Gender diversity is good for business—and there’s research to back it up. MSCI Inc studied the performance of US companies between 2011-2016 and found that companies with at least three women on the board had returns 11% higher than those with none.1 A study of companies with high market values by Credit Suisse found that those with at least one woman on the board outperformed their peers by 26% over six years.2
There are several reasons why gender diversity could be good for your bottom line. One is “diversity of thought”. Research has shown that having employees from different backgrounds can help to improve creativity and innovation.3 Gender diversity also helps you reflect and understand the needs of your customer base. Unless you’re targeting an all-male consumer group, a gender-diverse workforce can help your salespeople, leadership and marketing teams to attract and empathize with customers from all walks of life. And this can ultimately improve your sales and customer loyalty.
On the other hand, gender discrimination can hurt your business in many ways. When you discriminate during the hiring process—either internally or externally—you limit the pool of talent you can draw on. And you risk negative exposure and long-term damage to your brand if any kind of discrimination is exposed, especially now that gender diversity issues are gaining prominence in mainstream media.
Practical ways to increase diversity
It’s hard to argue with diversity in theory. But as the owner of a small to mid-sized business, it might not seem like a high priority or you might worry about how to achieve it—especially if you don’t have a dedicated HR department, or you’re faced with strict budget and resource constraints. But the following practical steps can help you to attract a more diverse workforce and create a fairer and more inclusive environment.
Encourage balanced recruitment
The obvious way to improve gender diversity at your business is by hiring more women—but you need to tread carefully to avoid reverse discrimination. Instead, you should continue recruiting candidates based on their merit and suitability, while striving to make your advertised jobs equally attractive to all genders and demographics.
One of the best ways to attract more women candidates is by implementing flexible working policies. Women are disproportionately affected by the restrictions imposed by strict office hours that conflict with childcare and family commitments. Fair paternity leave can also help employees to share family responsibilities, and in turn this supports the progression of women in the workplace. A 2016 study found a strong positive correlation between paternity leave and the number of women in leadership positions.
Pay attention to the language used in your recruitment ads—what underlying messages are you sending? Take care to avoid traditionally masculine and feminine words. During interviews, ask questions about candidates’ achievements and experiences, not their personalities. Too often assertiveness is praised in men while being perceived negatively in women. And possessing typically masculine traits doesn’t necessarily make someone a better candidate for a managerial role. To avoid these inherent biases, aim to have a mixed-gender panel of interviewers when possible.
Improve policies and transparency
Pay inequity is still pervasive in many industries and can be difficult to address. One important step you can take is implementing transparency about salaries with your staff and stakeholders. This often forces companies to take a real look at whether they’re paying employees fairly for equal work. And there’s growing legal pressure to comply with this, as a number of states and local governments are adopting new pay equity laws.
You should also have a formalized “equal opportunities” policy in place. This is a manifesto which reinforces your commitment to equality—stating that employees will not be discriminated against based on gender, race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or other factors that have no bearing on their ability to do a job. It should include a formal grievance process for any employees who feel they’ve suffered discrimination.
When designing such policies, be sure to take feedback from women and any other under-represented groups in your business. Ask them if you’re doing enough to create an inclusive environment and assess each team’s understanding of equal opportunities policies. Asking questions through a diversity and inclusion focus group or employee panel is a good way of achieving this.
Support mentorship programs
To work towards closing the gender gap, especially in sectors like STEM, it’s important that we empower the next generation of women. Try to make your business and its career opportunities more visible to them. You could do this by connecting with young women’s programs in local schools and universities or hosting a mentorship program for female graduates.
Verizon is a proud sponsor of the Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York (WiTNY) mentorship program—which helps to inspire, encourage and prepare high school girls for rewarding careers in the tech industry. The collective holds day events and build-a-thons, where young women get hands on with the latest tools to create real products, while networking with successful women leaders in the field. Verizon has also launched the Ad Fellows program with several partner agencies, an eight month marketing fellowship for college graduates from diverse backgrounds.
Enhancing workplace diversity and bridging the gender gap isn’t an easy task. Despite decades of progress, women are not yet equal in the workplace: pay inequity, harassment and discrimination remain problems. But as these issues become more visible, so do the steps we can take to make a difference. No matter how big or small your business, we all have our own part to play in building a fairer, more equitable world.
3 Scientific American, How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, October 2014.
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