Ten Commandments of Gender Balance

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Women’s issues have certainly been at the forefront of news, especially since Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president. Some say she even reignited the feminist movement of the ’60s.

You may recall the women’s marches around the country after the presidential election and the #MeToo movement from victims of sexual assault, starting with sexual harassment and assault claims against powerful and public men. Several actresses came forward with accusations and a firestorm was created across the country by women with similar claims against a myriad of perpetrators.

But is this behavior toward women new? Of course not; it’s as old as time. And an entire business has sprung up around it, from sexual harassment counselors to gender balance experts who attempt to train us on how to prevent these serious charges in the first place by building equality within our organizations.

Let’s take a look at ten suggestions you can use to adapt to the reality of the times and achieve balance in the one place you frequent the most: the workplace. If your organization works toward these goals, then harassment charges will naturally diminish. Moreover, your company will see a better bottom line, and you could see a fatter paycheck.

With employers being faced with an increasingly lower pool of employees and low unemployment in the United States, a talent war is on the horizon. Already, companies are offering huge signing bonuses to attract employees, especially in smaller markets.

Established organizations certainly don’t want to be left out in the cold just because they don’t understand or see gender balance as a business issue.

One of the leading gender experts in the world, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, has consulted with hundreds of companies on how to achieve gender balance. Her take? “It may not be easy, but it isn’t complicated.” ■

Sources: 20-first.com, mckinsey.com and hbr.org.

1. Make gender balance a strategic business issue, not a women’s issue. As long as organizations think of this as strictly a women’s issue, balance will never be achieved.
2. When you are looking around your organization at the employees, customers and vendors, focus on the ratio of both women and men. It must be a balanced approach.
3. Aim for an acceptable ratio for both genders, say a minimum of 40 percent across all initiatives. To achieve real balance, an organization needs to focus on leadership, talent and markets. Without leadership buy-in, balance will never be achieved among the talent, better known as employees. It stands to reason that if the company boardroom has only one or two token women on the board, that sends a clear message to the employees and stakeholders that leadership doesn’t care too much about gender balance. Also of importance is an organization’s market, better known as customers and vendors. Who, how, when and why does your company market to? Be sure to set a ratio that makes sense. For example, when L’Oreal noticed they didn’t have enough women on their board, they made a change because it made sense to do so.
4. Train all managers to be skilled in managing across genders. This may require gender-based training. It’s worth the cost. Some companies spend a fortune to be competent in cultural training, so why not gender training? Studies show this can dramatically reduce the number of harassment claims within the workplace.
5. Rather than assigning responsibility to individuals for gender balancing, make managers of teams responsible and accountable. Give them actual metrics to achieve, with specific timelines. Build in incentives with bonuses, raises or other compensation.
6. You’ve probably noticed how organizations celebrate the few token women they’ve promoted. But it’s important to celebrate the managers who identified and developed them.
7. Measure output, not input. Let high-performing employees work where and when they want as long as they deliver. Forget the “work/life for women issue.” Create flexibility for all and help managers create flexible and virtual teams, no matter if they are women or men.
8. Offer flexible careers to employees by adapting the old up-or-out career patterns. Be careful to note there are phases of careers for both men and women. If all your high-potential talent is between the ages of 30 and 35, you are likely excluding women and a growing number of men as well.
9. It would simply be best to never say the word “women.” Dump old language entirely and become inclusive of both men and women. Replace “women in leadership, assertiveness training for women, coaching and mentoring for women” with a focus on balance for men and women alike.
10. Stop accusing men. Stop running workshops called “unconscious bias” or “discrimination” or “stereotyping.” Position gender balancing as a business opportunity; you’ll find both men and women enthusiastically getting on board.