and improved morale, organizations with flexible work models stand to reduce turnover along with associated onboarding and training expenses.

Sexism in the workplace

Sexism can take on many forms, from veiled comments to outright harassment. While increased awareness has created more visibility about the issue, the problem still persists in some workplaces.

A Pew Research Survey revealed that 42% of women say they have faced discrimination while at work while a Marist Poll found that 22%t of adults and 35% of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.

Companies hoping to create a more diverse and engaged workforce need to be proactive in preventing and addressing discrimination and sexist behaviors. Here are three steps your company can take now:

  • Create an equal opportunity policy: Creating an equal opportunity policy makes it clear to prospective and current employees that women and men have access to the same positions, opportunities for advancement, and other job benefits. In addition to having this policy, make sure your employees actually follow it by sending out reminders (not just when incidents occur) and posting your policy in several visible locations.
  • Educate everyone: Sexism can be intentional. In other instances, it’s rooted in a lack of awareness and sensitivity. Either way, your employees all need to know it is unacceptable. Engage outside speakers to conduct sessions on discrimination so employees understand what is acceptable and what isn’t. Conducting frequent surveys can help gauge if employees understand the issue, and may reveal problems that need to be addressed. To bolster your fight against sexism, encourage mentorship of women in the workplace, As part of its ongoing partnership with SurveyMonkey, Lean In has kicked off the #MentorHer campaign. The campaign encourages men to step up into mentoring roles with women and is supported by some of the most influential voices in business who are pledging their commitment to mentor women.
  • Act swiftly on complaints: If any employee files a complaint or informs a supervisor or colleague of sexist conduct, then immediately follow established procedures on handling the situation, which will likely include interviews with those involved and potential witnesses. Taking claims seriously will not only lead to a quicker resolution but also demonstrate to all employees that you have their back. If it is found that a claim has merit, take any necessary action and then pivot to instituting changes that could prevent a repeat performance.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace

Based on the ever-growing evidence that affirms DEI is a win-win for your company and employees, it is critical to be proactive to assure ongoing progress.

Here are some steps you can take to develop and foster a more diverse and inclusive company culture.

  • Create an environment in which all voices can be heard and respected: Workplaces in which anyone feels that their ideas, opinions, and yes, even complaints face the risk of lower morale, less engagement and even worse if some behaviors reach the threshold of harassment or discrimination. It’s not enough to simply say “we have an open door policy.” Instead, the message that everyone’s viewpoint is valued and respected should be consistently reiterated and reinforced in every aspect of a company’s culture.
  • Ensure your leadership team reflects your commitment to diversity and inclusion: The old cliché, actions speak louder than words, rings true when it comes to a company’s commitment to a diverse and accepting environment. If you talk of diversity but maintain a leadership team that doesn’t reflect that commitment, you can bet that your employees are taking notice. A survey report from Boston Consulting Group found among the Fortune 500 companies, only 24 CEOs are women, which represents just 5% of the total number of CEOs. When leadership positions open up look for opportunities to hire from within, considering all potential candidates within your existing workforce. If you conduct a broader search, consider working with a search firm with a track record of placing well-qualified and innovative diverse candidates.

Employee feedback

If you are truly committed to improving gender equity in your workplace, then you don’t want to go at it alone. Capturing ongoing feedback from employees is vital to prioritizing your activities, identifying any persistent or under-the-radar challenges, and making measurable progress toward your goals.

A great place to start is by conducting a SurveyMonkey employee feedback survey that can capture employee feedback to gain a better understanding of their views on your company’s current state of diversity and inclusion.

It’s also vital to make sure that your surveys don’t frustrate or alienate some of the employees whose feedback might be the most valuable to you. You can achieve that by creating inclusive surveys that are rooted in empathy, respect, and clear goals—from their language to their accessibility. You create an inclusive survey when you’re conscious of how you ask about religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity, or when you consider your respondent experience from many perspectives.

Workplace policies

Developing workplace policies can set a solid foundation for creating a more diverse and inclusive environment for women.

Sound policies send a strong message to your workforce that you are serious about encouraging an inclusive environment while also emphasizing the benefits of those policies to employees. These policies are not only vital in making sure your workplace is fair and equitable but also help assure you will attract the best talent to your organization.

You can establish meaningful policies that directly address gender equity issues. This includes outlining your company’s position on ensuring a fair and equitable environment for all, detailing company practices to address issues related to gender equity, andclear guidelines to address potential discrimination or harassment.

Additionally, there are key policies you can enact that benefit all employees, but offer particular value for women. For instance, a comprehensive family leave policy conveys to women that you value their contributions while also being aware of the multiple responsibilities they may be juggling in their lives. According to the Harvard Business Review, today’s women are actually looking for more gender-neutral family-leave policies.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires companies employing upwards of 50 employees to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. However, for all companies, expanded parental leave benefits are valuable from a competitive vantage point. A recent Prudential survey found nearly 8 in 10 workers want their company to focus on providing benefits central to their economic well-being. The study found that workers consider benefits—such as retirement plans, health, disability and life insurance, paid family medical leave and emergency savings programs—as critical to their financial resilience.

Identify opportunities to recruit, hire and promote women

Companies that aim to recruit, hire, and promote more women need to be introspective and intentional in their approach from the initial job description to hiring and onboarding processes.

Research shows that women typically approach the job search process with a different perspective than their male counterparts. For instance, a LinkedIn report found that women candidates only apply for jobs if they are 100% qualified for the position, while men apply with 60% of the required qualifications.

Insights such as that underscore the importance of assessing recruitment strategies to ensure that you’re not deterring potential talent from applying. Be clear about must-have qualifications but don’t include an exhaustive list that includes qualifications that are not essential to the core function of the job.

Additionally, use clear and inclusive gender neutral language in the job descriptions. For example, HR resource experts have found that terms such as “ninja” and “guru” may not resonate with all candidates.

To help ensure that your job descriptions won’t turn off potential candidates, an app called Textio Hire that uses data science to highlight problematic words or phrases in job descriptions and suggest language that will attract more diverse applicants.

Leadership training

Offering leadership training opportunities for women is critical for creating a better future of the workplace for women and for ensuring the success of your company in the future.

Research has consistently shown a confidence gap in many women that often deters them from seeking promotions and leadership roles. Effective leadership training can help combat that challenge, particularly programs specifically geared toward leveraging strengths that women typically bring to leadership roles, such as collaboration, empathy, intuition, collaboration, and self-control.

In a KPMG Women’s Leadership Study, professional working women believe it is critical for companies to support a woman’s development in her twenties (80%) and career advancement in her thirties (61%).

This research underlines how critical it is to empower women to reach the highest ranks by socializing leadership early in life and providing corporate development programs that enable them to do so.

Training opportunities

A clear commitment to professional development is key to both attracting and retaining more women and diverse candidates.

The KPMG study found that entry-level working women report the lowest levels of confidence, underscoring the need for training to help build relevant skills and greater confidence. There are a range of ways your company can support professional development of women including workshops, webinars, and Q&A sessions with inspiring women leaders and professionals,  both from your company and your industry.

Developing a mentorship program can offer ongoing support and professional development for all of your employees. The KPMG study underscored the importance of connecting young female talent with senior women business leaders. 67%of respondents indicated they had learned the most important lessons about leadership from other women. Additionally, research consistently shows that women are more likely to stay in an organization when they can point to other women at the highest leadership levels.

Development of technical skills

Technical skills in the workplace are becoming more and more critical for employees to succeed. Discuss how companies can help to ensure a successful future for their female employees by providing opportunities for the development of technical skills.

While the tech industry prides itself on being on the leading edge of workplace change, when it comes to gender equity it lags toward the back of the pack.

Consider that women make up nearly 47% of the overall workforce, but hold only 26% of computing-related jobs. For women of color the picture is far bleaker—with just 3% of computer-related jobs held by African American women, and 2% by Hispanic women.

Even for companies that aren’t in the tech space, technical skills are in increasing demand across a wide range of roles. With this in mind, it is critical to provide pathways for more women to develop technical skills that will benefit them and your company.

Increasing technical proficiency can be baked into your mentorship program. Firms such as Coursera, edX, and Udemy have endless offerings of online courses  related to coding and other tech-related skills.

In addition, conferences can provide more immersive experiences with other women in tech. Organizations such as Women of Silicon Roundabout offer a Women in Tech series that includes a whole host of sessions focused on both soft and technical skills, with inspiring speeches from some of the most successful professionals in their field, and practical hands-on workshops.

Act now

The case is clear: Creating gender equity at your company positions you and your employees for greater day-to-day job satisfaction and ongoing success.Check out SurveyMonkey’s Employee Feedback Surveys and for a comprehensive approach to continually improve employee engagement, productivity, and job satisfaction. You can also exploreSurveyMonkey’s HR solutions for more tools and resources to help you improve your employee experience.

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