By Paula Santonocito
When it comes to career opportunities, women have come a long way in recent decades. Even previous “male only” professions now routinely include female employees among the ranks.
Nevertheless, while women make up 47.3 percent of the Canadian labour force and hold 37 percent of business management positions, top jobs continue to be held disproportionately by men. Women account for only 17.7 percent of senior officers at Financial Post 500 companies and comprise only 14.5 percent of board of director members at the Financial Post 500.
As might be expected, women also lag behind in pay. Only 6.2 percent of top earners at Financial Post 500 companies are women.*
The business case for advancing women in the workplace is irrefutable. The link between increased sales of products and services and a company’s workforce that more accurately mirrors the customer base it seeks has been well documented.
Yet, corporate leaders, including HR, may not know how to redefine organizational culture in order to create leadership and earnings opportunities for women.
Here are eight areas on which to focus.
Provide diversity training for male senior executives
Making leadership diversity a priority and implementing an effective diversity strategy require buy-in from the company’s male leaders.
Diversity training aimed at male senior executives is a proven best practice among Catalyst Award winners, companies that have been recognized by nonprofit organization Catalyst for advancing women in the workplace.
Offer meaningful mentoring programs for women
The most successful mentoring programs provide leadership coaching and career direction, where the least successful merely serve as window dressing.
Both male and female leaders in the organization can and should participate in mentoring programs for women, sharing details about their career paths, the obstacles they faced, choices they made, where they succeeded, and what they would do differently.
Mentoring programs alert women to the benefits of lateral moves through which they gain broader experience—experience that helps groom them for senior leadership roles.
Include benefits offerings for new mothers
Because women in leadership roles are often mothers, benefits for new mothers can impact career success.
Remote work arrangements, reduced travel schedules, and other offerings, such as an in-house support group, can make a huge difference.
At Big Four accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), for example, a program called Mentor Moms, which was first introduced in the U.S., has recently been implemented globally. The program connects new mothers, or mothers-to-be, with another PwC mom who has already experienced juggling motherhood and a career at the firm. The goal is to provide newer mothers with a connection to someone who can provide guidance and insights or even just act as a sounding board as they make important decisions about their careers.
Create a family-friendly culture
Attention to family-friendly benefits, such as flexible work schedules, remote work arrangements, and shorter summer workweeks, as well as child and elder care, help employees balance work and other aspects of life.
Women, who frequently assume more responsibility for family and day-to-day household tasks than men, especially appreciate workplaces that promote a family-friendly culture.
It comes as no surprise that the Financial Post’s Ten Best Companies to Work For score high when it comes to family-friendly benefits and diversity. The two are linked.
Shake up the board
A company’s board of directors should mirror its workforce, its customer base, and its other stakeholders. In other words, the board should reflect a world comprised of diverse people, including women.
In an effort to accelerate change, Catalyst recently launched the Catalyst Accord, a call to action that invites FP500 companies to stand up and be counted; companies that sign the Accord commit to increasing the representation of women on their boards. The goal is to increase the number of Financial Post 500 board seats held by women to 25 percent by 2017. KPMG, MTS Allstream, Talisman, RBC, and Linamar Corporation have taken the pledge.
Make the business connection
Educating the workforce about best people practices is arguably HR’s most important role. With this in mind, HR should not only help make the business case for diversity; HR leaders should help employees, from senior executives to entry-level employees, understand the connection between diversity and the business.
Best practice companies include a diversity statement that aligns product and employer brand as part of the corporate narrative. It may be found in the mission statement or as a corporate objective. However, this narrative must be reinforced through ongoing communication, both online and off, with HR taking the lead and reiterating how diversity and inclusion contribute to the organization’s success.
Recruit with attention to diversity
Employee recruitment must further leadership diversity efforts. When recruiting within the organization or externally, HR should strive to include women as viable candidates for leadership positions, and for those positions which will put women on a leadership track.
Job postings should reflect the organization’s commitment to diversity. Job postings should also provide information about career development opportunities and career paths.
The corporate careers site should likewise support diversity through its text and visual images. Best practices include featuring women senior executives who speak to career advancement opportunities within the organization. Videos are ideal, but photos and text can also be effective.
Dispel myths through change
The workplace continues to evolve, and change takes time. Yet, in order to create a workplace that taps into the strengths of all employees and truly provides equal career opportunities, HR must continue to move forward with initiatives that advance women.
The only way to totally shatter the proverbial glass ceiling is for each organization to ensure it doesn’t exist within its structure. In this regard, HR plays a critical role.
*All data courtesy of Catalyst research
Paula Santonocito, a business journalist specializing in employment issues, is the author of more than 1,000 articles on a wide range of human resources and career topics. Paula holds a Workforce Career Coach Facilitator (WCCF) certificate and has been awarded the Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF) designation. She is a contributing editor to HRInsider.ca.