4 Areas That Need to Change for Women to Achieve Equality in Business
We need to remove the cultural expectations and policies that hold women back.
I am both a female CEO and a participant in the #MeToo movement. I run a company that's comprised mostly of women and I, too, have a story of power gone bad. I also happen to spend a good number of my working hours with powerful men whom I trust and whose support I rely upon. I'm optimistic about #MeToo as the catalyst for gender equality that we've all been waiting for, but it's going to require the good men and brave women who lead businesses to step in.
It should be a no-brainer. We know that businesses with women at the top perform better. And we have the women we need in the workforce. Women hold more than half of all professional jobs and are the sole or primary breadwinners in 42 percent of U.S. homes. Now we need to move them up those rigid hierarchies, because despite all this, women only account for 15 percent of CEOs, 8 percent of top earners and 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.
We need to remove the cultural expectations and policies that hold women back. Legislation is part of the solution. I've testified about the business benefits of equal pay and paid leave at the Massachusetts State House, to the U.S. Department of Labor and to members of Congress, but laws take time that we don't have, and I'm often the only business leader who shows up.
Right now is a moment in time when businesses have the power and the opportunity to make real and immediate change for women. Like most culture change, we need to begin by removing some structural barriers that reinforce bias. Businesses can begin by looking at four areas:
1. Unequal pay
Pay inequity isn't as simple as an employer looking at a male candidate and a female candidate and offering the woman less. Instead, the employer hires a woman this week and bases her offer on what the she made before, and a man the next week doing the same thing. The man will have made more in the first place, and he'll also ask for more in the negotiations. It's easy to eliminate this unconscious practice by auditing compensation, creating set salary bands and removing compensation histories from the interview process. In states such as Massachusetts where my firm is headquartered, our equal pay law makes this practice illegal.
2. Unpaid leave
As a CEO in an industry that's 70 percent female, I don't take the cost of paid leave lightly. It's expensive. However, it also costs one-and-a-half to two times a person's salary to replace her, and paid leave improves retention. In fact, when Google extended its leave policy from 12 to 16 weeks, it increased the rate at which women came back from maternity leave by 50 percent. And hey, if we all speak up it will get a lot less expensive.
3. NDAs about sexual harassment
Confidentiality agreements that include clauses for sexual harassment and assault prevent women from getting the emotional support they need to heal. It's easy to eliminate those clauses while still protecting your business's intellectual property. Plus, you get the added cultural lift of being a business that values humanity.
Related: Who Says Women Can't Be Leaders?
4. Male mentorship
Among the Fortune 500, 80 percent of senior managers are male and therefore hold the keys to leadership. The best way for women to break into those ranks is through the mentorship of men. I understand that men are nervous in the wake of #MeToo, but the good guys don't need to be. Your good intentions are never misinterpreted. We need your mentorship so that women and business can continue moving upward.
Women's equality will require the partnership of men with women. We have militant feminists on one side hating on men, and the religious white male right on the other going all in on the Mike Pence rule (originally the Billy Graham rule) that bans one-on-one time with a woman who isn't your spouse. But, I believe these two sides are the vocal minorities. Let's get the cooler and strategic heads of business together and make a real difference for the good, hardworking people we call our employees.
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