In 1873, the Supreme Court ruled that women couldn’t be lawyers, notes attorney Jonathan Segal. Gender equality has improved, but still, women are CEOs of only 4.5 percent of the Fortune 1000. In virtually every profession, women are underrepresented in top management, Segal adds.
Speaking to a packed crowd at the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Annual Conference & Exposition, held recently in Washington, D.C., Segal suggested that it is a legal AND business imperative to fix the gender equality problem. He offered 12 methods by which employers can accomplish this.
- Reassess Requirements
Experience requirements are often artificially high (e.g., 15 years of operations experience for a senior leadership position). That disproportionately denies women a shot at the job, and because of that, they will stay denied.Turn it around and value alternative types of experience. (Diversity with small “d,” says Segal.)
- Expand the Applicant Pool
Through targeted recruiting, which is done in addition to (not in lieu of) general recruiting, you can work to expand the applicant pool. Be where your desired candidates are on social media, in organizations, and associations.Reach out to women (and men) who took time off for “family” reasons (and whom you would like to see back). They are known quantities, says Segal.
- Screening Guardrails
Screening guardrails help us with our unconscious bias, Segal says. Try circulating résumés without names, he says. Studies show that when reviewers are presented with similar résumés, some with women’s names and some with men’s names, the men are more likely to get an interview, even if the reviewer is a woman. Another example of unconscious bias involves violinists. Before blind auditions, men were overwhelmingly selected for major orchestras. After blind auditions were instituted, women were picked in equal numbers. (In fact, women dominate violin positions today in many orchestras.)Also, beware the gap issue, Segal says. Managers are usually trained to explore any gaps in the résumé, but the gap is almost always due to a family or medical reason, he says. Since such gaps are more likely to involve women, maybe consider not asking unless there are multiple short gaps.Decision-making bias may also be a problem. (See #9.)
- Interview Guardrails
Similarly, you’d like to remove bias from interviews. A good starting point, says Segal, is asking uniform questions. For example, say you ask a woman about whether she can travel and you don’t ask the man. The woman may reply, “No, I can’t travel,” and so she’s out of the running. The man may also not be able to travel, but he was never asked.Consider using mixed-gender interviewing teams to counter “like me” bias.Note: As a general rule, you cannot give “gender” a plus, even if your intention is for the laudable purpose of increasing diversity.Again, decision-making bias may be a problem. (See #9.)
- Maximize Access to Opportunity
Make sure women have equal access to:
- Plum assignments
- Leadership roles
- Top customers/clients
- Career-track status
- Retention efforts
There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, says Segal. There are many viable options, but one thing is clear: No option is not getting it done. One thing that can be helpful is setting standard stepping stones. For example, within 6 months, write a pitch; year 1, assist with a pitch; 6 months later, do a joint pitch; and at the 2-year point, do a solo pitch. This approach (which can be applied to any job) ensures that everyone is getting the same access and attention and also builds bench strength.Also, says Segal, avoid these specific challenges:
- Customer preference (this customer won’t respond to a woman salesperson)
- Travel (stereotyping that women won’t want to travel)
- Pregnancy paternalism (pregnant women shouldn’t be put under stress)
- Minimizing Gender Pay Gap
The first step is to take a thoughtful look at compensation. And then, if there is a problem, acknowledge. In addition:
- Don’t prevent negotiations.
- Establish ranges for positions, but allow for exceptions. Be sure to document exceptions, and audit. Generally, avoid asking about prior salary. Why is that relevant? You have your ranges.
- Do a critical self-evaluation. Segal notes that the figures are discoverable, but the analysis won’t be if done under privilege.
- Support Work/Life Management
It’s work/life management really, says Segal, not balance. Focus more on the bottom line and less on face time—a management training issue. When dealing with parental leave, unbundle disability and bonding. Disability is women only; bonding must be applied to men and women alike. Also, consider access to child care and elder care. Finally, beware of overselling, says Segal, and don’t sell work/life to just women. In tomorrow’s Advisor, the rest of Segal’s tips.