The lack of female leaders – particularly in certain industries – is by no means a new issue. Experts have been discussing for years how companies can create environments that support women and help them advance to executive levels.
It is a little strange that so many companies are being criticized for the lack of diversity in their management teams when studies have repeatedly shown that companies that are more gender diverse are likely to outperform those that are not. (For the record, this is even more true of companies that are ethnically diverse.)
So why does lack of gender representation continue to be a problem? There are a few key reasons that we will discuss here.
Understand that there is unconscious bias
Time and time again, studies have shown that both male and female managers are likely to unconsciously stereotype women. It is important that your company has training and workshops that educate management on unconscious bias, show individuals how they can recognize it, and then come up with strategies that can help avoid this bias in things like hiring and promotions.
Recognize that women need to be encouraged
We have all heard the statistics that state that males are far more likely to apply for positions when they only satisfy a small percentage of the criteria, whereas women will only apply once they fulfill each and every prerequisite. For this reason, it is important that managers are actively encouraging women to apply for open positions.
It is also critical that women feel like they have mentors within their organizations. In addition to unconscious bias, there is something called similarity bias, where individuals are more likely to coach young employees that remind them of themselves when they were first starting out. In order to combat this, you may want to consider assigning mentors to new employees.
Look out for language and communication issues
When it comes to business, language can be incredibly sexist. For example, if a man is described as “assertive,” he is seen as proactive and a go-getter, whereas if a woman is described in the same way, she may be seen as bossy or annoying. Therefore, when it comes to promotions, instead of just going off of language, you should define leadership behaviors that you are looking for – this will help eliminate some of the unconscious bias we discussed earlier.
It is also important to make sure that employees are given equal face time with managers. Set up regular meetings where employees can talk about their goals and identify opportunities that can allow them to grow their skillsets.
By following these strategies – recognizing unconscious bias, encouraging women, and being thoughtful about communication – you can help make sure that you are creating a fair and inclusive environment that helps female leaders realize their potential and advance their careers (in addition to strengthening your organization).