Women Are Disappearing From The Workplace (And How To Get Them Back)
We have a huge problem in our businesses. Women are disappearing from the workplace. Over the years we have created a corporate world in which women fall behind early and keep losing ground with every step on the career ladder. This is unjust, unfair and unethical.
If we look (for example) at the stats in the 2016 version of the Women in the Workplace study of McKinsey, we conclude that women are disappearing from the workplace faster than snow in the sunshine.
The key McKinsey finding is that women are underrepresented at every level of the corporate pyramid. (Based on data from >130 American companies and >34,000 men and women.) Moreover, men have a 30% higher promotion rate than women in early career stages.
The numbers are shocking. While women are represented almost equally at entry level at 46%, this drops to 37% of managers and only 19% of senior positions.
Yet more than 75% of current CEOs claim that gender equality is a top 10 priority. But translating fancy words into action—and creating a truly balanced workplace—seems a bridge too far for most.
This is a shame. It’s also ignorant and stupid, and devastating for business. We’ve known for ages that more women leaders in the workplace is good for business.
There is even a gender diversity investor’s guide by Morgan Stanley showing that “more gender diversity, particularly in corporate settings, can translate to;
- increased productivity,
- greater innovation,
- better decision-making,
- and higher employee retention and satisfaction.”
The gender diversity mavericks
We are not the first, nor the last to point this out. However, we must still push to change these damning statistics. It’s 2019 for crying out loud, and more urgent than ever.
But how can we? We don’t believe in crystal ball theories and futuristic ideas grabbed from thin air. We’d prefer to highlight the diversity mavericks who have backed words with actions. They lead the way.
For inspiration, let’s look to two pioneers from our Bucket List that have cracked the code—one from industry and one from government.
During our visit to Patagonia’s headquarters in California we saw a group of children running around the buildings – and a lot of women in leadership positions. That is partly because Patagonia, an American clothing company, has two on-site day-care facilities. There’s one at their Californian headquarters and one at their customer service and distribution center in Nevada. Both give employees the opportunity to have their children (age 8 weeks through 9 years) close to them – even at work.
Patagonia is also famous for their ‘let my people go surfing’ mentality, which means staff enjoy great flexibility in their work schedule. It means they can spend time with family and friends, and take care of other things that need to get done in life.
One of Patagonia’s moms told us during our visit: “Thanks to our family-friendly practices, like the on-site day care, 95% of our moms return to work after maternity leave. This is incredibly high compared to the national average of 64%. And it’s great for diversity. Half our managers and senior leaders are women.”
That is about right, as 50% of Patagonia’s workforce is comprised of women, and 45% of Patagonia’s executives are female – including CEO Rose Marcario. Sadly, this is an exception. Fewer than 5% of American companies are led by women.
FOD Sociale Zekerheid
There is another Bucket List company we visited that is famous for work schedule flexibility. This is the Belgium Department of Social Security, a government organization that won the ‘Gender Balanced Organization Award’ without even having a ‘gender policy’ in place!
They have an equal number of men and women at every leadership level in the organization. Their former chairman, Frank van Massenhove, said they achieve this gender balance via the amount of flexibility employees get in their ways of working.
As Frank told us: “At most traditional organizations women have to work part-time to combine work with family. This isn’t the case at our organization, because our employees decide for themselves where and when they work.”
However, the essence of this policy is not simply to allow employees to work from home when they want. The essence is to allow employees to live a life full of genuine and human connections. Frank: “Leaders must always have in mind the results they want to achieve and how they can provide employees as much freedom as possible to organize their lives – not just their work.”
Cracking the nut of gender diversity seems easier than many think. These two trailblazers show it can be done simply—by providing employees with the flexibility and freedom to take care of the things that need to get done in life: be they for work, for family or for something else.
And they know what kind of flexibility their employees want because they ask them. Do the employees want an on-site day care? They make sure to provide one. Do the employees want to work from home? They make sure their employees can work effectively from home. It’s as simple as that.
If these practices seem to be too simple to be the key for their success, nothing could be further from the truth. Often, the introduction of best practice based on simplicity, employee involvement and a dose of common sense is what differentiates the pioneers from the laggards!