By Melanie Axman
Studies and statistics consistently point towards company benefits and increased profit margins when women are encouraged and emerge as leaders in the workplace. Consequently, companies are increasingly recognizing the importance of identifying and developing female executives. This movement parallels the success women feel when male senior executives become sponsors, mentors and champions of professional gender equality.
However, for those male senior executives who have not yet become involved with this effort, the question remains: how can we encourage and persuade them to invest in gender initiatives? Here are 5 tips to consider.
1. Create authentic professional relationships across gender.
Friendships at work are not only emotionally healthy, they provide us the chance to connect with colleagues on various levels, and support a sharing of different perspectives. A Randstad Work Watch survey cited by Forbes magazine in April 2010 reveals that American workers seem to be happier at their jobs because of the friendships they cultivate with co-workers. However, the top responses from the survey aligned more to workplace culture: a more creative and friendly workplace (70%); increases teamwork (69%); increases morale (59%); and increases knowledge sharing and open communication (50%).
Seemingly, these workplace friendships can also give women a personalized platform to voice both successes and challenges to male colleagues. By developing these authentic, professional relationships (especially with those in power to develop initiatives) women potentially create powerful change agents and professional allies.
2. Cite statistics, profitability & the issue of talent retention.
In a well-known study conducted by Roy Adler and various scholars at Pepperdine University, teams identified firms that were most aggressive in promoting women to high levels and compared their profit performance to the median performance of Fortune 500 firms in the same industries. For 2001, the 25 best firms for women outperformed the industry medians, with overall profits 34 percent higher when calculated for revenue, 18 percent higher in terms of assets and 69 percent higher in regard to equity.
The results were confirmed in subsequent studies in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. In every one of those years, the companies identified as being the best at promoting women outperformed the industry median on all three profitability measures. What does this mean for employers? Promoting women is not only the right thing to do, it retains a talented and committed workforce, and it’s a fiscally responsible decision as well.
3. Highlight employer trends, and leverage peer pressure.
The focus on gender initiatives is a long awaited personnel shift that has gained more traction than ever before, and a change that many employers are finding hard to ignore.
As many organizations are beginning to go public with company practices they consider outdated and antiquated one particular organization, 2020 Women on Boards stands out by highlighting what they deem both suitable and primitive gender practices. They currently publish a list of “winning” companies comprised of public and private companies that have 20% or more women on their boards of directors. Similarly, they are building a list of “Zero companies,” known as Z companies, who do not have any women on their boards of directors. This Z-company database will be published on their website in 2012, encouraging an active push to change the current makeup of the average corporate board.
In addition, sites like glassdoor.com and similar online professional hubs allow for secrets of workplace culture to be shared on a much larger scale. Any businesses seeking to appear progressive and fair, who also strive to attract top talent, do not want to find themselves on the receiving end of scornful employee reviews and online forums. This type of pressure can be leveraged to create change in the professional realm. In the age of such rapid global change, even late adopters can’t afford to be left behind.
4. Appeal to empathetic male colleagues – seek men out with working spouses.
According to Dana E. Friedman’s article in The Future of Children (a collaboration between Princeton University and the Brookings Institution) the portion of households with two employed parents has doubled since 1950, making dual-earner couples the largest group of families in the workplace. Men with working spouses are typically all too familiar with the challenge of juggling home and work life. These men have wives who are often in the same position as their female colleagues: struggling to navigate a male-dominated workplace with rules and parameters that don’t accurate reflect their needs as employees and parents. By appealing to their empathetic male colleagues, creating authentic relationships and exploring opportunities for change within a company, creating initiatives becomes less about a female focused agenda, and more about a family-friendly, employee-friendly environment.
5. Be diligent about your goals and quest for change.
The term “glass ceiling” was created over 20 years ago, and continues to have a comfortable and established presence in today’s workplace. Women and their male allies are working hard to actively change a predominate culture that has dictated our success for generations. While the glass ceiling persists, our continued focus and determination has led to massive changes on the professional front, making way for new opportunities. With our eyes on the prize of advancement and progress, the pace of change isn’t slowing. Despite the discomfort that accompanies changing the status quo and challenging superiors and bosses who may not agree with our stance, there is no other option. Stay diligent and focused in your quest for gender equality in the workplace. We are building off the momentum of the executives who have gone before us, and paved the way for our success.