27 September 2023

Leading obvious: What is it that makes a great employer for women?

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Lydia Dishman* says that just because an organisation has women in leadership it doesn’t guarantee that women at all levels are going to be supported.

There is no shortage of annual reviews of the best employers to work for.

That doesn’t mean that every organisation on the list is a great place for women to work.

In fact, Google landed the No. 3 spot on a recent global list, but it took some 20,000 employees worldwide walking out in protest over the way the company handled cases of sexual misconduct to make Google change its policy.

Now, the Wharton Social Impact Initiative released a report that drills down into specific findings from hundreds of academic studies on women and work that reveals what makes certain organisations better for women to work for than others.

The report identifies four critical outcomes that matter most for women: representation, pay, health, and satisfaction.

Each of these factors was weighed and scored quantitatively.

For example, in representation, the employer was ranked highly for having a large number of women at all levels and units of the organisation.

With women making up 43 per cent of the current workforce according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, that was the benchmark used for all industries, organisations, and roles.

For pay, organisations had to provide wages that didn’t leave women in poverty and that were paid equally for work done by both men and women.

Health and satisfaction had to be supported across the board for women and men.

Health encompassed insurance as well as benefits like paid parental leave, protection against injuries and fatalities, stress, and harassment.

In terms of satisfaction, employee ratings of their overall job satisfaction were used to determine whether or not the organisation was a good place to work.

Women in leadership

One of the most surprising revelations is that organisations that have women on the board and/or in the C-suite are not necessarily great places for women to work.

Some studies found no correlation between women in leadership and their ability to foster an environment that develops and promotes women in lower positions.

According to a new report from Indeed, 53 per cent of women believe they have the same opportunities to enter senior leadership roles as their male counterparts.

Heather Combs, Chief Revenue Officer for 3Pillar Global, a software development company, asserts that their leadership team is 50 per cent women, but that alone doesn’t guarantee the company’s status as a great place to work.

“Building the best-in-class digital products that meet the needs of the market requires a leadership structure that reflects the diversity of the customers we serve, and to do so, it requires a range of experiences and perspectives,” she says.

Combs says 3Pillar is committed to seeking, interviewing, and hiring candidates from a wide range of backgrounds and profiles and then committing to the fair and respectful treatment of all its employees.

And a male CEO was the one who supported a landmark equal pay audit at Salesforce.

In a recent white paper from Fairygodboss titled “How to Drive Gender Parity in Your Workplace”, Cindy Robbins, President and Chief People Officer of Salesforce, said: “There’s a level of accountability that starts at the CEO level,” which publicly held Salesforce accountable for addressing its pay inequity.

Going forward, Robbins says, Salesforce’s leadership is held accountable to gender equality every quarter.

Why the whole picture is important

As Katherine Klein, Professor of Management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Vice-Dean of the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, points out, “You really can’t look at any one of the four factors in isolation”.

“You wouldn’t want to work at a company where women are well-represented throughout the company — one of the four factors in our framework — but women are still underpaid, harassed, and dissatisfied.”

Yet it can be tough to tell whether an employer will support women across these four outcomes, because gender bias can sneak into unexpected places.

The Fairygodboss white paper reveals that the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) faced a unique retention challenge.

Jenn Garcia-Alonso, Global Women@BCG Director, said internal data showed women were leaving BCG because they were being coached on communication skills when they neither wanted the coaching nor found it helpful.

A deeper dive illuminated unconscious bias from those who were coaching with an intent to “fix” women’s communication styles because they were different from their own.

“We used the data to prove that bias was happening,” Garcia-Alonso said.

Her group also started educating senior employees to help them understand that different communication styles can be equally effective.

How to figure it out before you take the job

It’s even tougher to determine whether an organisation is supportive of its female employees when job hunting.

Klein reminds jobseekers to check whether the organisation publishes statistics, rather than vague statements or promises.

“A company that is transparent in providing these statistics is committed to being a great employer for women and for men, too,” she says.

“It’s holding itself accountable.”

If not, ask specific questions about representation to find out how many women work in the organisation and at what levels and roles, and what the difference is between the company’s average compensation for women and men.

Ultimately, says Heather Combs of 3Pillar Global, it’s important to feel valued, regardless of gender, race, or any other factor at work.

“I am personally committed to hiring and mentoring the rising female leaders that surround me every day,” she says, “and I am proud to look around and see I am not trying to change the world alone.”

* Lydia Dishman is a reporter and regular contributor to Fast Company. She tweets at @LydiaBreakfast.

This article first appeared at www.fastcompany.com.

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