Throughout most of my adult life, I’ve known pay equality was a major issue for women, and by extension, for myself. For the same reason, I knew career advancement would be a challenge. But, what really opened my eyes to how much deeper the problem was, was some information I’ve received recently.
This new intel, which I received at Women Impact Tech Denver, made such an impact on me that I wanted to share it with you on this Women’s Equality Day.
Women’s equality in the U.S.
Arguably, the fight for women’s equality in the United States began with the right to vote. Before 1776, a few of the colonies granted women these rights to varying degrees. But when the collective states became a nation, voting rights for women were removed.
Then, in the late 19th century, Western states began granting women the right to vote again, sparking the first bill in Congress in 1878 that would eventually lead to the 19th Amendment.
The 19th Amendment was certified on August 26, 1920. It granted 26 million women the right to vote in the 1920 election. That year, American women took a major step forward for equality.
Still, in many cases, female minority rights were decades behind the amendment because of individual state limitations. Even today, the fight to extend women’s equality wages on along with the proposals of many additional amendments to congress.
The benefits of diversity in the tech industry
However, in my department at Automox women make up 66% of the team.
Why is that so important? Well, it’s well-documented that more diverse and inclusive teams create better products.
A Forbes article I read earlier this year said, “Equality is not just the right way, it‘s also the smart way. Research has found that an innovative mindset is six times more prevalent in most-equal cultures as compared to the least-equal ones.”
Research from Gartner has also brought to light that “in a more diverse and inclusive workforce, individual discretionary effort improves by 12%, intent to stay improves by 20%, and team collaboration and commitment improve by about 50%.”
The simple truth: People are motivated when they work with diverse teams. I’ve seen this show up in my team. We’re always engaging in great debates in our PM & UX team because we're all so different and have such different ways of approaching things.
When companies hold space for everyone's voice to be heard employees are more likely to stay. This means we need to make sure diverse voices and ideas are heard, recognized, and acted on.
Lack of diversity, equality, and inclusion cost organizations trillions of dollars, not to mention there’s a lack of implemented innovative ideas and an invisible dam holding back what could be significantly better product experiences. And get this, in the U.S. alone, inequalities in our workforce contribute to the loss of $2 trillion in GDP.
But beyond a general loss of funds and lack of diverse thinking is a deficit of capable women leaders in business.
How inequality affects women in management and how companies can be part of the change
Moving up the career ladder, equality looks even bleaker. Women make up just 10% of roles in C-level positions. And women make up only 13% of senior vice president roles.
3 ways companies can address equality head-on
1. Create clear paths for advancement
Personally, breaking into management was extremely difficult for me. I spent six years working toward earning my current title. When Automox reached out to me, the female director (at the time) was willing to take a chance on me. I was an unproven manager but she was able to see in me what I saw in myself.
Since my time at Automox, I have been provided the opportunity to continue to excel in my career. The reason I took the risk on a start-up and switched companies was that my previous company offered no direct path for advancement.
There’s a catch-22 in management: you need experience before you can qualify for a manager position. But if you don’t have experience, how do you land the role?
Having clear guidelines on leveling roles and responsibilities builds a practice for fair and consistent practices when it comes to development. Companies must incorporate career and development conversations as part of a regular cadence. Furthermore, these conversations need to provide real value with specific feedback.
Harvard Business Review has researched the impact of feedback and how it is impacting the advancement of women. The research shows women are “systematically less likely to receive specific feedback tied to outcomes, both when they receive praise and when the feedback is developmental.”
Also, recently I heard the suggestion that when a manager drafts feedback for an employee, they must ask, ‘Would I use the same words to describe the feedback for men and women?” This helps raise your awareness of potential unconscious bias and makes certain fairness is embedded in the process.
2. Provide opportunities for exposure to senior leaders
Most opportunities for advancement require face time with senior leaders. But it’s often difficult for women to build relationships (or get recognized publicly) for our contributions.
The more others see your work and hear your name, the more likely they are to think of you when opportunities for advancement arise.
We have to publicly recognize one another for our hard work and achievements. My call to action for you, if you’re in a leadership role, is to share the spotlight with the bright women on your team.
3. Offer access to mentorship, sponsorship, and career support
Almost every major jump in my career was tied to having a sponsor. Don’t underestimate the power of someone simply mentioning your name in front of leaders in your organization.
I use this example a lot (like a lot, a lot): I sat in on a presentation by Dr. Robert Rodriguez once. What he said always stayed with me: “Get others to wear your t-shirt.”
Fans wear shirts for their favorite players, right? Sponsors do that for you when you’re not in the room. They can promote your work and sing your potential to others. They can also help advocate for your career advancement or go to bat for you on a special project.
Mentors are there to help give you advice and guide you to your own answers. Sponsors can also advocate for you. Women need both when combatting workplace imbalance and lack of diversity.
Don’t hesitate to ask a woman leader in your organization if she’d be willing to mentor you (or suggest someone who may be able to do so). And you can be a mentor too! Everyone has something to offer.
Check out these resources for women in business
Women Impact Tech – Discover diverse and inclusive companies, connect with leaders and mentors, make a bigger impact, and advance equity in tech.
American Association of University Women – Learn to successfully advocate for yourself — and help close the pay gap for women everywhere with AAUW’s salary negotiation classes.
Read this wonderful piece by Chantal Brine (CEO at EnPoint) – In this article, Chantal discusses the power of mentorship and sponsorship and lists several reasons why you need both.
Women’s equality for better business
For years as an individual contributor, I had limited control of how I responded to inequality. Now, I do my work to help advise women on how to best manage their careers and negotiate their salaries. I also commit to helping others navigate difficult interactions.
From this vantage point, I can look back and help to bring others up to the leadership table. I sponsor and mentor other women (and men) in their careers. I work to hire a diverse team and create an inclusive space for its members. I can now influence the development of a more innovative product – designed by a team (66% women, remember) with more diverse ideas.
Remember, women’s equality isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s better for business and can massively improve your product. Open yourself up to supporting the women around you – you won’t regret it.
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