Women are ‘Breaking Up’ with Corporate – Three Strategies to Close the Gender Gap

Women are ‘breaking up’ with Corporate America.

This year’s Women in the Workplace report by McKinsey & Company cites three key reasons why women are still exiting corporate roles at higher rates than men:

  • Lack of flexibility in the workplace 
  • Limited focus on authentic diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)
  • Career advancement opportunities elsewhere

Having led a DEI consulting organization for eight years, I see these issues first-hand with clients. Women are microaggressed at higher rates than men like being mistaken for more junior roles, being interrupted and not getting credit for their ideas. Microaggressions are even more common for women of color and those with other intersectional identities beyond gender such as disability, LGBTQ+, class and age. Women also are more likely to be responsible for more household labor in addition to their job responsibilities, making it tougher to conform to the ideal worker.

To address the gender gap, organizations need to consider:

  • Measuring employee ‘actual’ performance, not availability 
  • Rewarding and promoting people for DEI work
  • Holding employees accountable for microaggressions 

Measure employee ‘actual’ performance, not availability

Performance management historically has prioritized inputs over outputs. Inputs of hours worked, response time to emails or prioritizing busy calendars versus real business results. This lazy, yet efficient form of leadership makes it easy to evaluate talent based on availability. The focus on the ideal worker being physically present and ‘always on’ versus getting results is problematic for business, and especially for women that are more likely to have demands outside of work. 

Organizations need to shift the mindset from pure quantity of hours worked to the quality of work produced. By measuring objective criteria, biases are checked. One method to do this is to develop key performance indicators (KPIs) for roles with clear expectations for performance. These indicators need to be SMART so they can easily be objectively measured.

  • Specific: It should be easy to know when the goal has been completed
  • Measurable: There is a number or percentage tied to the goal
  • Aspirational: By definition, goals are not being met today it should be challenging based on the present state
  • Relevant: The individual can influence the outcome of the goal
  • Time-bound: Without a deadline, things don’t get done

With objective measures, people have the freedom to perform their jobs on their own schedules. Flexible work environments take this into account and appeal to a broader array of diverse talent. Workers reward these flexible organizations with loyalty

Reward and promote people for DEI work

One of our clients J.P. Morgan Chase has made a strong commitment to gender equality. They have a program Women on the Move dedicated to advancing women and men are a pivotal part of that commitment. Our team facilitates a men as allies cohort to develop ally skills for their emerging leaders. These high-potential leaders are rewarded for their extra efforts toward the advancement of women with promotions and recognition in their performance reviews. To advance in the organization, it is an expectation to be an inclusive leader.

Other organizations embed DEI into their performance reviews and how they evaluate talent. Employees are expected to set goals for DEI, track progress throughout the year and be held accountable for progress. Here are some examples:

  • Number of hours on diversity education and training
  • Participation in Employee Resource Group (ERG) activities
  • Activities to support removing bias from recruiting, hiring, promotion, pay and performance decisions
  • Inclusive behavior 360 data from team members
  • Leadership roles in DEI and ERG teams
  • Participation in community events for DEI
  • Teaching time with others about DEI
  • Recognition from others of allyship

One of clients is a leader in life sciences and has 20% of their performance review criteria based on DEI. They expect all leaders to have at least one DEI goal in their performance reviews. Their progress is measured throughout the year and pay, bonus and promotion decisions are based on their results. If they’re not involved in DEI, it is very difficult to be promoted.

As the old adage goes, “what gets measured, gets done.” By reinforcing that DEI work is important work, women and diverse talent feel more supported and are more likely to stay.  

Hold employees accountable for microaggressions

Microaggressions are the subtle, often well-intentioned, yet harmful statements and actions that hurt marginalized groups. Women and people of color are much more likely to experience them in the workplace. According to Joan C. Williams Bias Interrupters research, white men are nearly 20% more likely to perceive the workplace as fair compared to women and even more so than women of color. 

Forms of microaggressions vary from subtle acts of exclusion like not being invited to a meeting to far more impactful assumptions that attack women’s credibility. These non-inclusive behaviors have a cumulative effect. It’s not the one interruption, or being overlooked for one social outing, it is the persistent lack of belonging that prompts women to leave workplaces.

To combat microaggressions, people need to be held accountable for their behaviors. Allies model inclusive language for others and call people in when they make mistakes. It is about progress over perfection. Here are some ally talk tracks to consider to call people in:

  • What makes you say that?
  • I know you had good intentions, yet the impact was… 
  • I have a different perspective…
  • Would you say that if they were a different gender, race, (or other dimension of difference)?
  • Help me understand how you came to that decision.
  • I used to think that too, and here is what I know now…
  • Let’s talk about how we can do that differently next time…

With the persistent exodus of women in the workplace, organizations need to care about DEI as much as they would as other aspects of business. Setting the expectation for leaders to care, measuring actual performance results and addressing microaggressions are critical to the future success of women in the workplace. 

At Next Pivot Point we have lots of resources to help you facilitate successful diversity and inclusion training. Schedule some time with our team today to discuss where to start or how to do better. You can also check out: