Leadership Commitment & Equitable Hiring for more Women Leaders

Though Economics of women talent is an established fact, numbers at the top are not changing. In India, women make up 42% of new graduates but only 24% of entry-level professionals. Of these, about 19% reach senior level management roles. Women hold only 7.7% of board seats and just 2.7% of board chairs.

Women Catalyst

Source: Catalyst Knowledge Center, Women in the Workforce : India

Women leaders are missing across sectors. To gain momentum and drive change, women need to “lean-in” and they are doing so – at least more than before. But the work-life environment for women has not changed sufficiently for them to overcome the hurdles to join, stay and rise to leadership roles.

Hiring, retention and growth of women – all seem to be a big challenge.

Let us focus on the hiring aspect here. When 42% of new graduates are women, why only 24% of entry level jobs are held by them? Either women are opting out (pressurized to opt out) from joining the workforce or they are simply not being hired. Why is that so and what are companies doing about it?

In order to capitalize on the women talent, we need two things –

  • Leadership commitment to gender parity and an inclusive culture
  • Gender equitable hiring practices

Leadership Commitment:  Walking the Talk

We need more CEOs to walk the talk!

Just having gender equitable policies will not impact gender parity. Many leaders, while professing equal opportunity for all, still exhibit clear biases and preferences for having men in critical roles, with the belief that women cannot handle the same pressure. In their effort to be considerate and protective of women, they do disservice to gender parity. In these instances, all diversity policies and practices, the company HR tries to implement, will be a waste of time and effort.

But there are leaders who make visible efforts; they set aspirational goals for the percentage of women in leadership roles, ask for diverse shortlist of candidates for senior positions, spend money on unconscious bias training, initiate mentoring programs, call for internal reviews of all staff related policies – all with the good intention of strengthening the pipeline of women leaders.

These certainly help but don’t always get the expected results because of the “second generation bias”. The second generation bias is less overt discrimination, harder to deal with and much more prevalent. The subtle messages that associate certain key roles with men, leadership competencies with “masculine traits”, job descriptions and growth paths designed for men, often drain the motivation of women to aspire for leadership roles. So the leadership commitment has to go much beyond setting visible targets and policy changes to having a clear purpose to build a culture that is as inclusive for women as it is for men.

“Diversity and Inclusion should not only be a phrase on a piece of paper, it’s a mind-set and should be lived actively every day,” says Claudia Marshall, IKEA Distribution Area Manager Northern Europe

In 2015, IKEA Switzerland became the first company in the world to reach the highest level of gender equality certification from EDGE (Economic Dividends for Gender Equality) and IKEA globally has 48% female managers. IKEA’s gender related philosophy is all pervasive in their business. It extends beyond their organizational wall to their vendors, suppliers and customers.

There is no substitute for visible top management commitment to gender equity. But there are specific actions that are complementary to the leadership commitment. In this article, we will focus on the best hiring practices –

Hire More Women: Promise to Practice

  • Review Job profile

Words matter!

study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2011 compared over 4000 job ads and found that masculine wording in job advertisements like “ambitious,” “dominant,” and “competitive” can be off-putting for women. Companies need to re-examine the job posting vocabulary and make the language more growth-oriented. It’s not black and white – about having a skill or not, it’s about the willingness and ability to learn a new skill.

  • Diversify Interview Panel

Organizations have used hiring targets to ensure equitable hiring across gender. But an all male interview panel is a reflection of the bias that impacts women. Some organizations have made it mandatory to include women in interview panels and training is offered to managers, both men and women, to recognize their unconscious bias during hiring interviews.

  • Offer Incentives

VMware offers its employees 150 per cent referral bonus for every successful female candidate. Such programs encourage employees to refer more women candidates, and demonstrate the value women candidates have for the company.

Intel pledged 300M USD to build a more diverse work force and vowed to tie executive compensation to promoting diversity.

  • Set Performance Indicators

Specific gender equality KPIs can be assigned to the managers, relating to increasing gender diversity on recruitment shortlists, on project teams, in promotions etc.

“Make sure partner evaluations include promoting women as an objective. It’s just as important for partners to be evaluated on building their people as it is for them to be evaluated on building the business –  so make sure you measure it”, said a Senior Female Partner at Taj.

  • Train the Next Generation

An alternative approach is partnering with schools and universities to groom and prepare women talent as pipeline for new hires. In 2014, Microsoft India launched Women in Tech, an initiative to train and mentor 1 million girls in 1 year, enable the next generation girls to find suitable careers in IT and accelerate their growth.

UNDP with support from IKEA Foundation launched Disha – a program to make a million educated but under-privileged college girls employable.

Companies can partner with such programs and gain access to a large pool of women talent.

  • Leverage Social Media

Lastly, increasingly popular social media could be used to highlight company’s women friendly work culture. The women staff should be encouraged to use this platform to share their positive experiences in order to attract more talented women.

No country can make progress if it locks out a half of its population. Increasing contribution of women in the workplace would call for increasing contribution of men at home. As Sheryl Sandberg says:

A world where half our homes are run by men, and half our institutions are run by women, would be a far better world!

Equitable hiring is fundamental to bringing men and women to the same footing. Only then shall a discussion about retention and growth of women at workplace matter.

Co-authored with Ipsita Kathuria, Published @Financial Express

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