By Ruth Umoh
Companies have made considerable progress in their quest for gender parity over the years, enacting strong hiring and retention practices that directly benefit female employees and offering family-friendly policies that place women at the center of these efforts.
Despite this forward momentum, advancing gender equity isn’t hardwired into every company. In fact, some businesses have far surpassed their competitors in creating an inclusive workplace for women.
In our third annual ranking of the best employers for women, Forbes collaborated with market research firm Statista, surveying 75,000 Americans, including 45,000 women, working for businesses that employ more than 1,000 workers. The respondents spanned 31 industries and were asked to share their opinion on a series of statements about their respective employer’s culture, opportunities for career development, image, working conditions, salary and wages and diversity.
Employees were surveyed during March and April 2020, just as Covid-19 started to spread across the country, but before the economic impact of the pandemic was truly felt. The responses reflect their feelings at that time, as evidenced by the No. 1 company on the list: REI.
Headquartered in Kent, Washington, the sporting goods retailer clinched the top spot on this year’s list with a score of 87.6, a 20-slot jump from 2019. But like many brick-and-mortar stores across the U.S., it received backlash over its Covid-19 response, reportedly failing to inform staffers when colleagues tested positive for the virus, and was forced to lay off more than 5% of its retail staff in July after furloughing 90% of these employees in April.
In May, REI CEO Eric Artz told co-op members that the company maintains the same values—prioritizing people over profit—and remains committed to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in its workplace. Internally, the company rolled out inclusive leadership training for all people managers in 2019, and offers implicit bias training to all 14,000 employees. Last year, women made up 38% of its board of directors, half of its senior leadership team, 44% of retail leadership and 45% of its overall workforce.
Through its Force of Nature initiative, which launched in 2017, REI has invested $1 million into organizations that create opportunities to connect women to nature. It also expanded the sizing of its outdoor apparel to be inclusive of women who wear a size 14 and larger.
Several companies on this year’s list have had to cut their staff due to the pandemic, including Ulta Beauty (No. 3) and Groupon (No. 38). Others have made headlines for less favorable reasons. Ernst & Young sparked outrage in 2019 over a training seminar that was rife with gender stereotypes, and Google’s chief legal officer resigned amid an investigation into allegations of inappropriate workplace relationships. Still, Ernst & Young managed to leap from No. 64 in 2019 to No. 51 this year. Google, which has been plagued by sexual misconduct allegations in its executive ranks, protests over its treatment of women and claims that it drastically rolled back its diversity and inclusion initiatives, didn’t fare as well, plummeting from No. 55 to No. 95.
Female workers have been hard hit by the ongoing pandemic, accounting for 55% of the overall job loss, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In turn, companies have had to quickly assess the needs of their female employees, a feat that’s proven to be easier for companies that already had robust gender equity initiatives.
Taking the No. 2 spot, with a score of 87.03, is consumer goods giant Unilever. The company announced in March that it achieved gender balance across management globally, one year ahead of its 10-year target and up from 38% in 2010. Its North America offshoot hit gender parity at the manager level in 2018.
“What gets measured gets done and so, fundamentally, you have to measure how you’re tracking as a company, and take a look at where you really need to move the needle,” says Mita Mallick, head of diversity and cross-cultural marketing at Unilever, where she oversees strategies for achieving gender balance at the manager level and above.
The New Jersey-based company, which came in at No. 6 last year, pays close attention to departments and fields where women have historically been underrepresented, such as finance, operations and technology, and supply chain management—all of which are at, or near, equal gender representation at Unilever globally.
Female professionals have long had to juggle their workload and parenting. These days, they’re shouldering even more housework and childcare responsibilities, and in some cases, also taking care of elderly parents. The standard nine-to-five operating hours no longer exist at Unilever, Mallick says, and employees can take advantage of flexible work arrangements, a key benefit for working parents. “We already had the culture and technology in place, and of course, Covid really accelerated it,” she says.
Over in Connecticut, and No. 4 on our list, is The Hartford. With a score that’s just under 85, the insurance company’s placement in the top five—a steep climb from No. 53 in 2019—is the result of its longstanding focus on sourcing top talent, says its chief diversity officer Susan Johnson.
In the wake of the 2008 recession, the company was forced to restructure its business strategy and redefine what “good talent” looks like. “We opened up our talent lens, we expanded what ‘good’ looks like and we invested heavily in the pipeline,” Johnson says.
The Hartford also relies heavily on data from its employee engagement and inclusion index surveys to look at hiring, retention and talent mobility across demographics. Recently, the numbers shed light on an interesting trend: Although the organization was heavily inclusive of white women, women of color felt overlooked. “So, we had to have a deep dive conversation around the experiences of women of color here,” Johnson admits.
While remote work isn’t without its challenges, she says one upside is that it has pushed the company to offer extensive leadership development training and employee resource group programming to a wider array of employees. “Everything is now virtual so there are no longer geographical constraints.”
For the full list of America’s Best Employers For Women, click here.
Originally posted on Forbes