Friday, June 29, 2018

Powerful Women Leaders Should No Longer Be The Exception

Lisa Laporte:  CEO of Artisanal Agency &
Throughout recorded history, masculine heroes and leaders have taken center stage, shaping the way we function as a society. Mostly pragmatic, patriarchial mindsets and structures have set the groundwork for the way we operate in various sectors, including the business world.

Due to these factors, the powerful female leader is still an exception rather than a rule by today’s business standards. While the number of female-owned firms grew by 22% from 2007-2015, only 1 in 5 small businesses are run by women. We may honor the successes of significant businesswomen like Oprah and Arianna Huffington, but today less than 6.4% of leaders at Fortune 500 companies are female. Indeed, women face unique economic challenges that often hinder their careers, unequal pay and lack of unpaid family leave to name a few.

But the national conversation highlights the economic advantages and a critical need for more female entrepreneurship in various industrial sectors. As companies expand upon gender engagement, they can help restructure more innovative and profitable workplaces. In fact, businesses can focus on workplace principles and policies which incorporate female inclusion, empowerment, and data-driven solutions to create more equal leadership roles and improve their ROI in five unique ways:

1. Incorporate Emerging Technologies

Emerging technologies aim to make our lives more comfortable and more efficient, but they can also empower users to live safer proactive lifestyles. As companies adopt these new resources and female professionals develop skills, they can provide benefits in three key areas which impact their economic and professional success.

Safety: It’s no surprise that harassment, in any form, occurs in the workplace. A new survey finds that 81% of women have experienced some kind of sexual harassment at work. Estimates indicate that up to 75% of sexual harassment incidents go unreported and 75% of sexual harassment victims experienced retaliation when they reported these incidents.

Studies show that female employees are more motivated and loyal to a business if there are better personal development opportunities at the job, healthy work conditions, and equal pay to their male counterparts. This helps save the cost of employee turnaround and lost production time in turn. In fact, an MIT study found that gender diversity in the workplace improves workplace productivity. Interestingly, PwC reports that an analysis of 300 US startup investments determined that companies with female founders performed 63% better than companies with all-male founding teams. Yet, in the spirit of building strong and diverse team bonds, companies should seek to incorporate a workforce that is, roughly, equally balanced in gender.

To create a safe and respectful environment for all employees, AI technology can help curb harassment incidents online and in the workplace. For example, companies can begin to implement tools from startups like’s natural language processing which can monitor online conversations and notify its users if they’ve experienced a situation that violates U.S. criminal or employment laws. Acting as legal counsel, the software helps determine if what they’ve experienced is harassment and how they can report it.

Other AI algorithms can also analyze data to identify patterns in sentence structure that may be offensive or inappropriate. As it detects a segment deemed inappropriate, it can flag and screenshot the wording and send it to HR.

Inclusive Decision Making: Cloud computing software can also afford businesses the opportunity to include female workers in decision-making processes and offer them more insight into their own personal development without any stereotypes or biases. Tools that compare an employee’s KPIs against tenure alert managers when important tasks are consistently assigned to workers, including female workers, due to unconscious bias.

Hiring: During the hiring process, AI technologies can also help HR departments eliminate gender bias. By filtering out gender-based language in job descriptions and performance feedback, managers are encouraged to reassess how gender affects their employees’
overall performance.

Although AI still has a long way to go regarding adequately identifying context, these tech tools can add more room for safe environments, allowing female leaders to diminish the chances of harassment and foster a world where both male and female employees can collaborate in more respectful ways.

2. Gather Data-Driven Evidence

Businesses can help empower female entrepreneurs by organizing and assessing data that determines how to distribute resources effectively and equally. In a Corporate Citizenship report, companies can gather evidence to create data-driven solutions that improve female economic development including career advancement initiatives. For example, through an internal organization audit, companies can review impact data on diversity to drive organization growth, while linking business and gender diversity in succession planning. A Balance Score Card, for instance, helps measure gender indicators like accountability and ownership of gender diversity at the business and executive levels. Companies like Novo Nordisk, a Danish healthcare firm, implement these techniques and annually assess inclusivity and equal opportunity by compiling data through employee interviews.  

3. Provide Sensitivity Training for Employees

Employee training can help eliminate gender stereotypes and foster collaboration between diverse groups of people. For female employees and leaders, discrimination and harassment negatively affects productivity and diverts time and resources from effective business processes.

Educate staff —  Informative training can offer overviews of sexual harassment, discrimination, and subconscious bias in the workplace and help employees recognize it.

Discuss Diversity —  Opening conversations about discrimination, diversity and gender bias as a team can help break down boundaries and address problems concerning gender. Allow diverse groups to lead discussions to help others understand power structures within society and the office.

4. Develop Peer-Mentoring Programs

Mentorship programs have been gaining traction in the workplace for years. However,  companies can spearhead ways to develop female leadership by offering leadership programs that help women network, build confidence, and develop business acumen. Since women leaders face greater funding challenges than most men, developing peer-mentoring programs can help them build the skills they need to pursue business leadership along with the bigwigs. In fact, over 40 large companies pledged to help advance women and support women-led businesses at the 2018 Makers Event. Olivia Douglas’ BBDO has pledged to develop peer-mentoring programs that are designed to boost presentation skills and strategic capabilities. Other companies like Refinery29, have a workplace comprised of 85% of women, pledged to incorporate training and education sessions that focused on fostering empathy and connection to break down barriers between employees and leaders. As women already face hardships in terms of asking for and receiving less funding than men, peer-mentorships can help unleash a bevy of talent within burgeoning industries.

5. Large-Scale Corporations Can Advocate for Improved Employment Laws

An integral part of empowering women in the workforce is to support their well-being. However, small companies often don’t have the extra capital to pay for benefits like family health care or paid family leave. In addition, only a portion of the largest Fortune 500 companies, who hold a combined revenue of approximately $12.5 trillion and $945 billion in profits, provide benefits for their employees. Overall, the United States is the only developed country not to offer some mandatory workplace benefits like paid family leave.

As such, employment laws should improve equal pay, healthcare, and paid family leave benefits to allow all companies to foster the well-being of its workforce. Large-scale companies who are invested in corporate social responsibility and have the profits to help support advocacy efforts to improve employment laws for all business across the United States can help support female entrepreneurship by fostering an equal balance of labor in and outside the home. The richest companies can lead the way by instituting these changes in their own workplace culture while also empowering female economic growth for society as a whole.

In fact, from an intersectional perspective, improved employment laws aren’t just beneficial for the division of labor and equal pay in the United States, but also for the sustainability and profitability of companies. An IFU/DFPA study strongly suggested that a human rights focus coupled with an ROI approach to health initiatives was beneficial for both company and the women it supported.  

The rise of the Female = The Rise in Investment

With over 85% of CEOs reporting they have formal diversity and inclusion strategies in place at their businesses, sooner than later, we will start to see more inclusive workplaces that benefit society as a whole and, in turn, improve the bottom line of companies, its employees, and specifically their female workers. The more diverse teams are in terms of not only gender but race and ethnicity, the better companies are to pull from a sea of unlimited talent while increasing returns. Women will make up a nearly 47% of the workforce by 2025, and as companies adopt more inclusive strategies and opportunities for them, we may soon see females take an equal share of leadership roles and who knows, maybe even become a leader of the free world someday soon.