Job Empowerment & Growth: Ways to Support Women at Work

Devin Foster

This article covers the March 4 episode of Talent Experience Live, featuring Dr. Trish Holliday and Becki Feldmann. On the show, they shared ways to better support women in (and out of) the workplace, embrace gender-fluid hiring, and promote “learning on purpose."
 

Of the 140,000 jobs removed by employers in Dec. 2020, women lost all of them — according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
 

Turning this trend around depends heavily on policy decisions regarding childcare and other issues that affect women, but this crisis stems in part from long-standing workplace value systems that treat women differently than men. 
 

HR and TA leaders are in a position to make meaningful change by rethinking organizational processes and values to create a more supportive culture for all employees. Watch Dr. Trish Holliday, former Assistant Commissioner and Chief Learning Officer for the State of Tennessee and Becki Feldmann, Assistant VP, Sr. Employee Experience Designer at Commerce Bank, as they explore how you can support women in the workplace — and catch highlights of the show below!
 



Supporting Women as Caregivers Through a Pandemic and in The Future 
 

Working women faced challenges for decades, but the Covid-19 pandemic really exposed them. As schools and daycare centers closed, many women were forced to choose between pursuing their careers or taking care of their families. 
 

An estimated 43% of highly skilled women do not return to work after having children, according to The Mom Project, which connects women with employers committed to family-friendly work practices, and helps employers identify ways to improve benefit offerings and flexibility for mothers.
 

Women of color in hard-hit sectors like hospitality and service have been disproportionately affected. These careers have no work-from-home option, Feldmann noted. 


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Holliday and Feldmann agree that the path forward requires strong, empathetic leadership and a laser focus on several areas:
 

  • Reducing gender bias in the candidate experience and workplace 
     
  • Using employee feedback to develop more sustainable work processes 
     
  • Providing career development geared toward helping women succeed


A supportive culture starts with the candidate experience. To discourage gender bias in hiring, TA leaders need to be intentional when it comes to the way information is presented on the career site and in recruiting messages. 

 

A Gender-Neutral Approach to Talent Acquisition
 


“Think about your words very carefully, and make sure you’re not turning people off, because that’s your opportunity to really shine and increase your candidate pool to diverse candidates,” Feldmann said.


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Eliminate Gender Bias in Job Descriptions 

Avoid wording that can create unconscious gender bias. Making a big difference can start with something as small as choosing gender-neutral pronouns such as “they” or “you” in job descriptions. 
 

Gendered wording in job descriptions like “aggressive,” “determined,” and “superior, ” can alienate female job seekers, particularly in the engineering and technology fields. Textio uses machine learning technology to help recruitment teams craft inclusive wording for job descriptions.
 

Reconsider Job Requirements

Listing too many job requirements can turn candidates away. Research shows men will apply for a job if they meet 60% of stated job requirements, while women will not apply unless they believe they meet 100%. 
 

The takeaway? List job requirements that are need-to-have versus nice-to-have.
 

Storytelling to Engage Female Job Seekers

Share great cases of successful women and their journeys with your organization to attract more female candidates. Spotlight these stories on your career website, feature them on your blog, showcase them in email campaigns … but just make sure you’re also walking the walk.

 

An Inclusive Culture Where Women Can Thrive
 


Companies need to make sure that the employee experience keeps promises made to job candidates, otherwise those carefully crafted recruitment messages will fall flat. 
 

“When we think about organizational values, we have to make sure those values are inclusive and in tune with all the members of the workforce, and that includes women and men,” Holliday said. Instilling an inclusive culture now, rather than clinging to fixed ideas about how business should be run, ensures better resilience and more agile response to employees’ needs when the unexpected happens.
 

To foster an inclusive culture, leadership must encourage individual feedback on procedures and strategy. This approach creates true innovation from the bottom up, as Holliday said, “This empowers people. Women can really thrive in environments like this.” 
 

Leaders: Listen Up

When HR policies and compliance goals create rigid, narrow “guardrails,” women and other employees who need support outside of those confines will disengage. Conversely, HR departments can earn the role of trusted advisors by being good listeners and encouraging other top leaders to do the same, according to Holliday.
 

This means inviting feedback from the “naysayers and resistors” Holliday noted. “We have to be willing to hear that what we’re doing isn’t working.” 
 

Leaders might fear they won’t be able to deliver on needs expressed. Ask anyway, Feldmann said. “We need to create a safe space for team members to ask for what they need. And we need to be able to answer those hard questions – can we support what those needs are?”
 

In cases where you’re unable to provide an immediate solution, be honest and seek out ways that you can help by asking, “What does support from me look like to you?”
 

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

The pandemic has uncovered “forgotten populations” in the workplace, such as single parents and people caring for aging family members, according to Feldmann. Group management is not the way to close the experience gap for these employees. Rethinking policies based on individual feedback will promote belonging for these outlying employees.


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Career Development for Women: Encourage “Learning on Purpose” 
 


Holliday has an important message for female employees who are pursuing successful career advancement: Own your career. Don’t wait to be chosen for development opportunities – be an internal entrepreneur, educate yourself as much as possible, and look for ways to add value. “We need to learn to speak up. As women, we don’t always do that.”
 

Learning on purpose strategically ties employee development to business outcomes. And leadership committed to instilling this philosophy will see results. “When executives support a learning culture, it’s a game changer… because now you’re able to upskill your employees and keep them relevant,” Holliday said.
 

Career Pathing Resources 

At Commerce, Feldmann’s department takes a similar approach by empowering women to own their career development. They focus on helping employees discover the type of experience they want rather than just moving to the next job, she said. Then they give employees resources to help them plan their own path.
 

Mentoring and Leadership Programs 

In her experience as an executive coach for women leaders, Holliday has found that female employees may struggle with navigating their career paths and can benefit from mentoring programs.
 

Leadership programs designed for women are another way to promote gender equality. HR may need to build a business case for these types of leadership programs. Feldmann advises turning to research (there’s a lot out there) showing that diversity of thought is not just the right thing to do, but it’s good for business. 
 

Re-Entry Programs

Women who leave the workforce to focus on parenting sometimes don’t return because they fear their skills gap has widened too much. But the skills and experience women gain managing their families can be viewed as an advantage, not a detriment, Feldmann said. Re-entry programs help this valuable talent pool gain a foothold in the workforce again through upskilling and mentorship.
 


Resources to Create a More Inclusive Employee Experience
 

As Holliday acknowledged, achieving gender equality and a culture of belonging is a “say easy, do hard” proposition. Here’s a roundup of resources to help HR professionals align words with actions in support of all segments of employees:
 


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