I recently had a conversation with my father after he watched a video interview I did, in which I discussed women and leadership. He’d had a home improvement business that he closed in the mid-1990s. My father said he recognized that the women sales associates had better results than their male counterparts, and that if he had kept his business open he would have hired all women for the sales team.
Hiring, developing and promoting women is in the news for good reason. Women currently make up 57 percent of the eligible workforce, and 43 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. If you are not actively looking to recruit women or retain and develop the ones already working for you, you are missing out on a valuable part of the talent pool.
Just as my father recognized, this is smart business. There are many studies showing that companies with a higher percentage of women leaders have greater profitability. According to Gallup, gender-diverse retail operations have 14 percent higher revenues, and gender-diverse service sector operations have 19 percent higher quarterly net profits than their non-gender-diverse counterparts. While a lot of these statistics are derived from studying large corporations, there is no reason to believe that revenue and profit growth won’t also be true for small and mid-size organizations.
So what can you do to bring more women into your business or retain them once they are hired? Here are five actions I’ve coached my clients to consider implementing.
PARTNER WITH LOCAL OR REGIONAL SCHOOLS
Even if you want to recruit women to your business, it’s hard if they don’t know about the industry or opportunities. We know that, for the most part, heavy equipment is not on their radar. If you are near a local or regional college or trade school, find ways to build a partnership. Offer to speak at career days, sponsor a women’s event organized by the school, see if there are school-sanctioned women’s organizations where you can speak to the group. Anything you can do to get your name into that community and start to build awareness will eventually pay off.
LOOK FOR WOMEN WHERE THEY ARE
If you do an internet search for “local women’s organizations” or “local women’s networking groups,” you will find pages of results. Research them and proactively target groups that hold regular events. Don’t worry if you don’t have a woman who can attend; most of the time men are allowed and welcomed, and if you go, you’ll probably stand out. That is great as long as you stand out for the right reason. If you attend an event and you are “selling,” you won’t be invited back. If you show that you want to get to know the organization and its members, you will be welcomed back again and again.
Often these same organizations look for sponsors for their programming. As a sponsor, you will usually have the opportunity to speak for a few minutes before the program begins. This allows you to give a short commercial about your company and how you support the local community.
REVIEW YOUR POLICIES AND BENEFITS
Before you begin a focused outreach, take a look at the benefits you offer. Most women are the primary caregivers for their family – whether that means children or aging parents – and thus they look for flexibility. The word “flexibility” can be scary to many managers and owners. It’s common to associate flexibility in the workplace with someone who doesn’t want to work hard. That isn’t what it means to most women. For them it’s being able to balance their work and their home life.
What can this look like? It might not work for all the roles in your business, but, for example, is it possible to create a work schedule that allows people to drop off and pick up their children from school? Leave a bit early to attend a sporting event or play? Take a day off to care for a sick child or parent? Sometimes you need to be creative to make things work. You will find that most people who are given flexibility with their schedules work harder and work more hours overall. It just might not be during “normal” hours.
Another key area is providing paid benefits to new parents. This can help to limit turnover when a child is born or adopted. Note that this policy can apply to both mothers and fathers. You will need to look at what is right for your organization, but offering something will set you apart from your competition.
INVOLVE WOMEN IN THE INTERVIEW PROCESS
Women want to see themselves in your place of business. If you already employ women, especially in leadership roles, involve them in the interview process even if they work in a different department. This lets the candidate see that there are already women working there – she won’t be a pioneer.
CREATE A MENTORING PROGRAM
Mentoring is one of the best retention tools for women. Studies show that 65 percent of women who are mentored become a mentor in the future. Mentoring programs show participants that the organization is invested and interested in their success. There doesn’t need to be a lot of prep work or formality in the pairing or the process. If there are no women available to be a mentor, choose a man with similar qualifications and background. For example, find a single dad you can pair with a single mom, or others with similar goals or backgrounds.
One thing to note about a mentoring program: it is critical that you make a change if the relationship isn’t working. A bad mentoring experience can do just as much to discourage a woman from staying as having no mentor at all.
So back to the discussion I had with my father. Maybe raising three daughters and having a wife with her own business influenced him to hire women, but it was the results these women achieved that led him to the all-women sales team conclusion. Whatever you do, this is a business decision that needs to be implemented in a way that works best for your organization.
Alexis Gladstone is an affiliate with The Chatfield Group and has over 25 years of training, coaching, speaking and consulting experience. She works with clients across all industries in the areas of leadership, sales, and organizational change to maximize company and individual results. Her passion is helping women succeed, and she works with women individually through coaching and mentoring, and with organizations and leaders who want to retain, develop and champion women.