10 Hard Truths for Workplace Women's Initiatives
Updated: Apr 4, 2019
Most American businesses have some form of workplace women's initiative or employee resource groups for women. The truth is these often do enough to make the company feel that they are "doing something" - without improving the culture or hiring/pay/promotion numbers for women.
Instead of focusing on what you can do within the community of your group, here's what you should do - if your goal is helping your company become safer and more fair:
Secure commitment from leadership - inclusion efforts are as critical as any other strategic company initiative (like expanding to China or conquering the Gen Z market). Don't try to solve it yourself. Women's groups have been meeting for a long time; if that was the solution to workplace gender bias, it would have worked already.
Engage HR with analyzing the impacts of policy, benefits, promotions, and recruiting; and reporting frequently to leadership. See what you can learn from the data that is readily available. Advocate for HR to crunch the employee engagement survey by gender, for example; this will give you good early info on the experience for women.
Help your leadership understand the current landscape in the numbers: prepare data on performance in all critical areas, including the qualitative experience for women. Most leaders are not swayed by individual stories or incidents, but rather by numbers. Also, business leaders are more often compelled by the business case for inclusion - not because "it's the right thing to do for women."
Encourage your leadership to clarify "what success looks like" and to set targets to measure progress. Most companies say they stand for fairness, equity, diversity, and gender inclusion, but set no targets. Which leaves it empty. Women's groups that make progress use their energy to press leadership for clarity and then set a cadence for consistently reviewing progress of data at all levels.
Work with the CEO and HR to charge middle managers with actively managing progress on the ground. Success comes from formalizing and standardizing rewards for compliance – and consequences for noncompliance, generally through HR. Women's groups that make progress work closely with HR to understand how gender inclusion goals are being built into the company policy.
Engage allies outside the affinity group in pushing forward change. Invite men into the meetings; join forces with other groups, like LBGT and POC groups. Women's groups that make progress work to become allies to one another and team up to ensure policies work for each group.
Push leadership to appoint someone paid full-time or with a stiped to lead this work. You might also want to press for funding to bring in added consulting expertise.
Meet with the chief counsel to learn more about how they monitor legal risks in the harassment space. Focus on getting numbers about sexual/gender harassment that can help you convince management to take steps to reduce "bro culture."
Regularly communicate widely – along with your CEO - about the criticality of the effort and progress being made. Set up a regular cadence to let your fellow employees know how gender inclusion initiatives are progressing.
Ensure all current efforts (i.e. from lunches to mentoring) are linked and are expected to play a role in advancing the gender inclusion targets. Make sure you're not just "doing a lot of stuff." Women's groups that make progress ensure that each event, initiative, action they take is directly related to making trackable (in data) progress on gender inclusion.
Copyright © EMMH, LLC, 2019.
Written by Emily Howe, Corporate Gender Strategist; leader of the Executive Women's Forum at the Commonwealth Club, San Francisco; coach for ambitious women in male-majority fields; expert media source/writer/speaker on workplace gender inclusion; and founder of the American Association of Corporate Gender Strategists.