6 ways companies can help all employees thrive by shrinking the gender gap

Despite a steady drumbeat of calls to instill workplace equity between the sexes, women still lag far behind men at companies across the nation — and there’s evidence that any progress that has been made to date may be grinding to a halt, according to an annual survey by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Company.

“Women remain underrepresented at every level in corporate America, despite earning more college degrees than men for thirty years and counting,” study authors wrote in their Women in the Workplace 2017 report, which builds on research from 2012 to the present.

“There is a pressing need to do more, and most organizations realize this: company commitment to gender diversity is at an all-time high for the third year in a row,” the report continues. “Despite this commitment, progress continues to be too slow—and may even be stalling. One of the most powerful reasons for this is a simple one: we have blind spots when it comes to diversity, and we can’t solve problems that we don’t see or understand clearly.”

Researchers surveyed more than 70,000 men and women at 222 companies and found that employees are either too stuck in the status quo to push for a change — or are actively fearful that a shift to a more women-friendly workplace would put men at a disadvantage, according to the report.

Women — particularly women of color — are hired less often than men for entry-level jobs, get promoted less frequently and very rarely make it into the executive suite, according to the report, which sorted employers into four levels based on how many women managers they have, how many are top executives and the average amount of time it takes for them to be promoted.

Yet this divide only serves to hurt companies — whose bottom line benefits from a more diverse staff, according to the report.

Top performing companies are more likely to promote women into managerial roles — with women only being 4% less likely than men to be promoted to manager — compared to average companies where women are 18% less likely to be promoted to manager, according to the report.

The study lays out concrete steps for what companies should do to address gender diversity — and why it matters.

Get women and men on the same page about how women are treated at their company

There seems to be a huge disparity between what men and women think about gender diversity at their workplace — as almost 50% of men think women are well represented in leadership in their company, even though only one in 10 of their top leaders is a woman.

In addition, 37% of women say their gender has played a role in being passed over for a raise, promotion or other work, while just 8 % of men say the same.

“It is hard to imagine a groundswell of change when many employees don’t see anything wrong with the status quo,” the report writes.

The divide doesn’t just fall along gender lines. When asked if their company prioritized gender diversity, 90% of company representatives said yes, while only 52% of employees agreed.

“[W]hen employees see higher-ups prioritizing gender diversity, they are more likely to be committed themselves,” the report found, adding that “when employees think gender diversity leads to business results, they are more likely to be personally committed.”

Increase employee training

The cumulative effect of the gender gap means less women at the upper levels, which means less women to act as role models for those coming up the pipeline — and less women to call out behavior that might intentionally or unintentionally be driving women out of the company.

Just 30% of supervisors say they “regularly address gender-biased language and behavior when it happens,” according to the study. In addition, 55 % of men said “disrespectful behavior toward women is often or always addressed quickly,” compared to just 34 % of women.

The solution? Active mentoring and increased employee training.

The report advocates for unconscious bias training, which it calls “central to leveling the playing field for women and other underrepresented groups.” By raising “awareness of the stereotypes that disadvantage women, people of color, and other minorities and gives employees steps they can take to counteract these biases.”

Give managers the resources to spark change

The best way to pave a successful path towards a more level playing field is by getting managers on board, according to the report.

“Women are more likely to be promoted when managers advocate for them, give them stretch assignments, and advise them on how to advance. And women who receive that advice and interact regularly with senior leaders are more likely to aspire to be a top executive,” the report found. But, researchers added, unfortunately “women are less likely than men to get these forms of mentorship and sponsorship.”

To make sure managers can act on positive change, the report recommends companies make it clear how much of an active priority a diverse staff is, give managers the resources to move forward with fulfilling the mandate and reward mangers for making diversity a priority.

Make hiring fair and unbiased

When hiring, 72% of organizations say they “use clear, consistent criteria” to assess applicants,” 70% say they keep tabs on “gender representation,” and 66% say they have methods for employing “underrepresented groups.” But just 6% report using blind résumé reviews — or stripping names, gender, age and education from a resume in order to evaluate strictly based on job ability — and only 18% of companies “set gender targets for promotions” during the “review process.”

The report explains why this is crucial.

“Companies need to review their hiring and review processes to make sure there aren’t gaps or inconsistencies. Additionally, they should track outcomes and set gender targets so they have clear goals and can gauge their progress. It only follows that a more comprehensive approach will lead to better outcomes,” the report says.

Champion work-life balance

Practical tools that companies can use to keep their employees happy and loyal include giving them “the flexibility to fit work into their lives,” according to the report.

Seventy-seven percent of companies say they give employees the option to work part-time or fewer hours when necessary, 63% have extended maternity leave, 56% have extended paternity leave and 15% have child care services on the premises — a benefit that is more likely to be found at “top-performing companies.”

Be accountable

The vast majority of corporations have embraced data as a way of tracking benchmarks and measuring success.

Yet when it comes to sharing data about gender diversity in the workplace, just 8% of organizations share their gender diversity stats with all workers — down from 81% of the companies who share those stats with their executive leadership and 23% of companies that let managers have access to their stats.

So take a page out of “top-performing companies” books: they “are more likely to share some diversity metrics with all their employees,” the report says.