A few weeks ago I attended a women’s workshop in Omaha where men and women brainstormed ways to improve hiring and retaining talented women in our company. If you missed my blog post 30 Steps Forward on the Path Towards Equality, I explained that during last week’s workshop it became clear to me that a lot of male leaders have never heard candid feedback from a woman about what influences her decision to leave or stay with a company. With executives and managers of all sorts in attendance, me and 14 other women gave our honest recommendations for how to retain female talent.
1. Women Hate Forced Equality
Have you ever heard a woman say “It’s not what you said, it’s the way you said it“? If a company has an initiative to retain female talent, it is so important to communicate the initiative in the right way. For example, if an executive says “We are going to increase women talent in the company by hiring 100 women next year”, most women will interpret that message the wrong way. Women do not want hiring female talent to be a number target, it sounds forced. Putting a number to hiring women signifies that it’s a check-the-box goal. The same goes for mentorship programs – all of the women in the workshop agreed that a forced women’s mentorship program would be impersonal and very ineffective. Women need to find mentors organically. If women are forced into a mentorship program their immediate thought is that management is thinking “Ashley met Rebecca… now that box is is checked.”
2. Stop Apologizing, We Aren’t OffendedMost men think they are doing the right thing by apologizing to a woman for cursing or saying something inappropriate during a meeting. From a woman’s perspective, apologizing only to a woman for things said in a room full of people infers that the woman is different than the men in the room. Most of the time women are not the ones that are offended. In fact, I know female coworkers that curse more and are way more inappropriate than my male coworkers. So men, if you were raised to be a gentlemen I commend your parents. Keep on being the gentlemen that you are. But next time, just open the door for us. Or just let us go first in line. But do not call us out in the middle of a meeting in a way that indicates we are different than everyone else in the room.
3. It’s Not Weird, Invite Us
Everytime there is a male-only team building trip, such as a hunting trip or a fishing trip, women who are excluded from the trip start to lose confidence in a company’s equality culture. I don’t have statistics handy, but based on what I’ve seen and heard from others women are invited on hunting and fishing trips less than 1% of the time. A lot of important conversations occur on these trips – so invite us. This was something that a few women in the workshop were pretty fired up about. Men might be thinking that they are making the right decision by not inviting their female counterparts because they think women probably don’t like to fish. Or maybe they think women hate hunting. If you are a man, don’t assume that it would be weird to have a woman on the trip. Most of us want to be there.
4. “Excuse Me Sir – Where is the Mother’s Room?”
The United States is the only developed country that has no federal law guaranteeing women paid time off after they have a baby. Instead, the government leaves it up to employers. Only 40% of American companies choose not to offer any paid maternity leave at all. Frankly, that is embarrassing. In the United States working moms return to work, on average, 3 months after giving birth to their baby. If not earlier. I returned to work only 6 weeks after having Thomas. My company has made changes to their maternity leave policy which was a huge step in the right direction. But there is still one problem that hasn’t been addressed for new mothers.
A mother can not provide breast milk for her baby around the clock without pumping breast milk 1-3 times during the workday. I had to stop feeding my son Thomas breast milk because there were no designated mother’s rooms on construction sites. Despite regulations, and much to the surprise of many executives, most mother’s rooms are either non-existent or they are inadequate. In a lot of cases mother’s rooms are located in the worst possible location (i.e. in the basement or in the room directly next to the boardroom….awkward). Without a proper mother’s room, woman are forced to either A) switch their babies to formula or B) pump breast milk in their car. It is very common (and frightening) that new moms have to go to their car multiple times a day to pump breast milk. In order for a mother’s room to be adequate, it needs to have a refrigerator, a sink, a microwave, and an adequate setup with outlets so women can continue to work on their laptops while they provide for their baby. I was very impressed with my company’s reactions to hearing my concern. By the time the workshop was over the executives had already planned a company-wide audit of district, job, and corporate office locations to determine where renovations and adjustments need to be made to ensure adequate mother’s rooms exist in all locations.
5. The Waiting List EffectI told Charlie’s daycare that I was pregnant with Thomas before I told my own mother. That’s how competitive childcare spots are in North America. I got on the infant room waiting list immediately but I still didn’t get a spot until Thomas was 4 months old. Like myself, childcare is a huge concern for most working mothers (and fathers), including most of the people that attended the workshop. Daycare spots are in high demand, especially with infants as they require more teachers per child. Maternity leave in Canada is one year so when I moved to Canada with a 6 month-old I had no options other than paying more money for a nanny. Not only is childcare hard to find, it is expensive. Especially when couples have a third child the math doesn’t make sense in most cases to pay a daycare the equivalent of a women’s salary. In my opinion this is the #1 thing that a company could assist with if they want to retain female talent. I don’t believe that a company needs to subsidize daycare, but just having the spot available for an employee via a partnership between a company and a daycare is a game changer.
6. Meeting Times Matter
Most daycares do not open until 7:00 AM. When I worked in Kansas City I would wait in the parking lot until exactly 7:00 then I would shove my kids thru the door and speed off towards the office. If a meeting doesn’t need to start at 7:00 be considerate for those that need to drop-off tiny humans at a daycare or at school. Men genuinely assume that telling a working mom she can come in whenever works for her is a solution. But when the meeting continues at 7:00 and a working mom is not there to participate, the flexibility benefit backfires against her. Flexibility with working hours does not directly equate to success with retaining more women leaders.
7. Mutual Sacrifice is Golden
One thing that will help any working mom’s commitment to a company is seeing her boss or her male peers handle similar obligations that she deals with to support her own family. Men dropping off their kids at school, picking them up, or men staying at home when a child is sick are ways to show working moms that male leaders truly understand what it means to balance work and home responsibilities. Women need actions more than words.
8. How to Get Them In the Door
My friend Mi was also at the workshop and she shared a story about her recent experience at a recruiting fair at the University of British Columbia. She was there to recruit engineers, both male and female. She noticed that when young women approached the booth they talked directly to her instead of the men. And because she was at the booth a lot of young women approached the booth that probably would not have. If a company is in a male-dominated industry, it is so important for young women to see a strong and confident female presence during recruiting. If a female starts off her career only seeing men in front-facing positions, she will most likely have less confidence as she continues along her career path.
9. Male Mentorship
Women talking to women about what needs to be done to retain female talent results in more noise made than actual progress made. Men participating in a women’s initiative not only teaches the men what women want, but it also gives women a sense of hope that they are being heard. This was evident in last weeks workshop with 15 women and 15 men. I recommend men attend initiative meetings for women and I also recommend that women have male mentors in addition to female mentors. I have two male mentors in my company. One mentors me on working full-time with kids since he has two young girls and is very passionate about women in the workforce. My other mentor is also passionate about women in the workforce but he doesn’t have children which is actually a good thing for our mentor/mentee relationship. The two men present different points of view which keeps me grounded in a company full of male leaders. Men and women need to continue to teach each other or we will never have gender equality.
And finally #10 – stop thinking about it so much and just do what is right.
Stay tuned for my next post where I share potential solutions that came out of the workshop!