Eight Ways to attract and retain women: A guide for men who want to make a difference

By Emma Nicholls the Founder and MD of Your Red Dress Ltd; an organisation that supports organisations in the attraction., development and retention of female talent and enables women to achieve success through transformational mentoring and development programmes.

It is remarkable that in 2017, there are still organisations in the UK that have ZERO women on their boards and in their Executive and Senior Leadership teams.
The Lord Davies report ‘Women On Boards’ published in 2011 set the UK a target; to have 25% of board positions in FTSE 100 companies filled by women by 2015. The target of 25% was met and the percentage of women in FTSE 100 boardrooms currently stands at c.27%, however, the UK is still seventh across the main international stock markets, behind Norway and France. There are currently only three female chairwomen throughout the FTSE 100.
This is a call to action and men play a pivotal role in increasing the number of women in our boardrooms of the future.
Having worked in a male dominated sector for many years, I created my business: Your Red Dress Ltd to help women develop, and realise their potential for promotion through transformational mentoring and development programmes. Through my work, I promote the fact that men are key to the achievement of gender equality and are often left standing on the sidelines, not knowing what they can do to help.

In this article, I will share eight ways men can support the ’cause’; there is room here for men and women to collaborate. Collaborative advocacy for gender equality in the workplace shouldn’t only be benefiting women. It also allows men to bring their full selves to work, while also making good business sense; inclusion fosters innovation and a productive work environment.

The Eight Ways:                     

  1. Make Your Board Brand Attractive to Women
    It is human nature for us to want to feel that we can associate ourselves with ‘the in crowd’. Organisational culture can either make or break a talented woman. Recent studies have shown that talented women are leaving high paid jobs to set up in business. This phenomenon is known as the Glass pyramid or Leaky Pipeline. Women consider how they would ‘fit in’ at the top table and, if what they see is a lot of middle aged men, they will believe that there is no place for them; a seat at the board is not an attractive value proposition. Men play a key role in breaking this cycle by taking a close look at the ‘brand’ that they represent. Is it a brand of inclusion and willingness to change? Senior male leaders can check the inclusion temperature of their brand by asking their junior and middle female leaders the following questions:

What is your perception of us?

How could you describe our brand?

This can be done through focus groups or the use of an external interviewer. My recent research with one organisation found evidence that women felt the ‘Top Jobs’ were already ear-marked for men and that the selection process was in some way flawed and biased.

To create an action plan of change, I encourage men to identify the key areas for improvement. In the example above, the organisation changed the transparency of its selection process; ensuring that interview panels were always represented by equal numbers of women and men. 

  1. Get Networking

As part of my work, I attend numerous networking events, conferences and think tanks. I am always amazed now few men attend or speak at these events. I often ask myself ‘where are all the men?’

The men who attend, are often called out as ‘heroes’ and welcomed with open arms. I don’t believe that women only want to meet other women at such events. The people who need to be there are the decision makers and strategic influencers, and in many cases these people are men. I encourage men, to feel the fear and step up and start supporting these events more. It is easy for a male HR Director to suggest that his female employee should attend because she is better placed to ‘understand’ the issues. However, by attending himself, he is not only showing his advocacy as a supporter of inclusion but also gaining a better understanding of the issues women face. 

  1. Share the Office Housework.

Changing gender stereotypes about duties isn’t just for life at home.

Women often take on more “office housework”; things like organising the office parties, taking notes at meetings and training new recruits. Those tasks steal valuable time away from core responsibilities and can keep a female colleague from participating fully in business matters.

I encourage women to stop automatically assuming the role of the ‘helper’ and men to be more aware of this ‘trap’ and look out for it; offer to take the notes, get the coffees and not assume that a woman will take on these duties. Men can also encourage the men in their teams and their male peers to follow their lead; that way they become a role model and someone who is seen as a collaborator and a great leader.

  1. Be a Sponsor
    In my career, I have had the benefit of male sponsors, in particular, one Operations Director supported and encouraged me to take advantage of opportunities for promotion and sponsored me to undertake my Executive MBA. I encourage men to look around their teams and identify women who might benefit from sponsorship. Some men have told me that they fear being too supportive of women in the workplace because it might create ‘gossip’. It is 2017, and we must move on from such feelings of insecurity. If the woman is talented and of high potential, sponsorship can make the difference between her rising to a senior position or not. Surely, it’s worth putting aside fear for that? 
  1. Test Yourself

I would like everyone at work to undertake Unconscious bias testing, because without knowing your own biases, you cannot do anything about them. If you discover you have a bias, you can then review your processes and systems to remove those biases. For example, if you have a gender bias, you might want to undertake your review of CVs for a vacancy with the names removed or with a female colleague. 

  1. Watch Your Language!
    A study published in the American Psychological Association[1] found that women’s style of communication is more communal, using more emotional and social words than men’s style of speech. Secondly, the researchers tied women’s perceptions of gendered words to previous research on the nature of subtle wording differences in job advertisements. The authors hypothesise that to women, masculine-themed words alert them to the possibility that they will not fit or do not belong.

The results showed that women found that jobs with masculinity worded job descriptions less appealing.
Organisations should take the opportunity to review the language they use to ensure it is more gender neutral. not only in Job Ads but also in internal employee communication channels. 

  1. Scrutinise the Succession Plan
    If you took out your succession plan today, could you tell me whether it had a good mix of women identified as successors within it? If not, why not?

I ask organisations to look at their plans in more detail – who is missing? Have you excluded someone because you believe that they are not ambitious or have put their career on hold because they have a young family? Are they different to your typical successor? Could you have a job share as a potential successor? Are your assumptions correct?
If your organisation is dominated by men at the top, you may well find your succession plan includes unconscious bias within it. People will use their own limiting beliefs to predict the desire and ability of others. Could you set yourself a succession planning target? For example:
Our vision is to have a pool of emerging talent and successors that has a ratio

of 50:50, female: male by 2018.
I am sure you might argue that would be impossible if your organisation is only 20% female in total. I would suggest that is exactly why you need to set the 50% target. Be disruptive – remember not all successors have to come from within your internal market. The bigger your pool of identified female talent, the higher your ability to attract more female talent becomes. Look harder, look wider and look more deeply at your potential talent pools.
And don’t forget to check your flight risk, how are you assessing the risk of your female talent walking out the door and what are you doing to minimise that risk?

  1. Watch out for Tiaras

It is important for men to be aware of the ‘Tiara Syndrome’ and watch out for it and ensure that the ‘tiaras’ are getting the recognition they deserve.

So, what the Tiara Syndrome is when a woman will work extremely hard to get all the ‘stuff’ done, often picking up activities owned by others and then wonder why she is not getting the recognition she knows she deserves. She is expecting someone to come along and place a beautiful sparkly tiara on her head.

Of course, this rarely happens, unless senior stakeholders are astute enough to look out for these ‘missing Tiara’s’.

So how can men help women to break this Tiara habit?

Look around and see if you can recognise the women in your teams who might be suffering from the Tiara syndrome; those women who are not hovering outside your office all the time waiting to tell you about their fantastic ideas, but those who are delivering the work and ensuring your objectives get done. How could you create opportunities for these women to get more visibility? Could you ensure that they are invited to key meetings? Reflect on how you value contribution and effort between women and men? Do you value the men because they are great at stepping up and presenting, and value the women because they ‘get things done?’

Losing the ‘Tiara’ can be tough for women who ‘gets things done’ and it can take a while for them to build confidence, what can you do to sponsor them in this? 

In summary, there are lots of pro-active things men can do to increase gender equality. Are you ready to step up and be one of those men who will make the difference?

For more information on how to support the men in your organisation to better understand the issues women face at work and to support them in making some changes, please contact Emma at emma@yourreddress.co.uk

[1], Evidence That Gendered Wording in Job Advertisements Exists and Sustains Gender Inequality: Gaucher, Friesen, & Kay


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