From Patricia Arquette’s stirring call for equal pay during her acceptance speech at the Oscars, to the growing #better4women initiative, the discussion on equality for women in the workforce has once again leapt into the limelight. And it’s about time.
Inspired by what I saw and heard at the Milken Institute Global Conference and that event’s moving workplace-equality sessions, I decided to dive further into the issue and explore once again how to face this challenge head-on.
Millennial women consistently receive lower pay and face higher rates of poverty than their male counterparts across the nation — a disheartening display of how far there is to go despite our recent gains. So, how do we close the gap and ensure the next generation of women will start on a level playing field?
While that playing field has to start with women advocating for their own equality, companies too have to play an active role in women’s workplace advancement – and it all revolves around access. If we as business leaders only recognize and capitalize on the impact that access — to experiences, support and resources — could have on women’s advancement, we will effect true change at astonishing rates.
Keep reading to find out how access to these three necessities is critical to providing equality for women in the workforce.
1. Access to valuable experiences.
On average, men are four times more likely to negotiate their first salary figure than are women. It’s no wonder the pay-gap struggle continues, when men and women are on an unequal footing from the start. Interestingly, the path to correcting this disparity begins earlier than you might expect.
By providing a young woman with access to experiences that shape her world views — such as internships, study abroad trips, conferences, etc. — we arm her with knowledge and give her the chance to feel confident in her background and self-value. When a woman understands and believes in that value, she can ask for the salary, position and benefits she deserves.
Companies have an incredible opportunity to provide the very experiences that build this sense of confidence. Initiating an internship program or brand ambassadorship targeted to young women, or hosting a conference that showcases their achievements, may well empower them to chase their most ambitious goals.
At my company, UChic.com, we’ve worked this idea into our very mission, awarding micro-grants to young women pursuing vital out-of-classroom experiences that ultimately shape lives. Use your own company’s resources to ensure that the next generation of women feels empowered to demand equality.
2. Access to support.
Want women to feel connected to your company on a deeper level? Create a climate of support. Mentorship and peer advocacy programs build a sense of community among women that in turn drives career growth and development. It also effectively eliminates the “Queen Bee Syndrome,” as described by The Wall Street Journal: a harmful culture of competitiveness among women.
Instead of fighting for scarce positions at the top, mentorship programs and peer groups encourage collaboration and help amplify the voices of all women, resulting in a stronger network of women supporting women in the workplace.
For an example of company-driven support done right, take a look at Google’s employee resource group, Women@Google. The group is committed to providing networking and mentoring opportunities, professional development and a sense of community to more than 4,000 female employees women across 27 countries. And those women’s mission for inclusion doesn’t stop there. LGBT, Hispanic, special needs and other typically marginalized groups all have a network of support within Google’s culture.
3. Access to resources.
It’s not enough to simply say your company supports equality for women in the workforce. Put your dollars where your diversity is and invest in programs that set women on an upward path in your organization. The international tech company Dell is an excellent example. Understanding that education is the foundation for success, Dell created a Women in Leadership training program, providing them with tailored skills to overcome their unique challenges and create action plans to help get them to the top.
We have made huge strides toward workforce equality and economic self-sufficiency for women, but without a pledge of support from business leaders and decision-makers, true transformation remains out of reach. If we each commit to recognizing and acting on the need for a level playing field, the only way to go is up.