Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was not uncommon to learn about women — especially women of color — lacking representation in C-suite roles. Many have talked about how these groups have long faced roadblocks in corporate atmospheres due to implicit bias, lack of diversity initiatives present within management and, in some cases, conscious discrimination. As 2020 saw the Covid-19 pandemic unravel the nation’s economy at the seams, the impact on employment was reportedly worse for women of color. I heard questions of whether diverse candidates could achieve promotion turn to whether they could find work during an increasingly complex employment landscape. I saw some people view women under the social lens of caregivers in a public health crisis rather than for their credentials in their respective industries. As quarantine weeks turned to socially distant months, decades worth of strides made toward equal opportunity among women in the U.S. seemed to be in jeopardy.
One study conducted by McKinsey and Leanin.org (via CNN) months prior to the virus outbreak estimated that women made up 21% of all C-suite positions, but only 4% of C-suite executives were women of color. Furthermore, according to the Center for American Progress, white women make 79 cents for every dollar white men make. That number drops to 62 cents for Black women.
It is important to note that like-minded advocates of diversity in the workforce are typically not merely advocating for diversity for the sake of fairness. Rather, research covered in The Harvard Business Review (paywall) suggests that companies with more women in senior and board positions may be more profitable and more socially responsible.
While changes at the federal and policy level are key, they can be slow to implement. The question remains: What can employers and organizations do to mitigate damage and positively impact women today? Here are my three suggestions:
1. Communicate that women are a valued component of your organization. Look at all of your external and internal communication. Does it telegraph that your organization truly appreciates a diverse community — including gender diversity? Do you have women within your executive and leadership teams? What does your recruitment literature look like? Do you have a working mother’s affinity group? In my experience, working mothers are looking for cues that help them feel confident that your organization is the place for them to contribute, grow and succeed. All of these steps can provide evidence that you value women. As an employer, amplify your voice and help change your policies to support working women.
2. Foster pay equity. As you seek to actively recruit and retain high female performers, a salary audit across the organization will be helpful. Take a look at entry salaries, percentages and timing of salary increases, who has equity within the organization (if it’s applicable) and who is eligible for and receives bonuses. Are the results unbalanced? If so, there may be unconscious bias within your organization at the most detrimental level — in human resources and leadership. Invest in software and training that can help eliminate this negative trend to attract high-level women to come and stay within your organization.
3. Educate the workforce. Each of these suggestions will likely be futile if CEOs, executives and managers don’t first understand why these initiatives make a difference in each of their unique organizations. Conduct meetings and offer programs to emphasize that diversity and inclusion are not merely check-box requirements — they’re commitments to growth that can help your company succeed long-term.
As outlined, everyone has a part to play in ensuring the successful implementation of the aforementioned initiatives — men, women, current executives, aspiring leaders and so on. I believe these initiatives are critical not only for the advancement of women and people of color, but also for the well-being of the nation’s professional landscape as a whole.