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Gender diversity in the workplace: 5 whys and 5 hows


Could greater gender diversity in the workplace be the secret weapon in your company’s quest to dominate your market?

Could greater gender equality be the untapped power play upon which you build your company’s success?

Studies show that business teams with an equal gender mix perform significantly better than male-dominated teams when it comes to both sales and profits. Despite this fact, many organizations fail to devote time and attention to creating a more balanced workforce, particularly for higher-level positions.

It’s still fairly common to see fewer women than men in C-level positions, or on work teams that have traditionally been male-dominated, such as in oil and gas, manufacturing, construction and engineering. Likewise, it’s equally uncommon to find men in traditionally female jobs, such as elementary education and nursing.

Gender diversity doesn’t mean your company needs a 50/50 mix of males and females in every job in the company. It does mean, however, that all roles – at every level in the company – should have a fair representation of both sexes.

It also means that every hiring manager should strive to hire the best person available for the open position, without assumptions or prejudices about it being a man’s or woman’s job (traditionally speaking).

Why you need gender diversity in the workplace

1. It can improve financial performance

Making your workforce more balanced between genders isn’t just a nice-to-have – rather, it’s a real driver of superior performance that all business leaders desire.

Research suggests that greater gender balance among corporate leaders correlates to higher stock values and greater profitability, that mixed-gender boards outperform all-male boards, and that hedge funds headed by women outperform hedge funds headed by men.

A global survey conducted by the Peterson Institute for International Economics is particularly compelling. In fact, of nearly 22,000 companies from 91 countries surveyed, organizations with women in at least 30 percent of leadership positions improved profits by 6 percentage points over competitors with fewer or no women in leadership.

The thinking is that gender-biased firms do not fully utilize all the talent available to them, so they lose out to rivals that provide opportunities equally to men and women.

2. It broadens your customer base

Females make up approximately 51 percent of the U.S. population. By recruiting, retaining and promoting more women at all levels of the company, you help your workforce better understand the concerns, stressors and motivators of the total population your company serves.

Without diverse talent, it makes it harder for your company to keep up with the increasingly diverse customer base that exists today.

3. It improves problem-solving

It’s now generally accepted that diverse teams are more creative and better at problem-solving. That’s simply because different types of people bring different perspectives and life experiences to the table. Like-mined people often have very similar ideas.

So, if you’ve got an under-performing team, take a look at whether that team is all female or all male – or even majority male or female. If it is, you may be able to improve results by mixing things up, gender-wise.

4. It helps with recruiting and retention company-wide

To be most effective, gender parity shouldn’t be limited to senior-level positions. In order to build a bench of talented, diverse team members, your company needs to cultivate gender diversity across the board in senior, mid- and lower-level positions.

This helps the company because, when potential recruits interview with you, they see people who look like them in the positions where they’ll be working. This can help your company come across as more welcoming to job candidates because it quietly signals that everyone’s work is valued and rewarded.

With a tight labor market, your company needs every advantage it can get, and a commitment to workplace diversity can help you find and keep the best candidates.

5. It’s the law

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964. That’s right – decades ago, the U.S. Congress passed legislation that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion.

If your company isn’t making gender diversity a priority, you could be missing an opportunity to hire great employees and exposing your business to negative publicity.

How to create greater gender diversity

As your company embarks on the path toward hiring for diversity and skill set, it’s vital you make systemic changes that help your business attract a wider range of applicants. Here are some tips you can use to make that happen:

1. Talk about the value of diversity

You can’t just announce one day that you need to hire more female engineers or male nurses and expect success. You must talk to your hiring managers about why your business needs more diversity in its workforce. Communicate the benefits to the bottom line and your corporate culture.

It can take time to shake up long-held, preconceived notions about gender, so plan to discuss this topic frequently.

2. Cast a wider net

Sometimes, diversifying your talent pool can be as simple as changing your traditional recruiting practices. First, tell colleagues and team members that you’re looking to diversify your workforce (and why), and ask them to help you identify candidates outside your usual recruiting pipeline.

If you’re not already recruiting at college campuses, try your hand at nabbing promising students as they graduate.

3. Remove gender-coded words from job descriptions and postings

Adjectives matter when it comes to attracting diverse job applicants. Studies show that men tend to avoid applying for jobs when words associated with more feminine traits are used, such as “supportive” and “cooperative.” Likewise, women may steer clear when the job description includes words perceived to be masculine, such as “driven,” “competitive” and “assertive.”

Rewrite your job descriptions and job postings to contain neutral language, and you’ll attract more candidates.

4. Rework your pay and benefits program

To make your company as attractive as possible to a broader range of people, you must work to erase pay inequality between men and women in the same positions.

One way to do this is to stop asking about a candidate’s previous salary and offer the same pay range to every potential employee, regardless of what they made in an earlier position. Considering that asking candidates about their salary history is already prohibited in some states, this is good practice anyway.

When it comes to benefits, studies also show that women in particular value robust, family-oriented perks when seeking a new job. This means you should be as generous as possible with family leave, health insurance, remote work and flexible hours.

5. Remove names from résumés

It’s still not a common practice, but many companies are experimenting with removing names and other identifying information from résumés in a process known as blind hiring or anonymous recruiting. Some organizations remove only names, while others remove all identifying information before the documents are distributed for review by HR specialists or hiring managers.

The theory is that unintentional bias is reduced, whether that bias is based on gender, ethnicity, age or other characteristics that can be assumed by an applicant’s name, where they went to school, or what year they graduated.

Research shows that blind hiring does seem to make it easier for women and minorities to secure a spot on the short list for interviews, compared to when their names are known to the hiring manager.

While not a perfect solution, blind hiring helps a broader range of candidates get a foot in the door. But it still doesn’t fix an individual hiring manager’s prejudices about the skills and abilities of one gender or the other. That’s where communication about company goals comes into play.

Gender diversity is just one piece of the puzzle when building your workforce. Learn how to cultivate a diverse team with the skills and abilities to propel your organization to greatness when you download the free e-book: How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business.