We Know the Facts. Let’s Focus on Solutions to Help Women Succeed In Business
Women in business often feel that they are bombarded by the message: you can’t make it.
Whether it is the fact that women make up less than 5% of FORTUNE 500 CEOs, that only 3% of venture capital dollars go to companies with a female executive or that just 16% of S&P board seats are held by women – the future for women in business can look bleak. And when we ask why there is gender disparity in the business world, some of the answers are not very encouraging.
First, Discuss the Obstacles
For example, a recent Los Angeles Times article documented the damaging effects of implicit bias on women working in tech. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote about the dangers of “speaking while female” in The New York Times. So while we may not be living in the Mad Men era, the cards can still feel stacked against women in the workplace.
Despite all this, I am optimistic. The more we talk, the more we share, then the more we can do to raise consciousness and create solutions. The driving forces holding up the glass ceiling are more nuanced than ever before, but we won’t be able to change issues of which we simply aren’t aware. Without awareness, women and men find themselves living in in a world where half the population is left out of the boardrooms and the C-Suite – and we can’t afford that. Smart companies already know this sobering fact and are working furiously to make changes. There will be challenges between discovering the problems and fixing them, but that is why we need to have this conversation.
Next, Serve Up Twenty-First Century Solutions
Below are four solutions to solve a few specific problems and improve the potential for women in business to get to the top:
FIX THE SALARY GAP
Learn How To Negotiate and Ask For What You Want: It has often been said that women “don’t ask” for what they want when it comes to salary or career advancement. Know your value, research the market and ask for what you want. Whether you are a woman or man, a manager is not going to hand out more money or more responsibility without a clearly-defined and well-researched “ask.”
DON’T MAKE WOMEN CHOOSE BETWEEN FAMILY AND WORK
Lead On Flex Time, Maternity & Paternity Leave: As YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki wrote in The Wall Street Journal, it is possible for private companies to support female (and male) leadership through flextime as well as paid maternity and paternity leave.
The United States may be one of the only developed countries in the world without mandated paid maternity leave, but that shouldn’t stop your company from finding ways to support women and families. While not every company can afford the same benefits as the behemoth YouTube, Wojcicki writes about how YouTube changed its policy and reaped the rewards. She notes: “When we increased paid maternity leave to 18 from 12 weeks in 2007, the rate at which new moms left Google fell by 50%.”
DON’T ISOLATE YOURSELF
Create A Peer Network And Help Others: In climbing the career ladder, it is good to know people at the top. But it also helps to build a peer network that can support you along the way. Call it your personal “board of advisors” or your “kitchen cabinet,” as one of my friends does.
This should be a trusted group of women and men on whom you call when trying to prepare for a big meeting at work, a job interview, or to practice negotiation tactics. If you invest in those around you and offer small acts of kindness – passing a resumé forward, giving free advice, helping prep for a job interview – it can make a difference. What you give is often what you get.
CLOSE THE AMBITION GAP
Ensure Women Are a Visible Part of Company Success and See a Path Forward: Corporate culture is hard to define, but we know the good from the bad. Companies that want women to fulfill their potential should ensure that women are visible in senior roles and have decision-making power to show other women that there is a path forward.
According to the Harvard Business Review, culture is important when it comes to closing the “ambition gap” and motivating young women to aggressively pursue the top roles. If we don’t want women to drop out of the workforce or lag behind, we need more companies that not only attract female talent, but know how to keep them and cultivate them over time.
Learn More from Top Businesswomen at SXSW
Interested in this topic? If you are going to SXSW 2015, join us for the panel on Tuesday, March 17 titled, “Lessons From The Trenches: Women In Business.” The panel will share personal success stories on negotiating tactics, talk about how to find support from women and men in the workplace, and brainstorm on how companies can ensure more women stay and don’t drop out of the workforce. Panelists will include Jen Nedeau (@JenNedeau), Bully Pulpit Interactive; Amanda Johnson (@DAmanDaTruth), Here Media; Caroline McCarthy (@Caro), TrueX ; and Jessica Randazza (@JessicaRandazza), The Danone Group.
Follow the conversation with the hashtag #womeninbiz.13