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Since the dawn of time, women have honed their leadership skills. They have served as executives, politicians, matriarchs and teachers. They have created beautiful art, developed groundbreaking innovations, authored leading literature, ran households and advocated for human rights. There is no doubt that society is better off for women’s work – yet women remain underrepresented as leaders in modern workplaces.
Just look at VOICE. The popular media may lead you to believe that we have overcome the gender gap in these areas – or at least achieved greater representation. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. The ratio of women to men in technical positions has actually fallen over the past 35 years, according to Accenture. Up to half of women in tech leave by the time they turn 35, making less than 20% of CIOs and CTOs female.
We’ve seen a similar workplace exodus in the past two years as millions of working women decided to stay home to take care of children and aging parents. It hasn’t been easy for the working women who have stayed either. On top of the added pressure and fatigue of the pandemic, McKinsey found that women are doing more to support their teams, including advancing DEI efforts, mentoring, and championing underrepresented women on their teams. Despite that, women loved under 30% of senior management positions in 2020.
These are the very leaders you can’t afford to lose right now, so how can you ensure you’re educating women to successfully reach leadership positions when experienced employees and women most likely to leave the workforce? Start with these three strategies.
Related: Thousands of women have not returned to the workforce. Here’s how to get them back.
1. Provide networking opportunities at work
In business, it’s often about who you know. But for millennia, the spaces designed for professional networking inherently kept women and other marginalized individuals away.
In addition, it is often difficult for women to attend after-hours networking events because they have to juggle personal obligations. This applies doubly to working mothers, who are still take on most of the household chores compared to their male partners. To remedy this imbalance, you need to provide networking and training opportunities during the 9 to 5 — whether that means allocating the budget to provide more equitable opportunities to attend industry conferences, host on-site events yourself, or create virtual opportunities for women to learn and network with their peers.
That said, access to networking opportunities won’t do women much good if they end up feeling unwelcome or included. So consider creating safe spaces for women to network with other women. From a cultural perspective, people want to see representation in the workplace.
The benefits will be twofold. More women will have the opportunity to connect with colleagues and other industry professionals. In addition, incorporating networking capabilities into the workday itself (instead of in addition to the 40-hour work week) can help combat rampant pandemic-related burnout, which is particularly prevalent among women. According to McKinsey, a third of women were thinking of leaving the workforce or moving back in their careers by 2021.
Related: Networking: The Most Important Thing Women Should Do For Their Careers — But They Aren’t
2. Build PhD trajectories
The idea that the corporate world is a meritocracy is a myth. Men are more likely to be leaders not because men are better suited for the job, but because of deep-seated prejudices and societal attitudes against women’s leadership potential.
Example: An analysis from 2021 of a major retail chain found that while 56% of entry-level employees were women, they made up only 14% of district managers. Despite the female employees getting better performance ratings, they often got lower ‘potential scores’ (ie how much their managers thought they would grow and develop) and therefore were less likely to move up the ranks.
In response, you should create strong professional development plans and, where possible, promotion paths for female employees. If women don’t see a viable path to success, they may choose to quit. Indeed, 77% of women say the biggest barrier to gender equality is the lack of information on how to proceed.
Related: How to make flexible business schedules work for everyone
3. Create flexible work schedules
Two years after the percentage of women has fallen in the workforce, it has still not recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Indeed, many women will never return to the job market, not because they found job satisfaction, but because office work is no longer viable for their lifestyle.
Remote or hybrid work models won’t work for every industry, but if possible, allow your employees to work from home at least part of the time. At the very least, you need to create a culture suitable for working moms. For example, set guidelines about when internal meetings can be scheduled so that they don’t compete with school pick-up and drop-off times.
And if you do go the completely remote route, take steps to ensure that ‘working from home’ doesn’t turn into ‘life at work’. As mentioned, women are more prone to burnout because of their excessive responsibilities at home. Define work limits for your employees so they don’t feel the constant pressure to work outside the “typical” work day.