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Expert Advice for High-Growth Businesses

How Your SMB Can Build the Next Generation of Women Leaders

Fewer than 5% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women, according to Pew Research. But lack of female representation at the senior level isn’t limited to America’s biggest companies. Overall, just one in five C-level executives is a woman, according to a 2017 McKinsey study. This despite multiple studies suggesting that more diverse companies enjoy better financial returns.

If you’re not encouraging (and teaching) your female employees to become leaders, you’re going to sacrifice future opportunity, innovation and profitability. Here are three ways your small-to-medium business (SMB) can develop the next generation of women leaders.

1. Be Vigilant Against Unconscious Bias

On average, women are less likely to be promoted than men, according to McKinsey. The discrepancy begins early on—women are 18% less likely than men to be promoted from entry level to management positions. Unconscious bias against women as leaders can prevent them from getting equal consideration for promotions. (Almost half of the men in McKinsey’s study believe women are well represented in leadership roles in companies where just one in 10 senior leaders are women.)

Examine your SMB’s hiring and promotion process for signs of bias. For example, does a job description use gendered terms like “team player”? Are assertive women considered “abrasive” while men who exhibit the same behavior are labeled “take-charge”? (Catalyst has some good resources on eliminating unconscious bias.) When interviewing for management positions, have a diverse group of interviewers talk to the candidates to get a fuller picture of their abilities. During employee reviews, get input from a wide range of co-workers and supervisors about an employee’s strengths and weaknesses.

2. Provide Leadership Training and Support

Women are sorely underrepresented in workplace programs designed to encourage leadership, such as mentoring or professional development, according to the Diversity Best Practices 2017 Inclusion Index. Just because women in your business aren’t asking for such programs doesn’t mean they don’t want them: 79% of women in the KMPG Women’s Leadership Study don’t feel confident seeking mentors, 73% don’t feel confident pursuing a position that’s beyond their experience, and 69% don’t feel confident asking for a career path plan.

Create a mentorship program in your company that pairs female employees with women in leadership roles. KPMG found being able to network with women leaders is key to building women’s leadership skills.

3. Design a Workplace Where Women Can Succeed

Work-life balance, parental and/or family leave, flexible hours and pay equity have all been portrayed as “women’s issues,” but are becoming increasingly important to all employees. Workplace flexibility and fair pay are among the top reasons employees remain loyal to employers, KPMG reports. In a recent Gallup poll, “greater work-life balance/better personal well-being” is No. 2 on the list of the most important things employees want from a job.

When women know their employers support them in balancing their jobs and their families, they’re more likely to embrace leadership roles. And by providing perks such as flextime, remote work and parental leave, your SMB can keep both talented women and men on board.

A rising tide lifts all boats

Building the next generation of women leaders can lead to:

  • Greater employee loyalty: Diverse businesses are more successful at retaining talent.
  • Reduced risk of sexual harassment claims: Equal gender representation in job levels can reduce the likelihood of harassment in the workplace.
  • A better public image for your business: Almost eight in 10 U.S. adults say gender diversity in the workplace is important.

With so many benefits to your employees, your business and your community, what are you waiting for?

For more insights from Rieva, check out her SMB Experts page.

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