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5 Ways to Help Women Feel More Included at Work

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International Women’s Day, celebrated globally on March 8, gives focus to issues affecting women’s lives such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence and abuse against women. This year’s theme, “Inspire Inclusion,” also promotes inclusive workplaces where women’s careers thrive.

That inclusivity is needed. Women tend to experience unique challenges when attempting to advance their careers. Women—particularly women of color—are underrepresented across the corporate pipeline. The gender pay gap, which has barely budged in the past two decades, actually worsens as women ascend the corporate ladder.

Yet studies show that having female leaders significantly boosts companies’ profitability, as well as increases productivity, collaboration, loyalty and fairness.

“Ensuring representation of women in leadership positions demonstrates a commitment to diverse perspectives,” said Stacey Cadigan, partner with global technology research and advisory firm ISG in Stamford, Conn.

Through the lens of inclusion, Cadigan and other inclusion, equity and diversity experts offered recommendations for helping women succeed in the workplace.

Get Leadership’s Support

Naomi Wheeless, former global head of customer success at Square, said it is difficult to increase the number of women in leadership positions or in male-dominated roles without direct commitment from the C-suite.

If the company’s top executives do not give the inclusion of women the same weight that they would give any other business problem, then it’s unlikely that much action will be taken across the broader organization, she added.

Whatever the CEO declares to be important is what everyone else will focus on.”
Naomi Wheeless

“They should insist key players focus on solving the issue in a strategic and urgent manner,” Wheeless explained. “Whatever the CEO declares to be important is what everyone else will focus on.”

Invest in Coaching and Mentoring

Jemella Hanson, leadership learning and performance consultant at Reward Gateway in London, said that establishing formal mentoring programs and providing access to coaching resources can be instrumental in advancing women’s careers.

“Pairing women with mentors who can offer guidance, support and advocacy can help them navigate challenges, develop leadership skills and accelerate their professional growth,” she said.

A survey by the Association for Training and Development found that formal mentoring programs were associated with higher employee engagement and retention, the growth of high-potential employees, and enhanced intraorganizational relationships and collaboration.

By listening to their unique perspectives and understanding their needs, organizations can tailor policies and initiatives to better support women in the workplace.”
Jemella Hanson

“Pairing women with senior leaders who serve as an advocate can often be a powerful connection for women,” Cadigan said.

Establish a Sponsorship Program

Wheeless explained that sponsorship programs actively promote growth, foster connections that can lead to advancement and aggressively advocate for women’s continued development.

“Organizations truly interested in strengthening the inclusion of women should not only establish mentorship-matching programs but also foster an environment that transcends into sponsorship,” she said.

Melissa Turk, associate product manager of inclusive and purposeful leadership at Linkage, a SHRM company, said that the most effective organizations engage executives through sponsorship initiatives “to increase visibility of female talent and accelerate their advancement.”

Leverage Feedback and Surveys

HR professionals should actively seek feedback from female employees through surveys and direct communication channels, Hanson said.

“By listening to their unique perspectives and understanding their needs, organizations can tailor policies and initiatives to better support women in the workplace,” she said. “Providing women with a voice in decision-making processes fosters a sense of inclusivity and demonstrates a commitment to their well-being.”

Workplace experts say that listening to employees can give HR insight into where the company must improve, enhance employee performance and bolster relationships. After receiving feedback, HR should acknowledge the employee’s perspective and feelings, express appreciation for the feedback, and reflect on it before acting.

Create a Culture of Flexibility

Women tend to bear the brunt of household duties such as child care or elder care. With child care costs in the U.S. rising to unprecedented levels, many women are giving up their professional aspirations to stay home with their children.

Wheeless said companies should develop plans to offer more flexibility in work schedules, increased paid time off and choice of work location.

“Ensuring the culture is truly supportive of women in these ways creates the right set of circumstances to allow for greater inclusion,” she said.

Cadigan said policies around hybrid work and flexible working hours can help women manage professional and personal responsibilities and signal an organizational commitment to a supportive and inclusive workplace for women.

She explained that promoting work/life balance through flexible arrangements “can increase job satisfaction, help women succeed and play a key role in retaining talented women.”

Photos, from top: Naomi Wheeless; Jemella Hanson; Melissa Turk; Stacey Cadigan. 

Matt Gonzales is an online writer/editor for SHRM who focuses on inclusion, equity and diversity.


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