Several decades ago, symphony orchestras across the country began to implement blind auditions, and what happened next was nothing short of extraordinary. After years of very few (if any) female musicians, orchestras began to hire women in droves. Why? Because they had successfully removed a chief source of bias from their hiring practices. This, in turn, led to a virtuous cycle where more women auditioned for symphony orchestras, which further increased the percentage of women musicians.
The truth is, eliminating hiring bias is just the start. After all, bias doesn’t magically disappear once someone has a job. If anything, the reverse is true. A study by the Harvard Business Review showed that more than half of all women in STEM professions leave their professions by their 40s, many because of a hostile or unfriendly work environments.
How do we eliminate the harmful effects of bias across the board so that companies become friendlier for women? Here’s where to start.
1: Offer flexible hours
Workplace flexibility is a non-negotiable perk of every female friendly office. In fact, it’s the number one factor for women’s workplace satisfaction. Yet, despite being so highly valued by women, flexibility is not as easy to come by. Most workplaces still have standard offices with inflexible hours and the expectation that everyone be there at least five days a week. An unfortunate side-effect of standardized office policies is that women are often penalized both for having children or simply because they could, at some point, decide to have kids. It has been called the “mommy tax,” and it’s a true Catch-22. Whether or not they choose to have children, women are left off important projects, passed over for promotions and otherwise isolated from the biggest opportunities.
One of the clearest ways to create a family-friendly workplace is to create an environment that recognizes women without stigmatizing them. For instance, rather than a “maternity leave policy,” create a “parental leave policy” that treats mothers and fathers equally. This counteracts the idea that childcare is exclusively the job of women and encourages fathers to take time off as well. Make sure senior managers set an example for the rest of your employees – this is a great way for organizations to stand out from the pack. Flexible hours and telecommuting policies are a winner with employees and have been shown to reduce stress and turnover while increasing job satisfaction and productivity.
2: Develop objective performance metrics for everyone
It’s called the double bind: Women must provide more evidence of their competence but are penalized for being too assertive. This wreaks havoc on performance review systems that aren’t set up to counteract implicit biases, which leads to women being held to higher performance standards than their male counterparts. The best way to combat these biases is to formulate objective metrics and hold each of your employees to them.
How? Here’s a start: Evaluate your performance review system for subjective components liable to be distorted by unconscious bias (arbitrary job performance scoring, asking employees how they feel about their coworkers without any context) and replace them with standardized categories (number of support tickets resolved, clients serviced, revenue generated, or hours billed) that offer an objective look at performance. In general, the idea is to create a system where everyone is judged by metrics not susceptible to the influence of unconscious biases.
That’s where the S.M.A.R.T. system for developing criteria comes in handy:
- Specific: Is this too broad, or is it clearly defined and identified?
- Measurable: Can I easily quantify this measure?
- Attainable: Is it realistic for to obtain this measure? Can it be reasonably implemented?
- Realistic: Are we being practical and pragmatic?
- Timely: How often will you look at the relevant data?
The exact metrics will be unique to your organization, but this is good way to figure them out. Establish clear baselines and guidelines and then iterate until you figure out something that delivers rational and fair results that your management team can agree upon. No system is ever perfect, so don’t be afraid to tweak it when improvements are needed.
3: Foster and support female leaders
Visible and empowered female leaders have a measurable impact on the culture of communities and organizations. These women leaders inspire and serve as role models for younger women. Conversely, their absence can have a chilling effect on women and cause them to leave a company. Unfortunately, the numbers right now aren’t promising.
As it stands, only 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, while a mere 8.3% of venture capital-backed startups have female founders. But that’s all the more reason why supporting and promoting women should be a priority at your company. In an environment where the best talent is becoming more and more difficult to hire and retain, hiring and supporting your team is a true competitive advantage.
One way to commit to this is to partner with organizations already dedicated to supporting working women such as RecruitHer, Women in Technology, Girls Who Code, and Female Entrepreneurs Association. There dozens upon dozens of other organizations around the world you can find on MeetUp or with other online resources.
4: Create a transparent workplace that works for everyone
Transparency is one of the chief hallmarks of strong company culture. That means promoting honest, forthright and respectful dialogue at all times. Why does this matter for women? Because authentic transparency is an active bulwark against our most prevalent biases. Even more, it creates accountability and trust that stems from strong communication. That creates resilient, proactive teams capable of addressing complicated situations and dealing with uncertainty.
Implementing a culture of transparency begins with feedback loops that facilitate constructive criticism at every level of the company. In some instances, anonymity can help and products like Tinypulse and SurveyMonkey are great for these touch points. They allow individual contributors to send anonymous feedback to their managers, directors, and even CEOs. This promotes honest dialogue about the myriad ongoing issues that directly affect the company and its employees. These tools also give a voice to those employees who value different ways to communicate and may not speak up otherwise, including women. Also, don’t discount the importance of offline, in-person communication, especially among colleagues who may not have many one on one opportunities otherwise. Many companies now have weekly check-ins between managers and their reports. These conversations play a crucial role in keeping teammates and colleagues on the same page which supports employee buy-in and trust, both priceless qualities you can never have too much of.
The good news is that as talent professionals, we have it within our power to actively create better work environments for everyone through smart policies and positive work environments. We know that happy, diverse teams are successful teams, so what are you waiting for?