Four Ways to Support Female Talent

The under-representation of women, particularly at senior strategic levels, is still an issue in many organizations today. Which means both women, and the companies they work for, are missing out.

Written by Catriona MacLeod
Published 16 February 2021
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Four Ways to Support Female Talent
A more balanced senior team brings a diversity of perspectives, experience and leadership styles to the table. This can only result in more informed decision-making and more objective leadership.

Let’s take a look at four key ways your organization can take stock, and maximise the potential of its female talent pool.
 

First, some facts to consider


The business case for why organizations should have specific measures in place to support female talent is clear:
  • While progress has been made in the UK, with 34.5% of FTSE 100 board members now female, only 5% of FTSE 100 CEOs in 2020 were women. [1]
  • In the Fortune 500, there are nearly 13 companies run by a man, for every one run by a woman. [2]
  • According to a McKinsey report, companies in the top quartile for gender diverse executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability. [3]
  • Research indicates that women in particular have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. And more than 1 in 4 women are contemplating downshifting their careers or leaving work altogether. [4]
 

Four ways to change
1. Gather data about the current situation


Although you may suspect your organization could be doing more to support female talent, gathering accurate data about the current situation can help secure necessary buy-in and support. Questions to ask include:
  • How many women does our organization recruit?
  • What percentage of management positions are held by women?
  • What is our organization’s turnover rate of women?
  • Are women particularly under-represented in certain departments or areas of our organization? If so, why?
  • At what rate do women get promoted?
  • What impact has the COVID crisis had on our female workforce?

Doing your research will give you a clear starting point to work from. It will also provide you with the evidence you need to build a strong business case to help your organization better support and retain female talent.

Once you’ve got some basic quantitative data, the next step is to supplement this with information gathered directly from your employees about their experiences. A good way to achieve this is by running focus groups (with both male and female participants), to ask employees about their opinions on key issues such as:
  • your organization’s culture and working environment
  • how people are developed
  • promotion opportunities and career expectations
  • how work and family life is balanced, including during the pandemic

You could gather this information via an online survey questionnaire. It’s worth bearing in mind that people may be more willing to participate in an online survey, and may be more candid in their responses, if they are anonymised.

Also try to gather robust data about the current situation for women in your organization by running exit interviews, using a third party if you can.

You can learn a lot from listening to those who are leaving your organization about their specific reasons for doing so, and their suggestions for how things could be improved.
 

2. Get senior management buy-in


The senior team in your organization must be committed to supporting female talent in the right way.

Tone at the top is important, therefore your organization’s board, top leaders and senior management team should be actively involved with, committed to, and accountable for gender diversity.

Setting gender diversity targets, and making leaders and managers across your organization accountable for recruiting, developing and promoting women are proven ways of improving gender diversity. [5]

It’s not just targets, programs and initiatives, that matter, however. As equality expert, Michelle King points out:

‘’Inclusion does or doesn’t happen in millions of moments each day and leaders need to stop denying the reality for women and become aware of all the ways they enable inequality to unfold in their teams.’’ [6]

Instead, she says, leaders need to create a culture that clearly values, rewards and supports individual differences, and do so by practicing equality as part of the day-to-day job. [7]
 

3. Develop mentoring programmes for women


Having a good mentor can help aspiring leaders to the next level in their careers. Mentoring has been shown to be especially important for women because they may find it harder to build social capital at work. [8] Research suggests that this can be more of an issue in organizations which are male dominated. [9]

Despite the fact that 67% of women rate mentoring as highly important in helping to advance and grow their careers, 63% say they have never had a formal mentor. [10]

If you don’t already have one, setting up a formal mentoring programme to help women advance their careers is an important step. As part of this, it can also be helpful to consider your organization’s culture, and whether mentoring is rare or commonplace.

If you’re not sure where to start, do some research or reach out to your networks – which organizations have well-established female mentoring programs? What have they done, what results have they achieved, and what can you learn from them?

If you do already have a mentoring program or programs in place, consider the following questions:
  • Are employees aware of them? If not, why?
  • How could you improve the promotion and general awareness of your mentoring programs to women?
  • Do you share success stories to encourage employees to get involved?
  • How do you select and train potential mentors?
  • How do you evaluate the success of your mentoring programs?
 

4. Don’t forget flexible working


If you can offer your employees flexible working arrangements*, your organization will be better placed to retain valuable skilled talent – and create a balanced workforce. You could investigate a range of alternatives to full-time working such as:
  • working part-time
  • offering early/late starting and finishing times
  • investigating whether roles can be fulfilled by job-sharing arrangements
  • introducing flexi-time
  • enabling people to work from home or in alternative location(s)

A related issue to be aware of here is the issue of presenteeism, and whether your organization’s culture is one that looks more favorably on ‘face time’ in the office (or online), and those who work full-time. A way to challenge this is to encourage an organizational culture which is focused on the achievement of results.
 

Summary


Despite efforts to ensure better gender balance in the workplace, the reality for many organizations is that they fail to adequately support high-potential female talent. However, by putting systematic plans in place, your organization can make progress and reap the benefits of a more balanced workforce.

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References

[1] Discover the Female FTSE 100 CEOs of 2020. Available at: https://www.businessleader.co.uk/discover-the-female-ftse-100-ceos-of-2020/81145/ (accessed 11 February 2021).

[2] Women in Management: Quick Take. Available at: https://www.catalyst.org/research/women-in-management/ (accessed 11 February 2021).

[3]Delivering through Diversity. Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/business%20functions/organization/our%20insights/delivering%20through%20diversity/delivering-through-diversity_full-report.ashx (accessed 11 February 2021).

[4] Women in the Workplace 2020. Available at:: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/women-in-the-workplace (accessed 11 February 2021).

[5] Australian Government Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 'How to set gender diversity targets'. Available at: www.wgea.gov.au/sites/default/files/SETTING-GENDER-TARGETS-Online-accessible_0.pdf (accessed 11 Feruary 2021).

[6] Michelle King, Leaders, Stop Denying the Gender Inequity in Your Organization . Available at: https://hbr.org/2020/06/leaders-stop-denying-the-gender-inequity-in-your-organization (accessed 11 Feruary 2021).

[7] Ibid

[8] The Office for National Statistics describes social capital as the pattern and intensity of networks among people and the shared values which arise from those networks. Find out more at: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/guide-method/user-guidance/social-capital-guide/the-social-capital-project/guide-to-social-capital.html

[9] J C Chrisler & D R McCreary, Handbook of Gender Research in Psychology, Volume 2 (New York, Springer, 2010).

[10] Stephanie Neal, Jazmine Boatman and Linda Miller, Women as Mentors: Does She or Doesn’t She? Available at: https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/employee-relations/Documents/womenasmentors_rr_ddi.pdf_ext=.pdf (accessed 11 February 2020).

* Flexible working regulations vary from country to country. In the UK, for instance, all employees have the right to request flexible working, after 26 weeks with their employer. You can find out more about this at: https://www.gov.uk/flexible-working/overview. In the U.S. employers are not legally required to consider or offer flexible working. More on this is available here: https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/workhours/flexibleschedules
 

About the author

Catriona MacLeod

Catriona MacLeod

Editorial Manager
Catriona has over 19 years of experience in editorial management. She works with clients across a wide range of sectors to deliver relevant and practical resources to meet the learning needs of leaders and managers. Catriona loves the variety of her role, from writing and editing content to conducting video interviews with industry experts.

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