Women are key to business success: Here’s how to attract and retain them

In the words of civil rights activist, Marian Wright Edelman, you can't be what you can't see.

Women are key to business success: Here’s how to attract and retain them

In the words of civil rights activist, Marian Wright Edelman, you can’t be what you can’t see.

The wisdom, unique strengths, and perspectives of over half of humanity have largely been excluded from influencing how we live and work which has led to significant dysfunction. Culture, leadership, and management strategy needs to embrace both masculine and feminine primal strengths and approaches.

It is proven that greater gender parity in the workplace benefits the bottom line – research conducted last year by Glasgow Caledonian University found that increasing the gender split within FTSE 100 boardrooms had a positive effect on the firms’ financial performance. In addition to this, with women driving the vast majority of consumer purchasing, there is massive untapped potential in not having their interests represented in a leadership setting. 

These facts have been widely reported, so why is it that female executive directors are still sitting at a tiny 11.3%? There are some clear opportunities here for businesses to improve their gender diversity and create positive and significant financial impact in doing so.

At SmartPA, our board and leadership team are 80% female led. We have a thriving partnership network of over 300 SmartPAs, 95% of whom are women. Tapping into these perspectives is vital for creating a sustainable business and increasing profitability. 

Businesses leaders need to be brave and to better understand how we are wired differently, using this understanding to harness and support both approaches to create harmony, balance, and success. We need to take this knowledge and ensure our end-to-end culture, leadership and management framework embraces this and plays to our strengths. It is important to consider your current business practices, are they fit for future growth and increased diversity? Here’s five of the ways you can attract and retain women at every level within your business. 

Women in leadership 

Many women continue to approach leadership as ‘men in women’s clothing’ or in fact do not understand the strengths they bring to the boardroom by amplifying their authentic selves. Creating more female role models and mentors proves to other women in your organisation that they don’t need to put on an act in the workplace in order to get ahead. 

It shows women that your organisation has career progression opportunities for them, this is key for attracting talent. If your board and leadership positions are dominated by men, you need to think about what message this sends to female candidates.

Not only does this show women that they have opportunities within your business, but it also helps to tackle implicit bias that you find within the hiring process.

Company policy

Building a mentorship and leadership programme into your company policy will work to empower women throughout your organisation. Creating this support network will allow your junior team members access to more female-centric support and give them the confidence to embrace the natural strengths they have as women. 

The Fawcett Society reported that integrating flexible working practices, both around working hours and location, is key to balancing paid work and unpaid care work, of which women still shoulder the majority. 

Take stock of the roles within your business ‘ can you offer home working and flexibility around hours? Not only does this help to recruit and retain more women within your business, but it is proven to build trust and enhance productivity.

This is also an opportunity to look at the salaries within your organisation, have you inadvertently created a gender pay gap? Now is the time to reflect on what you are paying your people and take steps to rectify any imbalances. 

Finally, what are your wider company policies like? Do you offer good maternity and paternity leave packages? How do you protect your team against discrimination? All of these will have an impact on how you create a gender balance within your workforce.

Job listings

A widely quoted statistic by Hewlett Packard notes that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.

It is important to take this confidence gap into consideration when writing job listings. Are your job posts reflective of the core skills required for the role, or are you stuffing them with additional ‘nice to have’ requirements? This can make all the difference in the candidates that come back, and you could be alienating some amazing female talent as a result.

Finally, are you highlighting flexible working and other perks that support women? Speaking to these benefits can be a brilliant way of encouraging more female applicants whilst shouting about how great it is to work at your company.

Hiring process

The hiring process can be a minefield for implicit bias but there are a few simple steps you can take to ensure that you are offering equal opportunities from the outset.

Take a step away from traditional hiring processes and stop looking at career breaks negatively. The Office for National Statistics reports that 15% of mums are currently taking career breaks due to caring responsibilities, versus just 1.9% of dads. Penalising career breaks in the hiring process disproportionately affects women. Instead, focus on the candidates’ skills and experience. Are they right for the role?

Another way to address implicit bias within the hiring process is to ensure that the interview panel is diverse ‘ having more women in leadership positions will help with this. If you are struggling to find this diversity within your current team, reach out to your wider business network. Do you have any business partners or respected past colleagues that could step in and offer a different perspective?

Diversity in company communications

Once you have integrated more women into your workplace and refreshed your policies, you need to have a think about how this message is communicated.

Are you including female success stories as part of your wider communications strategy? Are you shouting about your flexible working practices? Do you have some lovely stats on gender parity that you can share far and wide? 

IBM reported that 40% of consumers seek out brands that align with their values. Making the effort to show you are a diverse workplace is not only a fantastic way to encourage more female talent into your business, it will improve customer sentiment to boot.

Sarra Bejaoui
Sarra Bejaoui

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