Happy International Women’s Day to the wonderful, hardworking women across the world’s workplaces! This is the day we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and take stock of where we are in the pursuit of gender equity.
This year’s theme, #PressforProgress, reminds me of the true, bottom-line value that women leaders bring to our organizations. Globally, studies show having more women in top posts translates into bigger profits for companies.
Organizations seem to understand that putting more women in the C-suite gives them a clear competitive business advantage. SHRM’s executive network HR People + Strategy reports that 82 percent of organizations believe advancing women is a critical business issue. But they are less sure about how to make this happen. Only 28 percent of HR leaders believe their organizations have the ability to elevate women into leadership roles.
Men and women tend to begin their careers at the same level, but men move into management and supervisory roles at a quicker pace, and the leadership gender gap widens over the years. Women still face conscious and unconscious gender bias in hiring and promotion and are still the prime casualties of workplace sexual harassment. They also bear more than an equal share of family and caregiving responsibilities. These and other inequities impact their opportunities for promotion.
I believe that closing the leadership gender gap is possible, and even probable. But it won’t be a matter of savvy succession planning or more training and development. In many workplaces, it will require overcoming a corporate culture stuck in the past. “We’ve always done it this way” stifles women’s leadership opportunities—intentionally or unintentionally. HR needs to fight the good fight for culture change that enhances women’s leadership and, by extension, the workplace and the enterprise.
Some residual hiring practices perpetuate gender bias, such as relying on salary histories and previous job titles to evaluate candidates instead of focusing solely on the skills and competencies the position really requires. Too many organizations are also caught in a “just like us” mindset that causes them to recruit consistently from the same shallow pools and promote carbon-copy candidates.
Culture change starts at the top, and it must:
- Ensure safe, inclusive and equitable workplaces for women;
- Treat women’s leadership development as a strategic business imperative, communicating the values and policies widely and holding supervisors accountable for the career progress of women on their teams;
- Deliver professional development to women using the most effective best practices, such as one-on-one coaching;
- Respect and address women’s responsibilities outside the workplace through Workflex policies; and
- Be championed by male, as well as female leaders.
Finally, the best way to bring more women into leadership roles is to have more women in leadership roles. This is where the HR profession really stands out. Nearly 60 percent of chief human resource officers in America’s 100 biggest companies are women.
I am proud to be leading HR at HR’s leading professional organization. I am confident that SHRM members—men and women—are also setting a powerful example, building the business bottom line by clearing a path for the talented, ambitious women in their ranks. That is work we can all be proud of on this International Women’s Day.