By Sona Jepsen
It’s nice to think that social issues like gender equality are further along than ever before. Too bad that’s not exactly the truth. According to the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum, the gender gap is at its widest since 2008 — and isn’t projected to close until the year 2186.
Technology may have more to do with that than you think. It has long been a concern that technology is replacing people in the labor force, but less talked about is how these advances specifically affect women in the workplace.
Yes, women are leaning in and breaking down boardroom doors, but automation is simultaneously putting many of them out of work. Technological advances are automating jobs women typically dominated, such as sales and admin work.
Meanwhile, according to the WEF, men are projected to gain 600,000 jobs in architecture, engineering, computer sciences and math by the year 2020. Women will gain only 100,000 jobs in the same categories. So while science and technology advance at a rapid pace, offering new opportunities in the workplace, women are in danger of being left behind.
The solution? We need to accelerate the rate at which women enter the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields by evolving the work environment to support women and coach them to move into leadership positions.
Companies that offer women fair pay and an even playing field will reap the rewards of improved business performance over companies that continue to undervalue women.
Here are some essential principles that leaders can use to ensure they’re doing their part to help things along:
1. Equip teams to collaborate seamlessly from anywhere: When it comes to collaboration, consider the daily experience of a typical employee. It should be fun, not frustrating -- no matter where workers have to dial in from. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24 percent of the labor force did some or all of their work from home in 2015, and that number is only expected to keep rising.
Because working from home is slowly but surely becoming the norm, upgrading and streamlining communication processes will make this approach more feasible without hurting business progress or the camaraderie between employees. Remote work also makes it easier for skilled, talented women to re-enter corporate America after having children, giving them more flexibility and shrinking the gender gap.
2. Hire for a wider range of traits and behaviors: Women in the workplace often struggle to conform to the traditionally lauded “leadership skills” that are expected of them. Qualities such as assertiveness and outspokenness can be misconstrued as negative when women exude them. By celebrating a wider range of behaviors in a work environment, a greater diversity of ideas — and bodies — can be represented.
Google has arguably become the gold standard for developing and supporting a diverse group of employees. The company developed a tool that sends hiring managers suggested questions corresponding with the roles they're screening for, but those questions aren't just about what looks good on a résumé. Utilizing these questions helps the company predict performance by focusing on behavioral indicators and leadership potential.
There’s no need to build a fancy tool in order to apply the same principle. Remember: Experience and education don’t guarantee performance. Hiring and promoting the right behaviors and personality traits for a company’s culture will be more beneficial in the long run — and will open operations up to a larger pool of candidates.
3. Exude authenticity in all efforts: When companies are genuine and authentic in both outward practices and internal dynamics, they attract similarly genuine employees. If leadership is looking to create a more inclusive atmosphere for all genders, it’s acceptable to admit that. Engaged employees will happily provide feedback on how to create a supportive environment for everyone.
And it’s important to hire like-minded authentic talent, rather than just the candidates with the expected résumés. Women who possess the right talents for a position may not have that reflected in a job history, so learning to spot potential can be a valuable asset in discovering high-quality candidates. Team members can separate true-grit talent from the workers who just say what people want to hear.
Here’s the bottom line: A diverse group of people with different backgrounds and experiences who collaborate well can give companies the competitive edge. That’s what can keep a business plowing forward when others crumble. Meanwhile, leaders who seek diversity help to close the gender gap — and that means everyone wins.
Image credit: Eutah Mizushima via Unsplash
Sona Jepsen is the global head of sales enablement at Fidelity National Information Services (FIS). Her team empowers FIS’ global sales teams with sales content, strategic insights, and world-class learning and development opportunities.