Many firms have created employee resource groups, diversity councils, and allyship or mentorship programs for women. Yet where do these well meant initiatives translate into meaningful change – and how?
Most large companies around the world – even in countries where representation isn’t mandated -- have programs in place that have been designed to increase the number of women in senior leadership roles. Unfortunately, despite the many programs, the number of women on boards, in the C-Suite, and roaming the hallways of senior management remains woefully low. Only a few companies are truly moving the needle… but how?
Here, some of the world’s success stories will be examined with an eye to what has allowed them to break out in a good way. The key lessons from tweaks in program design, shifts in execution, and realignment of financial incentives will be revealed for any interested organization to emulate.
AirBNB: Doubling Women In Data Science By Using Data Science
When AirBNB wanted to increase the number of female data scientists, they leaned on the numbers themselves to find guidance about what to do. Immediately, it was possible to spot a problem. While 30% of their applicants for open positions where women, only 10% of their new hiring classes were female identifying.
The team set to work. They shared information and hard numbers about the value of female data scientists, adjusted portions of the candidate screening and evaluation process to be less subjective, and added women to the final interview panels. As a result of this data-driven and proactive approach, AirBNB was able to double the percentage of female identifying data scientists, moving the organizational total from 15% to 30% female.
IBM: Hiring Pledges Put $$$ Behind Outreach Efforts
Many companies host career exploration days or pay for STEM experiences for high school students in underrepresented communities. IBM takes things a step farther by backing their outreach days with hiring pledges.
The company’s P-Tech schools partnership already allows students without diplomas or from underrepresented groups to receive a high school diploma plus an associates’ degree in a STEM field at no cost. That’s creating a potential talent pool, which is always a good thing. However, in 2020 IBM upped the ante by promising to hire at least 1,000 paid interns from P-Tech schools, ensuring that students can connect their learning to the potential for paid opportunities.
In this way, IBM is giving more women – and specifically women from underrepresented communities – a clearer path into not just the workforce in general, but the lucrative world of STEM work. As a result, the company’s diversity numbers have improved and cohorts moving up from entry level creates the potential for future leadership roles to be fill from a deep pool of diverse, in-house candidates.
Estee Lauder: Being Number One For Women By Building Benefits Around Women’s Needs
Estee Lauder is a standout champion for women in the workforce, and has an impressive 54% of its senior leadership as female identifying. To make this happen – and to be named as America’s #1 employer for working women by Forbes – the company has made an effort to design major elements of it’s benefits package around women’s needs.
For example, the company offers 20 weeks of paid parental leave for those who adopt or foster children, six weeks of flexible hours for the back-to-work transition, $10,000 for adoption assistance and $20,000 a year for fertility treatment. This means that women who join Estee Lauder don’t feel as though they need to leave during their childbearing years. This is a critical “off ramp” period for female talent that can drain talent pools if women don’t feel supported by their employers.
As a result, the company is consistently named as a top employer for working women on both American and global lists. This makes it easier to attract top female talent, since any woman looking at Estee Lauder knows from Day 1 that she will be in a supportive environment where female success is supported and celebrated.
All three of the companies highlighted here – AirBNB, IBM, and Estee Lauder – have a different approach to expanding their female talent pools.
AirBNB teaches that data matters. It allows the firm to measure, analyze, and take action that dramatically changes their numbers. It’s granular and tactical, but more effective than pretty pledges with no teeth.
IBM shows that introducing underrepresented populations to STEM isn’t enough. Instead, it’s better to remove barriers in their path to a degree and make a hiring commitment to incentivize program completion. This changes lives while also providing the company top pick of the talent being created in their proprietary schools.
Finally, Estee Lauder illustrates that to attract and retain women from entry level to the top of the C-Suite, it is helpful to build a benefits package that truly meets women’s unique needs. Too many women have to make a hard choice between career and family, but when that decision is no longer a pain point, they can remain in the workforce. This gives Estee Lauder a major advantage in terms of the breadth and depth of female talent available to them for promotion, and contributes to the company’s above-average levels of women in senior leadership roles.
Which approach is best? None – all that matters is that they were able to stretch beyond the standard package of ERGs and empty pledges. This mindset and bias for action can be translated to organizations of any size, anywhere. The key is to be sure that there’s a commitment to taking action that makes a difference.