Managing Gender Equality

When women aren’t equally represented on your board, on your leadership team, on your team at all, we all lose. You need to do better.

This is a paraphrase of Michelle Obama’s words to the crowd as I soaked up her charge to all of us – women and men alike – to continue the momentum of gender equality and try harder in the workplace. I saw Michelle Obama speak in person a few weeks ago and her charge resonated strongly with me.

Only 14.6% of executives are women

The data shows there are less women at the top of most organizations than men.

According to research by Grant Thorton, the number of women in senior positions around the world stands at just 24%. This number is increasing, but at an incredibly slow rate (just 3% growth in the past five years). As of 2013, only 14.6% of executive positions are held by women according to the Catalyst.org census of Fortune 500 companies.

And, because nearly half of the overall workforce in the United States is women (46.8% according to the US Department of Labor), we can see that the rise to management is absent for many of these females.

We have to do better. Obama talked about one way we can do better which is by offering more diverse work options to attract women into our organizations. As I listened and reflected on her words I realized that I don’t do enough of this on my own team. I’ve always hired full time or part time employees with traditional schedules, but I am missing the mark.

One of my favorite quotes in Arianna Huffington’s book, “Thrive,” discusses how females generally find different fulfillment in our jobs versus men. It really struck a chord with me. Many times women are highly-motivated by the completion of projects and the excitement of project-based work more so than the number of hours a day put in at the office. Huffington writes, “One idea is to expand the project-based world – where businesses simply give a skilled worker a project and a deadline. ‘If you want high-achieving mothers back in the workforce,’ Light writes, ‘don’t give us an office and a work week filled with facetime, give us something to get done and tell us when you need it by.”

LightbulbLight bulb! We may be able to use project-based work to give more flexibility to women who want to stay in the workforce, but who don’t have the current job flexibility to do so. Special projects may also provide more value to women. Let’s find new ways of bringing or keeping women in the workforce who are interested in either continuing to work with more flexible schedules or interested in coming back after being out of the workforce. Let’s work with our HR departments to figure out the best ways to bring in employees for special projects. The more women we can keep in their careers who are interested in doing so on a small basis, the more women who will be able to rise to management at a point when they’re interested in returning to a full-time position.

In Michelle Obama’s words, we have to do better!

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