October 29, 2015 — After reading an eye-opening recent Forbes article about Millennials, I decided “management” might appreciate another letter about some talent issues that seem equally difficult for many company leaders to comprehend.
An Open Letter to Management:
Score! You hired a high-potential, career-oriented woman. She doesn't seem like the type who will settle down and have a family, demand some flexible schedule, or complain about the old boys’ club. She will be your (token) female leader. And yet here you are, all hurt and surprised when she disengages months into the job and subsequently leaves for another firm, one that "better aligns with [her] interests."
You've heard the demands. Women want equal pay for equal work. Women want work-life balance. Women are leaning in, negotiating, and going after what they want. You get it, you say. However, with all due respect, it seems you don't. Companies, including yours, are continuously missing the mark on how to incorporate and leverage women to contribute to the success of their bottom lines, their workforce, and their women employees.
Here are the facts. Women are graduating from college at higher rates than men. We make up over half of the professional and technical workforce. Our perspectives make companies more profitable. We aren't going anywhere, and you need us.
Still scratching your head in disbelief, confusion, or plain old misunderstanding? Here’s why:
1. You’ve given up.
You know what's hard? Constantly swimming upstream against bias, injustice, and unfairness. Being talked down to. Being given the feedback that you are too "emotional." Being passed over for the next big opportunity. Giving birth!
Think slapping a flex-work schedule onto your HR package will keep women around? Face it: finding the right solution for your company isn't going to be that easy. But no change worth making ever has been. To build a truly inclusive workforce, you need to disrupt biases in your employees and most likely in yourself. Shift your mindset from thinking “women’s issues” are a trendy topic to thinking about making long-term, sustainable change that leads to better work environments for women and men.
2. You aren't willing to disrupt your culture.
Too often, decisions about these issues are made by members of the dominant group. It's not that you can't make change; in fact, your support is absolutely critical to doing so. But many senior executive men are too paralyzed by the fear of losing the support of other men in their companies. Do you see advancing women as a risky zero-sum game that might hinder your male employees? Instead, start thinking of attracting, retaining, and promoting women as an investment that will benefit everyone, including your male employees—and eventually you’ll have higher-performing teams, more innovative solutions, and happier employees.
We succeed most in creating social change when we’re able to personalize the experiences of others. Women are your wives, sisters, friends, girlfriends, daughters, and granddaughters. Don't you want them to succeed? Don't you want them to have the same opportunities as their husbands, brothers, boyfriends, and sons? Don't you want them to be seen as equally capable of contributing to and leading your organizations to success?
Next Step: Understand the “culture gap” within your organization and work to close it.
3. Ignorance is bliss.
You meticulously measure revenue, profits, and expenses. You carefully calculate bonuses, benefit packages, and annual budgets. Come on, guys! You told me on day one: what gets measured gets done.
It's time to apply this concept to truly understanding and communicating the diversity of your workforce and setting appropriate goals to improve it. Quit treating diversity as a casual objective and start tying concrete metrics to its improvement. (Just like you did for sales last quarter—remember?) Understand the indicators of why and how women come, stay, leave, and succeed within your company.
Next Step: Learn which data points matter and how to use them to understand where you are now and where you should be going.
4. You can't, or won't, have the conversation.
Just like with women’s clothes, one size certainly does not fit all. But please don't think of this as a "woman thing." Having the conversation with your employee about what she needs and wants from a career at your company is imperative to fostering a cooperative and productive relationship with all employees.
You don't have to know all the answers; you just have to ask the right—and often hard—questions. Know what will keep us here and what will make us leave. Be sure your company has role models, male and female, who we can look up to, see ourselves in, and, most importantly, be inspired by.
It’s time to figure out how you can personally and professionally support your firm’s women and men. If you truly care about the value women provide, you will make the investment.