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How to create a workplace where women thrive

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In the past several decades, women have made huge strides in the workplace. All it takes is watching a movie from the 1960s to see how differently we talk about the role of women in the professional world. The limiting language and low expectations our mothers and grandmothers heard growing up sounds harsh to modern ears— a great sign that we’re on our way to a more egalitarian culture for future generations of women.

But despite all these signs of progress, we still have a long way to go to reach full parity. There are still “firsts” happening in every industry for women. In the political realm, it’s notable that the United States has still yet to have a female President, and representation in the legislature is woefully uneven. In fact, women comprise only 20% of the U.S. House of Representatives and 22% of the Senate.

Shockingly, the corporate world is even worse; only 4.2% of Fortune 500 companies (21 total) have female CEOs. This gender imbalance represents a huge loss for companies who are looking to outperform their competitors; multiple studies have indicated that more female participation in the C-suite correlates with higher profitability.

Getting all the benefits of having women lead in the workplace requires equitable hiring practices and some key cultural shifts. If your company is ready to get serious about attracting strong female talent, here are some things to consider:

Eliminate unconscious hiring bias

Take a close look at your hiring practices; are they set up to be equitable and to give candidates a fair shot, regardless of their gender?

Whether or not your recruiters and hiring managers realize it, small details in job postings may be sending subtle messages indicating what kind of person they imagine for the role. Try running job descriptions through a tool like Textio, which suggests changes that can make job descriptions more gender-neutral.

You may also want to consider implementing “blind hiring” practices to combat unconscious bias, or build in a requirement that at least one female candidate is interviewed for every open position. Making just a few minor changes like these can help ensure that your company doesn’t shut down qualified candidates right out of the gate.

Parental leave policies for both mothers and fathers

New parenthood is a bewildering time for anyone. Figuring out a new family dynamic, caring for a child, sleep deprivation, and possible physical side effects that come with childbirth make for a challenging few months. It makes sense that including a generous maternity leave package among your perks would provide a recruiting advantage for women, and many companies have done so in the past few decades. But in addition to maternity leave, your company may want to consider including a paternity leave policy.

While a parental leave policy that includes men might sound like a counterintuitive way to attract female talent, it’s a great way to communicate your company’s commitment to working women and their families. That’s because fathers who are given time off to bond with their children are likelier to share parental and household responsibilities more evenly, allowing their partners the opportunity to focus on professional development. By implementing an equal parental leave policy, your company can create a more equitable professional environment and gain a recruiting advantage for talented employees of all genders.

Flexible schedules

If this point sounds familiar, it’s because this particular benefit has been named as one of the most attractive perks for employees in every demographic group. Companies that allow staff to work remotely or on flexible timelines are also likely to see higher levels of employee satisfaction, loyalty, and engagement. That all results in lower turnover and higher profitability.

Even with the evolution of family roles in the past several years, women still take on a disproportionate amount of household and childcare responsibilities. Providing employees with the ability to shift their schedules around easily ensures that talented women are able to participate in the workforce without feeling torn between their professional and personal obligations. As with paternity leave, a flexible work schedule also allows male employees to contribute more evenly to their households, giving working women a better chance to succeed.

Adopt a zero-tolerance policy about harassment

The current cultural moment is serving as a reckoning for corporate leaders who have behaved inappropriately, and those who have enabled them to continue those behaviors. But just because we’re in the middle of a public unearthing of these incidents doesn’t mean this is a new development. Women have long taken note of which work environments are welcoming and which ones turn a blind eye toward sexual harassment.

Companies earn their reputations in this regard, and women often share these kinds of experiences with their personal and professional networks. Even if your company manages to avoid an embarrassing public incident, turning a blind eye to impropriety in the office will likely result in the loss of strong female talent in the workplace, and negatively impact your ability to hire women.

In order to avoid this fate, it’s crucial that your company takes a zero-tolerance stance on matters of sexual harassment and assault. Take a look at this article for some tips to help you prevent and address incidents in your company. Whatever your company leadership needs to do to root out impropriety and create a safer environment for all employees, it’s worth the effort.

The best way to become a more woman-friendly workplace

It may seem like a tall order to make major cultural shifts in your workplace in order to become a more attractive employer to women. But there’s one big step your company leaders can take that will help the rest of these changes happen more organically: promote women to leadership positions.

There are many benefits that come with female leadership, and they aren’t just about getting better financial outcomes. Having women in prominent positions makes the forward-thinking policies above more likely to get implemented, making it easier to hire the best talent—regardless of gender.

On a more conceptual level, it’s also important to keep in mind how valuable equal representation is to the morale of all employees. The saying “if you can see it, you can be it” is a great guiding principle for company leaders to keep in mind when hiring and promoting. If all your executives come from the same background, employees might feel like the deck is stacked against them. This has the unintended consequences of discouraging them from sharing innovative ideas.

However, a commitment to hiring leaders with diverse backgrounds and perspectives can motivate the bright, talented minds in your company to contribute their best efforts. When employees know their gender will not limit their potential to be recognized and promoted in the workplace, companies can benefit immensely.