What Organizations are Doing to Engage Women

The Facts

Let’s start with the facts.  I often make the mistake of assuming that we all know these statistics, and often find people surprised to learn that statistics on women’s equality in the workplace has barely changed in last two decades.  Engaging the other half of our workforce (women) is absolutely vital for us to increase our productivity and profits.  According to a Catalyst, an organization focused on a mission to accelerate progress for women through workplace inclusion, shares these statistics in its June 2016 report:

  • 4.2% of CEOs are women
  • 19.9% of board positions are held by women
  • 25.1% of executive or senior-level officials and managers are women
  • Women still just earn $0.79 on the dollar compared to men in similar positions

Women produce results.  The Peterson Institute for International Economics’ recent study associates a 15% lift in profitability with more women in top management positions.  When women are a part of these vital leadership roles for organizations, the results are staggering.  With a diverse perspective, and collaborative style, women round the team out, and create more innovative and successful teams.  The results from this study clearly illustrate the overwhelming need to engage women and promote more to leadership roles in organizations.

Other countries are ahead of us.  Countries like Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, have been investing in their top female talent for years.  I occasionally travel to the Netherlands, and have had the pleasure to meet with an advocate and author of strategies to engage women in work and motherhood, Ina Brouwer.  What Ina suggests, is comprehensive strategies to allow women and men to spend time with their children is pivotal.  Her book, The Glass Ceiling. Women at the Top, Desires and Obstacles, collects best practices of high performing countries, including:  four-day workweeks for each partner to spend an extra weekday with young children, a year of maternity leave for new mothers, and flexible telecommuting options to accommodate sickness and school activities.  While women are mothers, men are fathers, and countries that promote both roles as equals, and accommodate parenting activities in balance with work are far more successful.  We can learn from these countries.

We can also learn from Silicon Valley.  I have a friend that was offered a promotion at Google while six months pregnant.  In fact, when Google increased their paid maternity leave, the rate at which new mothers quit dropped 50%.  What’s interesting about this is historically, pregnant women are not promoted.  In fact, they lose 4% of their earning power per child due to this perceived “motherhood penalty.”  I have actually been told by my former employer’s CEO, verbatim, “it is incredibly difficult to promote women, especially in their childbearing years.”  The scariest thing is that I was not surprised.  All the data validates that this type of thinking is prevalent in the U.S., we just do not like to talk about it.  Take Netflix.  Last year, they increased their maternity and paternity leave policies to one year paid.  Why?  They want to retain top talent in an area that is incredibly competitive to find highly skilled labor.  Historically, they have battled other Silicon Valley giants for top talent, and this is a pivotal way to differentiate themselves from their rivals for that talent.  Most organizations fear women leaving or deprioritizing work post-maternity leave.  This fear is not real.  From my research for Pivot Point, I found quite the opposite.  Women wanted to return to work that they felt great purpose in doing, yet they felt conflicted with such profound purpose awaiting them at home.  What if we could align projects and assignments to these women in ways that empower and engage women?  The cost of not doing so, is losing them.

Rodan &Fields shows us what good looks like.  I have many friends that have recently overwhelmed my Facebook feed with their successes in their new business ventures with this company.  You likely have seen their posts.  They usually are fairly convincing.  I believe these consultants are happy doing what they do.  A good friend of mine, Megan, is a mother of two young children, works full-time as a teacher, and has historically struggled to balance her day job and her two young children.  She has an incredibly supportive husband even with his demanding full-time career, which helps a lot too.  She recently became an independent sales consultant, and has become a top 2% performer in two short years.  How?  She has such passion and purpose in what she does.  She has the ability to work on her business when she has the time.  She works more hours now per week, but does it because it makes her happy.  Women want to help support their families, use their brains, and be good mothers.  Is that too much to ask?

My Story

I will start with a disclaimer, I realize the choices my family has made are not possible for all families, and am in no way endorsing that my way is the right way to engage women.  When my husband and I decided to have our first child together, we reviewed our financial situation, evaluated the cost of child care, compared our incomes, ran the numbers, and decided it was best for him to stay at home.  Two and half years later, we’re very happy with that decision.  Jane is ready to enter pre-school and he is ready to return to work, but the time that we have gotten to spend with her is so precious.  She’s been surrounded by the people that love her most in this world during her most vital years for development.

My husband calls himself a “manny.”  You know, man meets nanny.  He uses the hashtag “lifeofamanny” endearingly on his social media posts, featuring anything from her putting Aquaphor ointment all in her hair (which made her look like a troll doll), to cuddling on the couch with her big sister.  People are genuinely interested in his story because it is so unique.  In fact, stay at home dads are on the rise, currently at 16% of the stay-at-home parent population in the U.S.  With more millennial men interested in being more active parents, I suspect this will continue to rise in social acceptance.  For now, my husband gets less respect than his female counterparts that stay at home.  Some comment, “you have the easiest job in the world,” or ask, “what do you really do?” like it’s a hobby.  No one would ever say that to a stay at home mother.

Clearly, our path has not been easy.  I travel a lot for work, and am continually asked by others, with a furrowed brow of judgement, “you have a two-year old, and you travel, that must be so hard.”  Yikes.  I feel so small when people judge me as a mother because I work.  Many working women share this challenge – the judgement of working and having a successful career – and being a good mother.  It feels so daunting.  Thus, the trend of opting out altogether, and staying home.  Smart, successful women leave the workforce every day because of this imbalance.  They feel torn, and I do not blame them.  And, we all lose.  That top talent is leaving our workforce, and business results suffer.  Yet, society accepts that losing half of our workforce at this pivotal time is “normal.”  I challenge you to question this assumption.  It is not normal, nor is it what is best for our economy.

For us, having a parent at home has enabled me to start a new business, be home and present with my daughter when I am not travelling.  I love Jane coming in my office, and saying, “mama’s working,” with a grin, and pretending to work alongside me.  Because she sees this at a young age, she will know it is possible for her one day too.  That gives me more purpose than anything in this world, and fuels my ambition to help other women do the same.  In fact, more women are now entrepreneurs.  A recent study by Go4Funding, found by the year 2025, the percentage of women entrepreneurship will increase to over 55%.  The cost of not engaging women in corporate roles, is they will go out on their own where they can create their own engaging work environment.  Most female entrepreneurs will tell you that they work more hours, but feel like they work less, because they are doing work that is important and engaging for them.  The added bonus is that they get to be with their family when they want to be, without judgement.

Call to Action

If you do not know the statistics for women in leadership roles at your organization, ask your HR department.  The results may surprise you.  Even in the more progressive organizations in the U.S., the numbers fall short of many countries around the world.  As leaders, we must challenge the norm that women cannot balance motherhood and work.  It’s just not true.  Women can do both successfully.  We just need to equip them with the tools to be successful.

My path is quite different than most, and certainly advocate that this is a very personal choice.  In sharing my story, I encourage your organization to implement some of these successful strategies to engage women.  I bet that your organization will be more productive and profitable.  Whether it is challenging women with new opportunities, paid leave, flexible child care solutions, telecommuting, or the freedom to create your own work schedule, ask women what they want, brainstorm what works best for your organization, and commit to retaining your top female talent.  Because the other half of our workforce matters too.

Organizations that engage women, produce better business results.

How will you engage the women in your organization?

#engagewomen #investinwomen #helpyourteamgrow