According to the United States Census Bureau, in the U.S., women make up 50.8% of the U.S. population and hold close to 52% of jobs at S&P 500 companies. However, in those jobs only 14.6% are executives, 8.1% are top wage earners and 4.6% are CEOs. This is only one of many statistics illustrating the gender gap in leadership and empowerment around the world. The United Nations (UN) has included “achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls” as one of its sustainable development goals, and the 2016 International Women’s Day Forum, held on March 7 and 8 of this year by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, focused on “The Business of Inclusion: Global Prosperity Through Women and Girls Empowerment.”
As founding partners of IMPACT 2030, the business-led effort to support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Herve Humler, President and Chief Operations Officer for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C., and leaders from IBM, Tata Consultancy and UPS participated in a panel discussion. Together they discussed how Impact 2030 partners and the UN could collaborate on tackling the problem of gender inequality by engaging employees more effectively and supporting volunteerism.
“The whole two days was all about finding new opportunities for women,” said Nicki Allen, Manager, Community Footprints with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, “keeping women inspired to not only enter the workforce but to remain in the workforce and to then progress into opportunities for leadership.” Mr. Humler highlighted efforts to help align young ladies with goals and career opportunities post-graduation through our Succeed Through Service mentoring program. Specifically, students growing up in the communities surrounding our hotels get to learn about careers in hospitality, the skills required and enjoy mentorship from Ritz-Carlton employees, known as Ladies and Gentlemen. Here are four ways your organization can better support female employees and inspire them to grow as leaders every day.
1) Support from Senior Leadership
Ensuring that senior leadership supports change of any kind is the first step toward seeing any potential difference in the work environment. Many attendees of the Forum likened the relationship between teachers and students to that of bosses and employees. Historically, male bosses have viewed their female colleagues as subordinates instead of as potential leaders. Looking through that lens, how are women ever going to be regarded as the leaders? The first states that organizations should integrate gender equality into their company-wide goals and should also ensure that company policies and culture actively work toward equality and inclusion. Regardless if one is a woman or a man (but especially if you are a man) in a senior leadership position, it is important to support the success of your employees equally. If senior leaders do not show that equality and inclusion are a priority to them, the rest of the organization will, unfortunately, follow suit. At The Ritz-Carlton, our commitment to diversity is articulated primarily in our Employee Promise. Furthermore, the Employee Promise, Motto and our Key Success Factors (company-wide goals) explicitly speak about our values and goals with regard to both “Ladies and Gentlemen,” avoiding vague or masculine-tilted language, which the UN also cautions against in the second Women’s Empowerment Principle. Finally, the UN does provide training resources to help your employees advance gender equality in the workplace.
It is already known that mentorship supports employee engagement and employee retention; however, women have historically not had the same access to mentors as men. In a book talk by Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, Ms. Sandberg suggests that male executives might feel uncomfortable forging a mentoring relationship with a female colleague because they want to ensure they maintain a professional image. In other words, they avoid one-on-one time with female colleagues to avoid looking like they are having an affair. With this in mind, it is once again up to senior leaders to demonstrate that ladies and gentlemen alike can be each other’s mentors and mentees in a way that is professional and productive. Mr. Bob Kharazmi, Global Officer, Worldwide Operations for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C., articulates the idea that it’s about all employees, not just men: “The first and most important priority for a leader is his or her people. No matter where we want to go—no matter what our belief is—no matter what our destination is—we are not going to go alone. We are going with our employees, our Ladies and Gentlemen … We have to take time to spend one-on-one time—either in person or over the phone. We have to make sure that we are staying in touch with them.”
3) Education and Training
Daniela Ligiero, Vice President of Girls and Women Strategy, United Nations Foundation, identified time as one the largest barriers to empowerment for women across the globe. Most women bear greater responsibility for taking care of their homes and family than men do, which limits the amount of time outside their workday that women have to learn and grow. Although a company may not be able to affect how their female employees’ home life works, the company can provide more opportunities for training and development that can occur during the workday. Many organizations have their own internal learning platforms that they can highlight to support women’s leadership development, decision-making skills or any other topics that are particularly in demand from female employees. Even if your organization does not have this kind of infrastructure, several external organizations such as universities and edX offer such services at low or no cost. How do you determine what your female employees want to learn? According to the UN, one company took it upon themselves to form a committee to identify challenges for women in the workplace and address those challenges by providing training and other programming for women in their company.
Just as the ladies should be given greater ability to learn, they should also be given the opportunity to teach the skills they have. “We believe that when our employees share their skills, knowledge and experience to inspire young students,” said Mr. Humler, “they teach the importance of social skills, positivity, collaboration and having a clear vision for a successful future.” This can be particularly valuable if female employees share skills that are not traditionally associated with women such as data analysis or coding. When young girls have the opportunity to see women work and lead in a variety of fields, it shows that the possibilities are endless. Two examples of organizations supporting women sharing their skills include Girls Who Code and WomenOnCall.
By implementing measures to better empower women in the workplace, organizations can improve their engagement as well as support women’s ability to excel in their jobs. Companies can set a new precedent for gender equality that not only affects the workplace, but also society in general. ∞