Women make up about half of the workforce in the U.S. Yet despite the clear value of having a diverse workforce, like improved operational and financial performance, increased innovation, and enhanced company reputation, organizations are still struggling to attract and retain women in leadership roles.
It’s not easy developing strategies that encourage women to climb the corporate ladder. As a case in point, when Apple and Facebook recently announced they were offering egg freezing as a benefit, some claimed the offer was merely a PR stunt. Others criticized the move as a strategy to put motherhood on hold rather than create a work environment that accommodates women's reproductive years.
Egg freezing aside, there are some truly innovative ways to attract, retain, and develop women in leadership at all levels. Here are six strategies at the forefront of this movement:
IBM currently pairs top leaders (often male) with female mentors who have been identified as future leaders. The mentor/mentee meet regularly, each learning from the other.
Reverse mentoring, also called reciprocal mentoring, is an outstanding example of how to create visibility of up-and-coming female leaders to top executives, as well as expose female leaders to the most strategic work at the company. While the method is informal, it helps break down some of the unconscious bias, while creating visibility for female talent whom the male leaders might not otherwise interact with.
Multinational oil company Chevron offers full-fitness and self-care facilities onsite at their global locations. Employees have the opportunity to take care of themselves by working out during the day and getting massages or facials without having to leave their worksite. This enables women to find balance and stay healthy.
Deloitte makes diversity and gender equality an important aspect of training. The company matches senior leaders (mostly male) to rising female talent for one to two years. The objectives are to build confidence, create visibility of talent internally, and provide access to stretch assignments.
What makes Deloitte’s program successful is that the company measures the results of the coaching efforts and holds each coach accountable for the success of his assigned leader in developing new capabilities and expansions of networks. The results are then directly tied to the coach’s performance review and compensation.
Global health care company Roche has a unique flexible work program, offering employees 12 days of remote work per quarter, which comes to 48 days a year. If an employee needs to stay home to be with kids or sick parents or to focus on a specific project, the company trusts that they will still get their work done.
One multinational oil company maps careers out for its employees after their first year at the company, and the career direction is adjusted yearly. Development plans, stretch assignments, promotions, and networking opportunities are equal for men and women who have been rated with similar capabilities. This structure removes the chances of women not being aware of opportunities for their development at higher levels, and it creates visibility to top leadership.
Since this development program starts when they are hired, women are an equal partner in opting in or out for additional advancement for their career track. Annual reviews are used by the Talent Development team to ensure women are recognized by leadership and for selection in highly visible programs.
Pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly offers after school programs beyond day care so children can attend science camps, math sessions, and other activities in the evening. These innovative programs enable employees with families to retain demanding positions without the worry of leaving children at home, which helps to reduce the choice women often must make between family and work.
As women continue their upward trajectory in business, they have yet to be fully appreciated for the unique qualities and abilities they bring to the workplace. To keep women in the workplace, companies must continue to evolve their employee benefits to meet their needs.
Whether these benefits are family focused or offer more leadership opportunities, executives can no longer expect women to give up everything for their career. Concessions must be made to retain women in the workplace.
—Cynthia Stuckey is Managing Director at the Forum Corporation, a premiere learning organization, where she provides strategic and operational leadership for all aspects of the company’s business in the Asia Pacific region. As a practitioner, consultant, and senior leader, Cynthia is a respected expert in the areas of international business, corporate transformations, strategy development, and execution of performance enhancement strategies.