This article was updated on September 9, 2018.
Working to ensure that your organization has women in the C-suite can offer more benefits to your organization than simply diversity. Harvard Business Review reports that when an organization's executives are at least 30 percent female, it leads to 15 percent gains in profitability and can be an advantage to recruiting and retention. These benefits are generally attributed to having enhanced and varied skill sets among top management.
Diversity MBA Magazine notes Walmart Inc. aggressively pursues diversity in management as a tool for winning the talent war. Female perspectives have allowed the business to better understand their female customers, which make up 80 percent of their clientele.
Actively working to remove barriers for aspiring female executives can help improve profitability and position your organization as an attractive employer for top female talent.
Do Aspiring Women C-Levels Still Face Barriers?
McKinsey & Company notes that in the U.S., women comprise just 17 percent of executive committees and 19 percent of boards. Strategic Management Journal also found that organizations often have an implicit quota, limiting just one executive role to a female for "legitimacy." Because of significant historical barriers to women attaining executive roles, things are improving slowly. Pew Research Center reports that less than half of men agree that gender discrimination exists, compared to 65 percent of women. In addition, 46 percent of millennials still believe that having children early could be a barrier to their careers.
5 Ways HR Can Support Future Female Leaders
1. Groom Aspiring Female Leadership
Keeping talent pipelines full is a challenge, but it can be particularly difficult for HR leaders to make sure they have enough female talent with high career hopes and the experience and skills to attain the positions. DiversityInc reports that IBM is managing this challenge by identifying female talent from educational programs and recruiting women who've left the workplace due to family needs or unfriendly work environments. With the right retention efforts, policies and training programs, you can avoid losing promising leaders.
2. Create Flexible Workplace Policies
Entrepreneur defines "off-ramping" as the point in which skilled female talent exits the workplace to focus on raising children or providing care to elderly parents. More than 40 percent of talented women put the brakes on, sometimes leaving the workplace entirely. Others work part-time or as independent contractors. In a tight talent market, policies that don't accommodate the needs of parents can result in losing some of the most talented candidates, especially women. HR must work to provide female leadership with access to the flexible workplace arrangements they need to find balance.
3. Address Bias in Hiring and Promotion
Gender bias is rarely apparent. However, the fight to remove bias should start with HR. In addition to anti-bias training for all employees, HR can conduct audits to help give both males and females equal opportunities. Blind interview tools, testing and other objecting assessment and sorting tools can also help eliminate potential bias.
4. Break Down Barriers
The Wall Street Journal reports that male employees are more likely to interact with top leadership. HR leaders should work closely with both top and middle management to help employees of all genders network internally.
5. Foster Female Confidence
Role models can be a key tool for female confidence. "Younger generations and those in mid-level leadership roles need to see and interact with senior-level female leaders to establish confidence in themselves and trust that businesses value women's contributions," notes the Association for Talent Development. A primary duty of women in leadership roles should be working with younger generations to provide mentoring and encourage middle management to design challenging assignments for skills development.
Is Your Future Female?
It's up to HR leaders to work toward a profitable future, and it's clear that should include a healthy percentage of women in the C-suite. By addressing gender bias in HR processes, developing fair policies and fostering confidence among current female employees, you can work to establish balance and encourage diversity in your executive team.