How HR Can Help Working Women Succeed on a Level Playing Field

It’s not a secret that being a working woman in America is a different experience than being a working man. The opportunities, responsibilities, and pay for women are often quite different than that of their male counterparts. But slowly the playing field is leveling, with many organizations sparking important conversations empowering women to push boundaries and reach their full potential.

One of those organizations is Lean In, inspired by the Sheryl Sandberg book. Each year, LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company fund a study called “Women in the Workplace” to take a close look at how females are faring in today’s professional landscape.

The 2016 study showed women fall behind early in their careers, which causes them to lag in the race toward promotions throughout their entire professional life.

“Women are less likely to receive the first critical promotion to manager — so far fewer end up on the path to leadership — and are less likely to be hired into more senior positions. Women also get less access to the people, input and opportunities that accelerate careers. As a result, the higher you look in companies, the fewer women you see,” the study reports.

Some additional eye-opening findings:

  • For every 100 women promoted to manager, 130 men are promoted.
  • By the time women reach the SVP level, they hold just 20 percent of line roles. Line roles lead more directly to the C-suite: In 2015, 90 percent of new CEOs in the S&P 500 were promoted or hired from line roles.
  • Women who negotiate for a promotion or compensation increase are 30 percent more likely than men who negotiate to receive feedback that they are “bossy,” “too aggressive,” or “intimidating.”

The first step toward change is acknowledging and understanding the problem. The next step is taking action. Here are three simple actions that any human resource manager can take to ensure women have the same opportunities as men at their organization.

Ample advancement options: Communicating clear paths toward promotion is key to engaging all professionals that work for your company. Make sure women are considered for promotions equally. Pay particular attention to women of color; the study notes they face the most barriers to advancement and experience the steepest drop-offs at the senior level.

Regular feedback and willingness to talk: Despite asking for informal feedback as often as men do, women report they receive it less frequently. To correct this problem, maintain an open-door policy and provide feedback equally to all team members. What’s more, be willing to negotiate without judgement when they come to the table ready to talk.

Inclusion and access: The study notes women and men both view sponsorship by senior leaders as essential for success. Yet women report fewer substantive interactions with senior leaders than their male counterparts do. Make sure women are included in important meetings as well as have access to senior leaders when appropriate.

Finally, take a broad look at your company. Are women represented equally at every level? If not, why? When you are aware of the issues, you can begin to dig in to discover areas for improvement. This can result in an agile, diverse workforce that fuels productivity and innovation, plus your brand reputation will skyrocket.

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