By Dr. Patti Fletcher
Companies continue to struggle with the tectonic shifts caused by the pandemic, and yet one disturbing constant remains: Women, who comprise nearly half of the U.S. workforce, dramatically lag their male counterparts when it comes to representation in leadership positions. Since the 1970s, corporate America has implemented programs and initiatives to help move the needle forward and “shatter the glass ceiling.” But here we are — still facing invisible barriers, pay inequity and underrepresentation.
Clearly, something is wrong. And in order to design a modern, human-focused workplace, one that can not only survive, but thrive amid increasing volatility, we need to fully acknowledge what’s broken and take the steps needed to fix it. That means when it comes to operationalizing female leadership traits, redefining the workplace and creating a world of “and,” we have no choice but to focus on equity at work.
The first frontier: Take inventory of systemic bias.
The bias that women face in the workplace is so deep-rooted that it is often invisible. It is institutional. It is systemic. We need to recognize that and start shining a light on it. That is the only way to identify where the challenges are.
Start by taking inventory. Look at the people in key positions as well as the experiences of employees or contractors within your organization. Are you only promoting people who look like you, think like you, talk like you?
If this is the case, you have created what my friend Adam Quintin calls a “mirror-ocracy”as opposed to a meritocracy. What I mean is that you’ve created an organization without diverse perspectives. You’ve hired for the culture of today, not for the culture of tomorrow, and that is not going to lead to success.
Expand your candidate pool.
One of the things I always hear is, “Gosh, we’d hire more women if we could find them.” The truth is, leaders aren’t finding the right candidates if they continually go to the same rooms and talk to the same people about the same things and expect a different outcome. “We tried” is not good enough. You need to understand why your candidate pool is limited and then actively seek more diversity.
If your applicant pool has an overrepresented population — men, for example — determine first if women are applying. If they aren’t, why not? Maybe the job description is written in a way that caters to male leadership traits and needs to be revised to be more holistic. With this implemented, follow the process through. Do women drop off in the application process? If so, where? Then do some digging and find out why.
Leverage technology, especially AI, to suss out algorithm bias. Conduct decision interruption at point of hire and at point of performance management cycle, eliminating data points around socioeconomics, race and gender. Blind resumes are extremely useful, as well, because they force leaders and hiring managers to focus on what is actually important. They can help you hire someone who has the skill set to add to your culture, not just fit the mold. It also helps eliminate systemic bias.
Stop focusing on programs.
Beyond hiring, you also have to look at employee development. People do not leave companies, they leave bosses. And we know that women tend to fall off at that director or manager level of an organization. Why?
Development programs for young female professionals are often fruitful in the beginning, but mentoring doesn’t affect how many of those women will be promoted to higher positions. So, stop focusing on programs. Instead, concentrate on unconscious bias training for the privileged class. Leaders need to change to be more inclusive; they need to give their employees the tools to get their job objective done, including pay equity, while rewarding their individual talents.
If nothing changes — if you keep rewarding people for old behavior that has nothing to do with ensuring you have the right person in the job — you are not optimizing your talent.
Equity at work propels business success.
Originally posted on Forbes