I’m a woman. And a worker.
And in an age where we can clone a sheep from a stem cell, backup our entire lives on a cloud and watch reruns of our favorite show on our smartphones; it saddens me to know that these two concepts are still largely incompatible.
Or rather, it’s not impossible to be a high flying business executive and a woman.
It’s just a whole lot easier if you’re a man.
The Age Old Problem
Women have a uterus. Men do not. I apologize if that makes you uncomfortable. It turns out that the more you scratch the surface on the issue of lack of women in the workplace, the more you find it’s a subject that people simply don’t like to talk about.
While women’s rights have made giant leaps over the last fifty years, according to Hired, despite the almost half-century that has passed since the Women’s Liberation Movement, the pesky issue of equal pay and equal opportunities still persists to this day.
In fact, in around 69 percent of depressing cases, men still receive higher salary offers than women for the same job title at the same company. Even in the famously progressive Silicon Valley, inequality of pay continues to be an issue.
Related Article: The Global State of Women-Owned Small Business Enterprises
The Employment Ladder
If you’ve ever tried walking up the steps at the Eiffel Tower, Moro Rock, or the Spanish Steps, then you’ll know that the best strategy for reaching the summit is to pace yourself, slowly and steadily. It’s fairly obvious in fact, that the best way to climb any ladder is by doing this and not stopping half way, or dropping back down to the bottom and starting over again.
While it can be hard for any young female graduate to get her heels on the first rung of the employment ladder, it’s doubly hard to get back on again if you decide to drop out of the labor force to have children. With the U.S. topping the charts for the worst maternity leave packages on the planet, there are too many American mothers who simply can’t go back to work full-time, as they’re not physically or emotionally ready to leave their infants, or don’t have viable childcare options available.
By the time they’re ready to relaunch their careers, they’re looking up the employment ladder from the bottom once more, about to start the respiratorily challenging journey from the beginning again. Sure, they can take a part time job that they’re vastly over-qualified and woefully underpaid for; but why should a talented, educated, intelligent woman spend her day organizing someone else’s agenda, when she should be running the company?
Why Have More Women in the Workplace?
Beyond the undeniable fact that we’re nicer to look at, CEO of the Container Store, Kip Tindell, tells CNBC that he believes that women “make better business leaders than men." With close to 70 stores, 6,000 employees and $782 million in revenue in 2014 alone, it seems that Tindell may know what he’s talking about, citing better communication and teamwork ethics among the reasoning behind his words.
While it’s hard to broach the subject of what makes women better leaders than men, without speaking in sweeping generalizations (after all, we’re not all born communicators or team players), one thing is for sure: Variety is the lifeblood of any company and women have different qualities to offer that can complement those of a man.
But with the panorama still bleak for women who want to have their cake and eat it, too, who want to be a woman and a worker, how can companies adjust their corporate cultures to attract more females without making them have to choose between a family and a career? Initiating HR policies designed to support working parents and above all, women, would be a good start. There are a ton of modest investments that even the smallest businesses can make in an effort to entice and retain talented women, starting with the following:
1. Egg Freezing
According to CEO Heidi Hayes of the Frozen Egg Bank Network, there are many reasons why a woman may want to freeze her eggs electively, not least to give her a better fighting chance in the workplace. There are therefore just as many incentives for companies to think about offering this option.
The battle with the biological clock is very real. As soon as a woman hits her thirties she can pretty much hear the straining sounds of the clock hands tick-tocking wherever she goes. You could argue that if you’re a woman with a career then there is probably, honestly, no convenient time to have a baby. The two things are just a bit like oil and water.
Related Article: 10 Successful Businesses You Didn't Know Were Run by Women
But if you’re kicking ass in your company, about to make partner, get promoted, or land the dream role you’ve worked so hard for all your life, then it’s comforting to know that you can now delay starting a family until you’re ready, with the support of your employer. With forward-thinking companies like Apple and Facebook now covering the cost of elective egg freezing, if you’re a woman in the workforce and you’re not ready to take a timeout just yet, you now have the choice to safeguard your reproductive future while achieving your career goals.
2. Decent Maternity Leave
Egg freezing alone may not be enough of an incentive to attract more women to the workplace if U.S. businesses aren’t going to step up and deal with their abysmal maternity leave packages (or lack of).
After all, if you’re not going to give your women workers the support they need after having a baby, then offering for them to delay having a family until they’re ready could be merely seen as a way of squeezing more productivity out of your female employees.
While this is an age-old problem for small businesses struggling with a budget, oftentimes your female workers will value time over money during this special period. So if you can’t maintain your employee at full salary on a lengthy maternity leave, then offering her the time off she needs to bond with her infant may be just as valuable.
Pretty much anything you can offer in this area is going to be welcomed by U.S. women, who are used to being short-changed when it comes to the uncomfortable subject.
3. Paternity Leave
Why do you think Zuckerberg has a permanent smile on his face? Besides a net worth of $35 billion and undoubtedly job satisfaction, could it be because he’s discovered the power of the mythical work-life balance?
All male Facebook employees now receive four months of paid paternity leave. While paternity leave is obviously designed for male employees, it greatly benefits working mothers and their newborns as well, allowing parents to coordinate their schedules and spend more vital time with their offspring. Most states still don’t require paternity leave by law, so companies thinking about implementing this will prove that they are willing to go above and beyond the ordinary to promote gender equality and inclusion, making theirs an exceptional place to work.
Beyond offering benefits for women, up-and-coming companies that are known for promoting gender equality will go a long way in attracting top female talent.
4. Offer Truly Flexible Schedules
According to Flex Jobs, the benefits of offering employees flexible schedules abound. With more and more companies beginning to offer employees work-at-home days, the mobile office could be the great leveler. Want to get more women in tech? Let them work from home, says PowerToFly co-founder and CEO, Milena Berry.
But if you’re going to offer a flexible schedule, then make sure that it is truly flexible. We’re not talking a slight adjustment from nine-to-five to eight-to-four here. If you want women in your workplace, then they need real flexible schedules that allow them to collect their kids from daycare and adjust their schedules to fit in with parent/teacher meetings and a hundred other complexities that being a working mother throws their way.
It goes without saying that no one wants to hire someone who is permanently out sick, underproductive, or just plain lazy, but it turns out that this is becoming less and less the case.
In fact, 86 percent of companies on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work for in 2014 offer some kind of flexible schedules. The great thing about it? You can attract more talented and capable women who feel valued and appreciated, by simply adjusting their timetable. You don’t even have to bait the hook with a sizable salary (although that might help).