Why Fixing the Gender Diversity Gap Is a Pressing Business Concern

womens equality month

This Women's Equality Month, make sure your business is doing all it can to promote gender diversity.

Over the past decade, activists have succeeded in raising the level of public awareness about problems women and minorities in business face. That said, a newly updated analysis of gender diversity shows that this awareness still has not come close to eradicating the problem. A GraphicSprings study found that in the year preceding their analysis, only 4 percent of the entrepreneurs who received funding were women.

By some estimates, women make up less than 25 percent of the technology sector, according to Fast Company. This means not only is business contributing to ongoing problems with gender diversity, but it's almost certainly being harmed by them as well. March is Women's History/Equality Month, so there's no better time to start shoring up this problem and making use of the market's least-utilized group of workers.

Know Your Trouble Areas and Your Goals

Executives and HR professionals, however competent, can't change the world with a snap of their fingers. They can't force venture capitalists to invest in more women entrepreneurs, and they can't change the culture of the global tech industry on a whim. They can influence the behavior of their own businesses, though, and that begins with finding out which of the larger trends has taken hold most powerfully within their own workforce.

Perhaps it's problematic messaging that limits who applies to career opportunities, an institutional problem that drives certain workers to leave or a dearth of female executives at the highest level. Regardless, it's HR's job to provide the self-awareness needed to pinpoint where lack of diversity is manifesting most destructively, and to set more equitable goals for each problem metric.

Of course, goal-setting is only the beginning; once that's done, the real job of HR professionals is to suggest practical solutions.

Don't Be Afraid to Reach Out to Women

This might seem obvious, but many HR departments forget or avoid it for some reason: figure out which aspects of work are most important to the groups you need to entice, and structure your outreach around those aspects. Language has a lot to do with this, as seen in this groundbreaking study featured in the American Psychological Association alluding to the power of gender-coded language to attract or repel applicants. This led to the "Gender Decoder" tool for quick analysis of language used in job ads.

Policy outreach matters just as much as tone. Sometimes this can be as simple as highlighting the company's maternity leave policies in copy, promising flexibility for nonstandard holidays or featuring female employees who have succeeded within the company.

Additionally, don't stuff the list of requirements for a position. Women applicants, who often begin the hiring process on less-confident footing, are also less likely to apply for jobs if they're unsure whether they have the desired skills and experience. If a skill would be an asset, be sure to list it as such — not as a hard requirement.

Diversity Is Crucial As the Economy Shifts

Beyond the need to embody socially just structures, how important is it for a business to have adequate gender diversity? More than one might think. Another way to say "diversity" is "institutional versatility," and modern businesses run into a dizzying array of challenges. Any company that fails to employ a large portion of potential employees is working with a major blind spot.

One study from MIT found that "transitioning from a single-gender office to an office evenly split between men and women would translate to a whopping 41 percent revenue gain," as reported in Forbes. That's certainly on the high end of the spectrum, but it helps demonstrate that a workforce with just one perspective can miss extremely profitable opportunities, whether they're important business relationships or nonstandard solutions to complex problems.

Investors know all this, of course, and companies that can show they've developed a strong, diverse workforce often benefit. This Women's History/Equality Month, they'll be on the prowl for the most diverse — and thus the most stable and versatile — companies they can find.