Diversity Insight, Talent

IWD 2020: Tips for Engaging and Retaining Female Talent

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. IWD will take place Sunday, March 8, 2020, and this year’s theme is #EachforEqual.

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Source: Sveta Aho / Shutterstock

In honor of this global day, we’re uncovering new research on eliminating the gender pay gap and speaking with female leaders from across the nation about ways they have helped create an equal and diverse workforce. These experts also share their tips and best practices for retaining female talent in the workplace.

“International Women’s Day 2020 is about building a truly equal world. Every day, each one of us holds responsibility in our thoughts, actions, and conversations to create an equal and inclusive society,” says Jessica O. Matthews, Founder and CEO of Uncharted Power—in an e-mail to HR Daily Advisor. “As I currently lead a tech company in the center of Harlem, New York, I recall the stereotypes, biases, and negative connotations I faced when building my company as a black woman.”

“Now, I am proud to share that half our organization’s staff are women and we actively work with several STEM organizations to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship for young women in the community, such as the Harlem Tech Fund and UPlift,” she adds. “Today, I encourage everyone to think of one thing in their lives that wouldn’t have been there if a woman wasn’t there to create it.”

Matthews isn’t the only leader who feels this way! Cindy Miller, CEO of Stericycle, shares the same sentiments. As someone who spent most of her professional career in male-dominated industries, I understand the importance of an equal and fair work environment,” Miller says in an e-mail to HR Daily Advisor. “Your gender does not define your ability to succeed and all employees deserve to be recognized for their unique strengths and what they bring to the table. This International Women’s Day, I urge all business leaders to collectively take action and bear the responsibility in creating an equal workplace for all.”

In order to take action and create an equal workplace, you must first understand how employees feel about the equality, or lack thereof, in the workplace. Compensation cloud software company, beqom recently sought to understand which gender-related issues are impacting the workplace. The company surveyed 1,000 American adults to ask, Which of the following topics do you care most about this International Women’s Day? Respondents could choose from the following options:

  • Enacting a federal parental leave policy
  • Eliminating the gender pay gap
  • Diversifying the C-suite/boardroom
  • Electing the first female president
  • I don’t know

Survey Says …

According to beqom survey respondents, eliminating the gender pay gap was most important. When asked what they care the most about this International Women’s Day, nearly 1 in 5 (19%) Americans said eliminating the gender pay gap. Women (24%) care about eliminating the gender pay gap more than men (13%). And when it comes to age, Baby Boomers (27%) care more about eliminating the gender pay gap than Millennials (18%) and Gen Zs (15%).

Nearly 1 in 10 (9%) Americans care most about enacting a federal parental leave policy. When broken down by gender, 1 in 10 women (10%) care about enacting a federal parental leave policy, which is slightly more than men (8%). Nearly 1 in 8 (12%) of Gen Zs care most about enacting a federal parental leave policy—compared with Millennials (11%) and Baby Boomers (5%).

Beqom also found that Americans care more about electing the first female president (8%) than diversifying the C-suite/boardroom (2%). More women (8%) said they care about electing the first female president than men (7%). Interestingly, Millennials (8%) care least about electing the first female president—compared with Gen Zs (10%) and Baby Boomers (9%).

Additionally, an extremely low number of women and men (2%) care about diversifying the C-suite/boardroom, with Millennials (4%) caring most about diversifying the C-suite/boardroom—compared with Gen Zs (less than 1%) and Baby Boomers (2%).

Fixing the Gender Pay Gap

While the gender pay gap continues to remain top of mind for many, HR professionals who are looking reduce this gap in their workplace can start by banning salary history inquires during the interview process, training managers and supervisors to reduce bias when granting promotions, and periodically audit your personnel and take note of which managers and staff receive different pay and why. For even more ideas on closing the pay gap and creating a diverse and inclusive workforce, we turn to Philip Morris International, which implemented its own strategy to close the gender pay gap.

“Recognizing that there’s no silver bullet to addressing gender equality, to build an ecosystem of interrelated actions to advance gender balance at PMI, we wanted to shore up the fundamental foundations confirming equal pay for equal work between women and men across our organization,” says Melissa Whiting, Vice President of Inclusion and Diversity, Philip Morris International (PMI)—in an e-mail to HR Daily Advisor. “In March last year, PMI achieved the global EQUAL-SALARY certification from the independent, nonprofit EQUAL-SALARY Foundation, following an intensive quantitative and qualitative review of our pay and related practices all around the world. This confirms that we pay men and women equally for equal work in more than 90 countries worldwide.”

“It’s also important to have a clear commitment from the top when it comes to making progress on inclusion and diversity, including efforts to increase the representation of women in management roles,” she adds. “At PMI, we have set ourselves a target to increase the representation of women in managerial roles to at least 40% by 2022. And we’re making good progress—today, women make up 36% of these roles, up 6 percentage points over the last 5 years.”

“Another foundational step in advancing gender equality is to level the playing field by offering flexible working arrangements for everyone, irrespective of gender,” Whiting adds. “Today at PMI, we have introduced flexible working in more than 70 countries, designed to make it easier for women and men to succeed in both their professional and personal goals in managing work and home.”

“Beyond these efforts, we are also focused on developing and promoting talented women from within our organization, including personalized career development plans and creating opportunities for women to build more professional connections and mentoring relationships,” says Whiting. “Building on these efforts, this year we’re elevating the visibility of a diverse group of our male and female leaders as part of our ‘Diversity Driving Change‘ campaign in the lead up to International Women’s Day.”

“With this initiative, we’re focused on sharing a variety of leaders’ stories and experiences around work/life balance, how they overcame challenges, and their personal purpose and leadership styles that other women and men across the organization may identify with and learn from,” Whiting adds. “At PMI, we want to celebrate this diversity of leadership styles and methods of integrating work and personal priorities—and demonstrate that there is no single stereotype of success.”

Expert Opinion

Offering flexible working arrangements, to create a better work/life balance, seems to be a common theme among all employers celebrating IWD. Julie Herzog, Managing Partner/Co-Founder of Fortis Law Partners and Co-Founder of Full Velocity Consulting explains how work/life balance is important but hard to achieve:

“I’m not sure I’ve found the perfect balance yet, but I think I am approaching it,” Herzog recently shared in an e-mail with HR Daily Advisor. “Because of the flexibility I have in working a nontraditional schedule, I am able to take the time I need to focus on my kids and my career. And those are two of the most important parts of my life.”

“For me, a divorced mom with kids, it’s important that my child-sharing time is one in which I can be focused on their needs and our time together, whether it’s for a weekend day of fun or just getting them off to school on some mornings,” Herzog adds. “Of course, realistically, I also have to be engaged with emergency and deadline issues in the office, so I can’t ignore work concerns completely. Even if you’re working nontraditional hours, you have to accept this trade-off sometimes.”

While more women are in the workforce than in previous years, there is still a lack of focus on accommodating their needs. “In business oftentimes, women are at a disadvantage because of longstanding cultural expectations,” Herzog. “Take networking events, for example. They are, in general, attended primarily by men, especially the ones held at 7:30 in the morning or during after-work hours in the evening. Where are the businesswomen you would expect to see there?”

“Often, they’re at home in the morning, getting the kids ready for school and out the door. Or they’re parked at the bus stop in the afternoon, waiting for the kids to get home from school,” she says. “Regardless, women are not landing the business deals their male counterparts are because they’re simply meeting domestic obligations often ignored by men.”

“I think it’s unfortunate that, in our modern culture, it’s still very much this way,” Herzog adds. “And it really doesn’t have to be if more companies would encourage men to change their traditional attitudes about work and family obligations. Those attitudes can change if companies lead.”

“Companies have the power to implement innovative ways for this to happen, whether it’s flexibility with scheduling or allowing someone to work from home,” she suggests. “Or it could be something more involved, such as what we see at some coworking sites today. Many have child care, hair salons, and dental services all under one convenient roof for people. If more companies provided these kinds of services for their workers, there’s no doubt that it can improve work/life balance.”

“Companies can also exact change through the benefits they offer their workers,” Herzog suggests. “Just imagine what a benefit it would be for a company to offer its employees something like a personal assistant, someone who can handle time-consuming daily tasks so that the employees can better spend their time productively at work or, even better, productively out of the office.”

Create a Work/Life Balance

“What I would tell businesses is that a robust work/life balance is important for workers, and that means it should be important for businesses, too,” she says.

“One of the reasons I joined Fortis Law Partners with my former colleagues was to build a firm that would promote quality-of-life benefits for everyone. And I think we’ve achieved that through being flexible on both work schedules and the amount of time we require of our staff,” Herzog says.

“At Fortis, we offer flexible working hours to everyone,” she adds. “And it doesn’t matter if the time is to accommodate kids, hobbies, recreational pursuits, or anything else. As long as our clients are happy and we’re performing for them, that’s what matters.”

“The typical Denver [law] firm has minimum billable hours requirements of more than 1,700 for its associates,” Herzog says. “But at Fortis we have offered our associates a minimum requirement of 1,500 billable hours. Some of our associates also have the ability to work from home 1 day a week. Some work only part time, and our firm is OK with that as long as our clients’ needs are met.”

“This kind of work/life dynamic is a recruiting tool for us, and I think it’s why we’ve attracted so many good people to the firm. They want this kind of balance in their lives, and it’s a definite advantage for us to offer it to them. I know it’s made many of my colleagues happier, more content with what they do,” she says. Herzog adds, “As a law firm, Fortis is unique in this.” Unique, indeed!

While offering a work/life balance to ALL employees is a great way to attract and retain talent, for women, one thing remains clear: You must be pulling out all the stops to attract, engage, and retain this gender group, like you would with all employees. Fortunately, we’ve uncovered more ways to improve your female retention strategies.

Create a Women’s Network in Your Workplace

Employee resource groups (ERGs) are groups that are established so employees can voluntarily meet with others they have something in common with, others they would like to learn from, or others with whom they have a shared cause to support. If you want to better engage and retain your female talent, consider developing a female ERG or women’s committee in your workplace.

Sonia Menon, Chief Operating Officer at Neal Gerber Eisenberg, LLP, has an active involvement in the firm’s new wellness offerings. The firm developed two programs: Nubundle—which provides support for family planning—and Homethrive—an assistance caring program for aging loved ones. In addition to her day-to-day firm management role, Menon is actively involved in the Women’s Network and Diversity & Inclusion committees and is influential in the development of new initiatives to enhance, advance, and retain women and minority lawyers.

Beyond offering wellness initiatives, companies that want to engage and retain female talent can take a page out of the Neal Gerber Eisenberg playbook and develop their own women’s network and committees.

“Committees can be successful vehicles of change with empowered leadership and with clearly articulated goals,” suggests Menon. “We created Neal Gerber Eisenberg’s Diversity & Inclusion committee 18 years ago, and from that we launched a committee to support and enhance opportunities for women to network and develop, personally and professionally.”

“Our Diversity & Inclusion committee and our Women’s Network leadership team have both been powerful catalysts for change and have served as a venue for underrepresented individuals to share their diverse perspectives and experience with firm leadership and to feel empowered to impact firm policies and programs in a way that has led to meaningful cultural change.”

Encourage Adult Learning Outside of Your Industry

“We all enjoy learning when the subject matter is of interest,” says Kathy Koehler, Director at GroupActive. “As children, we easily acquired knowledge from books with great pictures and covers or from teachers who were enthusiastic and creative and had interesting projects for each of us to tackle. The same goes for adults—we enjoy learning, but the unfortunate fact for many is that every day we spend 75% of our energy at work—doing the same job, the same way, and encountering the same people each day. Then we go home and take care of family and home responsibilities in typically the same fashion over that same chicken dinner.”

“Providing an opportunity for creative learning is a great way to show appreciation to the women leaders in your company on Women’s Day,” suggests Koehler. “Ideally, this would happen off-site. Cooking courses for clean eating, a wine-blending class, or bringing in an intriguing guest speaker are a few activities to encourage learning.”

Koehler adds, “Remember, if you’re bringing in a speaker, make sure he or she is outside of your industry—preferably, a speaker who helps them find ways to create calm out of the chaos.”

Gift a Catalyst Experience

“Teambuilding happens easily through shared experiences, and it doesn’t always have to be about work. Create an environment that builds a deeper bond between your players with an activity that changes their thinking, their perspectives, and leaves them feeling energized,” suggests Koehler. “We fall into ruts—we do the same thing and we get the same results.”

“When planning an off-site meeting or event for your team, you hold the magic wand that can affect change, cultivate camaraderie, and establish collaborative thought through the ranks. Engaging activities are those that are new, unfamiliar, and create an interest in your attendees to want to learn more,” Koehler adds. “Options might include team painting of large-scale art murals or participating in challenge-by-choice experiences that encourage your team to learn a new sport like fly fishing or off-road driving!”

“If designed thoughtfully with the desired outcome in mind, these types of experiences offer an opportunity to further develop and strengthen individuals personally and professionally,” Koehler says. “Growth happens on all levels when provided with an unfamiliar experience. New muscles are developed.”

Experience Activities That Cultivate Camaraderie

“Your company may already offer gym memberships in support of health and wellness for their employees, which is commendable! Why not shake things up a bit by offering an outdoor ‘soft’ adventure or bring in an innovative thought leader who creates interest in new concepts?” asks Koehler.

“How often have you stepped outside your normal routine to go on a hike or run, only to find the solution to those challenges that have been nagging at you? The same goes for your team!” she says. “Women appreciate the value of effective communication and innately enjoy the value of coming together over shared experiences.”

“The result of learning new concepts or tackling a new sport in an environment where others are doing the same inherently takes the ‘fear of failure’ out of the equation so that learning can happen. As adults, there is something intrinsically beneficial to learning something new,” Koehler adds. “We feel energized, stronger, and seem to be more solution-oriented when we’ve accomplished something we once thought impossible.”

“There is no better gift than to support a learning environment within your organization, and your female population will more than likely be the first to sign up—they like a challenge, value the team dynamics, and are ready to tear it up outside the office!” she adds.

Give Back to a Women-Focused Philanthropic Cause

“Women share an innate ability to communicate and instinctively desire to collaborate in group settings,” Koehler says. “A program created with a philanthropic focus is an effective way to bring your team together.”

“As professional women, we oftentimes see the hours in our day committed to career, family responsibilities, and the inevitable chores we are sure to encounter along the way. As younger women, we can remember being passionate about nonprofit causes and had activities outside our academic lives that brought us great joy,” says Koehler. “As we take on more responsibilities and advance in our careers, that focus shifts. We move from what brings us joy to a priority objective of tackling a ‘to-do’ list.”

“Invite your female forces to come together in a unified act of philanthropy that you choose to work on together,” suggest Koehler. “You will pump up the morale easily among your members, and you may just inspire a shift in thought on how they spend their days moving forward, which energizes how they spend their day on the job, too.”

“Oftentimes we hear that quite a few participants elect to continue giving back by finding ways to get involved in philanthropy as a part of their day rather than a far-off thought of ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if I could …?’  Support your gals by supporting what energizes them as a whole and you’ll reap the rewards organizationally,” she adds.

Koehler offers this suggestion to get you started, saying, “As a resource, the Women’s Philanthropy Institute has a Women and Girls Index, a public database of the country’s charities dedicated largely to women’s causes or that are female-led collectives trying to make change.”

“We invite you to research the 45,000+ organizations in the United States that are dedicated to women’s and girls’ causes to see which inspire your team to give back on a local or national level,” she adds. “A unifying cause is sometimes the most powerful teambuilding activity because it supports individual health, organizational wellness, and global good.”

With IWD falling on a Sunday, it may not be feasible to celebrate this talent group in your workplace on the actual day, but by keeping these tips in mind, you can celebrate your female workers year-round.