Hiring/Retaining Women – Challenges & Solutions

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When the talent war went global, recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce became a competitive business issue, more so in the case of talent diversity which reflects the competitive landscape – a factor that company’s leverage in order to throttle results successfully & with consistency. When a company’s customer base is diverse, it in turn becomes critical for its workforce to reflect the diversity of talent around the globe. When FMCG’s realized that most consumer purchasing decisions came from women, they started focusing on talented women in key decision making roles to better understand the customer base; a task given to female executives.

Without a gripping reason for leaders to focus on diversity, businesses can’t define how diversity links to their business results, because women need to be an important part of the workforce diversity effort. While some companies have achieved ground breaking success in this area, others are struggling with their own internal and external challenges. It is no longer about bringing women into the company as much as it is on how to create successful leaders out of them. In order for this change to occur, companies need to start tapping into diverse talent on all levels of the organization.

Prerequisites to Hiring and Retaining women

Start by getting someone in senior management with a broad mindset to recognize how this is a problem and be willing to take action and support this talent drive as a new priority. As tempting as it may be to start creating awareness small, it’s still better and less time wasting to start big lest you wish to slow the change and receive little attention which happens with the absence of visible action and leadership conviction. You can make this happen by enlisting some public level support from C-Level executives, affinity groups or action teams that echo the company’s norms and culture.

It is also vital to address and systematically identify any issues that can limit working women from their ability to create long lasting careers. This is purely an internal case for the driver must tackle any unspoken norms, unwanted behaviors and underlying systems that can get in the way of a woman’s success.

Barriers to Success

Over the years I have witnessed and heard about the varying themes that either make or break a woman’s career. The latter can be obvious or hidden and must be identified. Any one who’s had formal or informal interaction with women will tell you they value each other and their groups, so it comes as no surprise that the first career maker is advocacy and support. A mentor is usually preferred to guide and vouch for them in times of new or growing tasks and projects. They want to be able to enter the informal networks they thrive on, be judged fairly and adapt their personal work ethic and style to the company culture and work ethic.
The problem, which is bigger than the absence of support, is that few women ask for it in the first place. This has to do with expectations and fear of being viewed as weak but more need to start asking for someone to look out for their careers and advocate them. In the past, this occurred indirectly and slowly, but times have changed and speaking up is encouraged so when have to take the chance.

The second career maker comes for a woman comes when they find a network of women with similar interests and goals. It’s a place to share and solve problems, to find role models and to learn from each other.
For women, the merit process and people system has to be fair, they want to believe the assessments, job placements and promotions are based on merit and that those systems can understand the different ways and cues men and women use to advance their careers. For example, in the average setting, women don’t advocate themselves as much as men tend to, they don’t speak up in meeting as much or volunteer for new projects (because the expect to be asked). It is either the system that must change for women or women for the system, and we all know, the latter is just not going to happen.

The third career maker that matters to women is freedom and flexibility which is also a factor for younger recruits. But this shouldn’t be confused with ever debated work-life balance. Many of my employees openly declare their careers are an important part of their lives – they want to be a part of a positive change in the world and create enduring success. But at the same time they want arrangements for flexibility, options to make choices that allow success in personal and professional lives.

Post Awareness Dissonance

The essential matter is all about knowing and improving on the basics, because very often a big company tends to forget them. This makes a great deal of difference and applies to diversity in the same manner. Plenty of what goes wrong at companies occurs due to a lack of hold over initial principles, so vigilance is essential to companies for getting those rights.

Effective Strategies to Hire & Retain Women

The best way to start is to ensure the hiring process revolves around merit and not favoritism or nepotism. It’s important to bear in mind different communication styles of both men and women and making sure the promotion and performance review processes don’t misread those styles for either sex. All things considered, managers can remember to ask themselves if the female employee they see as timid or aggressive is more or less so than her make counterpart whose behavior wouldn’t be given a second thought. Try placing someone unbiased in the room, to read and interpret the styles and avoid confusion.

Managers need to guarantee that they don’t sidetrack the promotion process; they should understand that the women’s tendency for not raising their hands is not a sign of no ambition, it simple means – as stated before – that they want to be asked because they see themselves as too worthy to be raising their hands.

Women need to be systematically identified in the pipeline, so they aren’t overlooked not so they get an unfair advantage. It would just take a few more moments of vigilance and risen awareness to guarantee the system can’t misinterpret, overlook or incorrectly read the female talent in the organization.

Diverse Talent should have multiple standards; since hiring is all about finding the best people and being able to make sure the candidate slate is diverse in a disciplined manner. The intellectual, rational & emotional side of the value proposition should be communicated by engaging the best current employees in the recruitment process (men & women).

Motivating & Developing Female Leaders

As long as your current and fresh female employee’s get the 3 career drivers stated above and sense a caring company, they hold on. Often they ask ‘what good service/value their current employer is striving for?’; so start small and have those discussions on values and responsible goals. Have the senior women in the company lead the discussion because when the younger ones know they are thinking about helping women build long lasting meaningful careers, it has a strong statement and leaves an impression. This reinforces the emotional attachment to the company and the belief that it is a great place to work. Send the message across that you are helping them because you want to, not because you have to.

Hiring & Recruitment by Gender

Adaptive companies have come to realize the importance of discussing the implications of gender differences, to the point that by acknowledging them, the perception of the promotion, hiring and retention process is viewed as fair and meritocratic. These two are more important to hard working employees more than any other variable in the company they keep. You need subjective leaders to exercise reasonable & quantifiable judgment.

Even if the issue is a tough subject and may spark uncomfortable and awkward reactions (initially), it’s still vital to discuss them because, in the end, it builds trust in the organization. At the core of great employee engagement lie open communication, trust and meritocracy.

Relationships with Companies

Does your company have a deep purpose? Clean energy makers, educational institutes, NGO’s, charities and my initiative for instance have the priceless power to generate a drive based on a sense of purpose behind the day to day grind. By tapping into a sense of meaning and purpose often found in a non profit you can give your employees something to be proud about. Pride in the company kept translates to rising productivity, low employee turnover and innovation. Pull this off at a for-profit company and you’ve struck gold.

A company needs to figure out new ways to build great careers; a common method used is to be very particular about the kind of people they want on board; those that care about the same service or product sense & understand the company’s purpose. Next step, attract and retain them.

It’s equally important (and forgotten) to invest in developing a personal connection with your employees as relationships do matter especially those between the supervisor and subordinate. It’s easy to forget the basic human need of being cared for as people and not just as employees. This is why it’s essential to retain our humanity in the work environment.

When the company cares about results, its how they keep employees feeling worthwhile; but it’s just as important to ask how those results were achieved seeing as those who get them in any way but the right way won’t be successful for long. People can take pride in associating themselves with a company that thinks that way.

The Next Generation HR & OD

A great deal of my agency and FMCG client interactions leads to the question of why I am inclined towards HR as well. It’s because in most parts of the world, not just Pakistan, executives have a very different perception of what this function is all about. I interned in Talent with GlaxoSmithKline and UBL Fund Managers, so I’ve seen it all first hand. What I don’t see is companies leveraging the HR role to drive business results.

My explanation usually starts with my own approach towards this function in that, I’m inclined towards training and development … cross functional facilitation between departments to achieve this development are also key. I talk about how we need to fill out the capabilities in our workforce so they can work across departments and step into the shoes of others. For example, driving sales means picking a different cost structure – which in turn means working with Budget & Controls for a feasible solution with long term ROI.

It’s because of this lack of cross functional interaction that we don’t see enough good talent inclined towards the HR function as yet. Almost all business schools in Pakistan show students inclined towards a concentration is finance first, operations second, marketing third and HR last. We can’t raise the talent caliber in this function until it transforms into value segment in ones professional career. And until that happens, HR will not make the big splashes it can.

One could raise the point that the problem originates from the function itself but I see it’s origins in the people behind the position. There are too many business leaders with negative experiences dealing with an HR executive who either never listened clearly enough or just didn’t want to go out of his/her way to enhance the current and potential talent pool. I see this pattern, as something that leads them to believe that what they’re getting is in fact the best they will ever get out of it. And thus, they never ask for more.

Managing Director of Sociality360, Program Director of the Fat Torching Plan™ at BodyBeat Recreational Centre and believer in summoning eagles as a mode of transport to destroy rings instead of walking across provinces. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/babarkj Twitter: @babarkj LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/babarjaved Email: babar.javed@sociality360.com

  • Nadia

    Good work, thoroughly entertaining

  • Najia

    What about employees at organizations without a deep purpose like the civilian government?

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/babarjaved Babar Javed

    Most for and not for profit companies have a deep under rooted purpose in them. The government of Pakistan (I’m assuming you are referring to us), is a not for profit, run by people with profit in mind.

    Coming to the point, he who works the system according to its intended direction will serve it the best. Better to Die a Hero than watch yourself become the Villain 🙂

  • http://www.multiplexcomic.com A Sanaullah

    the resume for the above authors link is very impressive. on a related note i found the article to be filled with generalizations for the emea region

  • http://www.multiplexcomic.com A Sanaullah

    that line is from the in incepton prequel Dark knight

  • Mustafa Bilal

    Am i the only one just Loving the Dwight Schrute inside joke?

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/babarjaved Babar Javed

    @Sanaullah: not really generalizations, but it’s the mind set

    @Bilal: That you are Bilal, that you are

  • Diane

    Your article is a blatant plagiarism of Beth Axelrod’s interview (EBay) from
    2008