Typically, two things have mattered the most when it came to women’s successful career progression in an organisation: visibility and access to opportunities. While these remain important determinants of career progression, the pandemic has amplified two other areas of importance for women: an organization’s ability to nurture a sense of belonging and flexibility in how and when work gets done. In some cases, factors such as remuneration and job title – while still key – have become of lesser focus, with employees prioritising those organisations that fully support them as individuals and those that provide them with greater flexibility to define how they work. At the same time, firms must keep their eye on advancement, considering not only how they attract and retain female employees but also how they create an environment that is conducive to advancing careers.
Related: Why Diversity & Inclusion are Must-Haves for Every Firm
Given these factors, now is a good time for organisations to reassess their employment strategies around how to attract and retain women in the workforce, with three areas of focus:
1. Creating a sense of belonging
Creating a sense of belonging remains a top priority across many organizations. With a significant proportion of employees around the world continuing to work remotely, the feeling of social disconnection is omnipresent. Firms recognise this as a key challenge impacting everything from talent attraction to retention to business performance. For employers, this means that nurturing a sense of belonging among female staff is even more important as normal operations resume. What’s more, mental health issues are strongly linked to the feeling of disconnect which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. We see no signs of this dissipating, with geopolitical turbulence set to aggravate the problem further. In response, to create and nurture a sense of belonging, firms should remove any taboos around mental health topics that may exist, and encourage their employees to express themselves about issues that worry them or cause distress. As an example, my team is planning to facilitate a meeting with a mental health professional ahead of the company-wide return to office to talk about the impact of the pandemic and what the return to a “traditional” work space means. Nurturing an environment where employees feel empowered to ask uncomfortable questions relating to their wellbeing and that of their peers is crucial for responsible employers.
2. Providing flexibility in how we work
Ensuring workplace flexibility has become of paramount importance in the corporate world as a result of the pandemic. Having worked remotely for almost two years, employees increasingly seek freedom to define how they work on any given day. According to a recent Harris poll, more women (52%) than men (41%) would like to continue working from home as we emerge from the pandemic. This is not surprising, as women have had to bear the brunt of the pandemic on their family lives, while balancing it with their professional careers. Most will likely want to retain a degree of freedom to choose how and where they work and an employer’s ability to facilitate this will be a key differentiator. At the same time, firms should be unwavering in their commitment to guaranteeing that those opting for more flexible working arrangements do not miss out on career progression opportunities and have the programs in place to evaluate employees based on their capabilities and achievements, not office presenteeism.
3. Addressing the broken rung
Firms should continue to assess the employee lifecycle for their female workforce and address the “broken rung”. Coined following a multiyear study by McKinsey & Company, “broken rung” describes the fact that women in entry-level jobs are less likely to be promoted to the first level of managerial positions. This is a significant problem. Building a pipeline of diverse talent in order to identify and help future leaders progress is crucial, not only for the attraction and retention of female talent, but for the long-term success of an organisation as a whole. As an example, at DTCC we are addressing this issue with specific programmes, such as the Advancing Women Leaders programme that identifies high potential women in target positions and helps them advance through internal sponsorship and promotion opportunities. Our first cohort focused on director to executive director level, with 50% of the participants having been promoted within a year. Following this success, a second cohort has been in progress over the past six months, with the focus on senior associate to associate directors – 40% of the participants have been promoted already.
How will we ultimately know where we have been successful? Collecting and leveraging data is the most effective way to make a positive impact and identifying areas that require additional focus when it comes to greater retention and advancement of women in the workforce. At DTCC, we’ve created an anonymised diversity dashboard that underpins all team management decisions by providing a snapshot of DTCC’s corporate population. During the pandemic, this data revealed that black and Latino women were finding it particularly challenging to thrive in the workplace, enabling us to make changes in an appropriate and timely manner.
The nature of workforce requirements is in continuous flux, but the pandemic has led to tectonic shifts that the corporate world will need to accommodate in order to continue to attract, retain and advance female talent. Nurturing a sense of belonging and allowing flexible working arrangements, as well as ensuring a robust set of professional growth opportunities, – and measuring progress in those areas with data - will be fundamental to future female talent acquisition and retention strategies.
This article was originally published in The People Space on April 21, 2022.