Catherine Nestrick is senior director, women’s leadership initiative and DEI, at the American Bankers Association. She is also cofounder of the Parity Podcast, which focuses on the equitable advancement of women.
As associations create more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible workplaces, they should work to confront the gender gap. In honor of International Women’s Day, here are several ideas that associations can implement to help drive equitable solutions.
Embrace Equity is the 2023 theme for International Women’s Day, which is celebrated on March 8.
As women continue to reel from the negative impacts of the pandemic, which adjusted the world’s timeline to achieve gender parity from 100 to 132 years, IWD is a good reminder that associations need to embrace equitable policies and programs that can accelerate this timeline for women within their own organizations and industries.
In most industries and professions, women and men enter careers at roughly equal numbers, but women are disproportionately concentrated at the lower levels of organizations. Women lose ground beginning with the first promotion—a phenomenon dubbed the “broken rung” by McKinsey. The firm’s 2022 research shows that for every 100 men promoted from entry-level roles to junior manager positions, only 87 women are promoted, and only 82 women of color are promoted. With fewer women at each advancing level, women comprise only 26 percent of U.S. corporate C-suites.
Sponsoring women is one of the most effective ways to equitably advance them.
Women with intersecting identities face more barriers as compared to white women. For example, LGBTQ+ women and women living with disabilities report the highest incidence of acts of exclusion. According to McKinsey’s research, one in three Black women report being passed over for career advancement because of race or gender. In addition, Latine and Black women are less likely than women of other races and ethnicities to say that their managers take an interest in their advancement. Asian and Black women also report having fewer allies on their teams as compared to white women.
Here are a few ideas for how associations can implement more equitable solutions.
Implement a formal sponsorship program for women. Sponsoring women is one of the most effective ways to equitably advance them. These programs involve sponsors actively looking for opportunities for their proteges, and when the time is right, advocating for them to get that next promotion, stretch project, professional development, or other opportunity. Sponsorship is about developing a relationship, which takes time, but the payoff can be tremendous.
Train managers to give honest and specific feedback. Women receive less honest and outcome-based feedback compared to men. Too often, managers review women by talking about their personality and appearance, rather than their skills and performance. A 2016 analysis by Harvard Business Review of more than 200 performance reviews within a large tech company showed that women were told they were “too aggressive” three times more frequently than men. Without honest and outcome-based feedback, women cannot make the necessary skills and performance adjustments for the next promotion.
Modify your job descriptions to eliminate unnecessary requirements and gendered language. Women are less likely to apply for jobs unless they meet 100 percent of the requirements. Review your list of requirements and remove those that are “nice to have” and not true requirements. You can also upload your job descriptions to genderdecoder.com, a tool that can help you eliminate gendered language like “ambitious” and “competitive,” which may discourage some women from applying.
Require diverse slates of candidates for promotions. If you have an opening for a sales manager, for example, create a slate of candidates that includes at least two women, preferably women who have different identities or backgrounds. When slates include at least two or more women, the likelihood that a woman will receive the role increases significantly.
Normalize talking about caregiving in the workplace. Women comprise 66 percent of caregivers of the 90 million caregivers in the U.S. Caregiving is a time-consuming commitment and sometimes requires tasks during the workday. Organizations can provide support by normalizing requests about taking time off for doctors’ appointments, meetings with schools, and the like. Employees need flexibility and understanding to both work and handle caregiving responsibilities.
Rethink the added value of your caregiver employees. Caregiving allows people to grow transferable skills, such as leading with empathy, negotiation techniques, time management, and listening and communication skills. All these easily translate into roles where mentoring, coaching, collaborating, and team building are required. Finding ways to match caregivers with the right roles is a win-win. Caregivers win through promotions to jobs with greater responsibility and pay, and organizations win through workforce development and retention.
Embracing equity is increasingly a business imperative to ensure a talented workforce. Retooling how you give feedback, describe job openings, make promotion decisions, and support caregivers are equitable strategies to help you attract and promote more women in your organization.