It’s About Business: Recruiting and Retaining Women
Updated: Jun 23
Last year I had a conversation with my father after he watched a video interview I did discussing women and leadership. He had a home improvement business that he closed in the mid ‘90s. My father shared that looking back, he recognized the women sales associates had better results than their male counterparts, and if he hadn't retired and closed the business he would have hired more women for the sales team.
Hiring, developing, and promoting women is in the news for good reasons. Women currently make up about 47% of the workforce. As for education, in 2016-17 women obtained more than 50% of all degrees from bachelors, to doctorates. If you are not actively looking to recruit women, or retain and develop the ones already working for you, you are missing out on a valuable part of the talent pool.
Just as my father recognized, this is smart business. Studies show a more diverse C-Suite is connected to higher margins, bigger profits, and better total return to shareholders. Credit Suisse found that a higher percentage of women in decision-making roles generated higher returns on equity and superior sales growth. Similarly, when the non-profit Catalyst reviewed performance of 353 Fortune 500 companies, they found that companies with high representations of women in their senior leadership teams had a 35 percent higher return on equity and a 34 percent higher total shareholder return than male-dominated firms. Sadly, recent studies also show that at the rate we are going, the gender gap will not disappear for almost 200 years. But you don’t need to wait.
I work with clients in industries that women don’t even know about or think about as career options. Others are good at bringing women into entry roles but struggle to retain them. So what can you do? Here are four actions to review or consider implementing.
Get the Word Out Early - Partner With Universities
If your industry is one that women might not know about or consider, it’s important to introduce it to them early. It’s hard if they don't know about the industry or opportunities. Create partnerships with universities that have programs that cater to your industry or the types of entry roles that are prevalent in your company. Offer to speak at career days, sponsor a women’s event organized by the school, and see if there are school sanctioned women’s organizations where you can speak to the group. If the university has a Greek system, look at opportunities to talk with sororities. Anything you can do to get your name into that community and start to build awareness will eventually pay off.
Review Job Descriptions and Website Images
Today many organizations try to stand out by writing intriguing job descriptions; ones they think show the human and fun side of their culture. Did you know that there are certain words and phrases that are associated with either men or women? Words like heroes and ninja appeal to men but not as much to women. In the same way saying things like “we work hard and play hard” can imply to some people that your culture is one of after-hour beer drinking. You should also pay attention to pronouns. It is perfectly acceptable to use the generic “you” or “they”.
Check your website images. Look at it from the perspective of a job candidate. If a woman looks at your website she will be looking for clues as to the culture and environment. Do you have a diverse mix of gender, age, and race represented? If you haven’t updated your website in several years, you may be using stock photos that don’t reflect your current culture and the diversity you have.
Calibrate the Interview Process
There are two things you can do in the interview process to help with both the candidate’s perception of your organization, and to reduce unconscious bias by the hiring team.
First, follow a structured interview process. This means that all candidates are asked and answer the same questions. It allows you to compare apples to apples. While people like to believe they are good interviewers and can be objective when evaluating a candidate’s, research shows otherwise. Unstructured interviews can lead to poor hiring decisions because you may not evaluate all candidates consistently or against important skills for the role.
Second, women want to see themselves in your place of business. Every interview team should include as least one woman, even if they work in a different department. This let’s the candidate see that there are already women working in your organization and they won’t be a pioneer.
Create a Mentoring Program
Mentoring is one of the best retention tools for women. Studies show that 65% of women who are mentored will become a mentor in the future. Mentoring programs show that the organization is invested and interested in their success. There doesn’t need to be a lot of formality to the pairing or process if you don’t have the means to do so. If there are no women available to be a mentor, find a man with similar qualifications and background. For example, is there a single dad you can pair with a single mom, or those who went to the same college or have similar goals or background.
So back to the discussion with my father. Maybe raising three daughters and having a wife with her own business influenced him to hire women, but it was the results these women achieved that led him to the “more women in sales” conclusion. Whatever you do, this is a business decision that needs to be implemented in a way that works best for your organization’s culture.