How to Build a Gender-Balanced Organization

By Steve Lopez Jan 10, 2012

Question: How can organizations improve gender diversity in the workplace?

Answer: Numerous research studies have shown that companies with higher levels of employee diversity foster a more inclusive workforce and experience tangible business results than other companies. These results include increased revenue and better employee retention rates. Yet while companies strive to recruit talented individuals from different ethnic and age groups, they often overlook one key area of diversity: gender.

This is unfortunate. The research paper, “Does Diversity Pay? Race, Gender, and the Business Case for Diversity,” published in the American Sociological Review in April 2009, reported that companies with high levels of gender diversity averaged nearly $600 million more in revenue than companies with low gender diversity.

There is a gap between the full-time employment rates of women and men around the world. According to information released by Gallup in June 2011, studies of employment rates in more than 130 countries revealed that 33 percent of the worldwide population of adult males is employed full time for an employer vs. 18 percent of women—a 15-percentage-point gap. In the U.S. and Canada, a larger percentage of each group is employed—52 percent of men and 37 percent of women—but the same gap exists.

Increasing gender diversity should be seen as a method for bringing out the best in everyone, with the goal of improving the business performance of the company. Yet despite the clear business benefits of gender diversity, many companies lack a strategy for increasing the number of women throughout the organization. Fortunately, there are some proven steps that organizations can use to get started.

Four Steps to Increase Gender Diversity

  • Define diversity. Diversity can mean different things to different people, so companies should establish an organizationwide definition for what diversity is and how it can be improved. The company should consider what might be missing by not carrying out hiring, development and talent retention objectives with a focus on gender diversity. Once the need for diversity is laid out, a plan for creating, implementing and monitoring the new diversity strategy should be developed.
  • Ensure alignment. When the definition of diversity and the need to close the gender gap are established, it’s important to ensure alignment between business requirements and talent needs across the organization. The company should determine whether it has the resources and ability to develop the skills of existing talent or whether it needs to hire employees with the desired skills. At this point, it is crucial that the company be prepared to manage the constructive conflict that arises when people with different perspectives and experiences enter an organization.
  • Put the plan into action. The strategic goals developed in the first two steps should be translated into specific actions. For instance, hiring managers can benefit from training on hiring and developing talent with a diversity-focused mind-set. Additionally, training programs should encourage managers to identify individuals who already possess, or who demonstrate the ability to develop, the practical skills needed to meet business goals.
  • Maintain a culture of diversity. The key to maintaining a diversity strategy is to create an environment that supports and fosters diversity. Taking a holistic approach to diversity management and gaining an understanding of the organization’s culture and the culture it wants to have is a critical part of this process. Taking specific steps to embed diversity in the activities of the organization is crucial. For example, employees can be rewarded for mentoring, inviting dissenting opinions, taking calculated risks and creating ways for people to collaborate.

By implementing these tips, companies will be positioned better to create a strategy for closing the gender gap, allowing them to benefit from the skills of a wide range of people with diverse backgrounds. With all of the proven advantages of having a gender-balanced workforce, companies that hire for diversity will have a competitive advantage. They will be more likely to see increased revenue and a stronger customer base as well as more likely to retain their top talent, regardless of gender.

Steve Lopez is director of consulting services for ManpowerGroup Solutions and has more than 20 years of experience developing leaders, teams and organizations across multiple countries and cultures.

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