Prior to the pandemic, McKinsey’s research showed that men and women left their job at similar rates. But COVID-19 endangered many women’s career trajectories as they grappled with childcare issues and other structural inequities. As many as 2 million women considered leaving their jobs or reducing their workload.
Despite modest gains, women–and particularly women of color–remain underrepresented at all levels of leadership. For women, the climb to leadership typically stalls at the first rung of the ladder:
LGBTQ+ women and those with disabilities also suffer from lack of access, in part due to increased microaggressions that can undermine their professional progress and challenge their competence.
Women get less access to the people, input, and opportunities that accelerate careers2. As a result, the higher you look in companies, the fewer women you see. This representation can discourage women in the workplace from seeking advancement, cause them to become complacent with their current position, or push them out of an organization altogether. However, the current paradigm shift toward a hybrid workplace offers an opportunity for organizations that recognize the importance of diversity. With the right framework, your company can use this moment to bring women employees back into the workforce.
A lack of gender diversity can:
Read on to learn how greater gender diversity can improve your organization, and why mentoring is an ideal solution to enable women in the workplace.
At the center of every successful organization sits the people that keep the wheels moving towards the organization’s ultimate mission. But what combination of people makes up the top-functioning teams? This is exactly what researchers Anita Woolley and Thomas W. Malone from Carnegie Mellon University set out to discover3.
The study gathered subjects, gave each of them an intelligence test, and randomly assigned them to teams. Each team had to complete several tasks—visual puzzles, brainstorming, and decision making—in order to solve a complex problem. The teams were scored based on their task performance. The results?
The most successful teams were the ones with more women on them.
The researchers discovered that “when women made up more than 50 percent of a team, the team’s collective intelligence rose above average.” Gender diverse groups provide varied points of view which make for better decision making. Therefore, more gender diverse groups make for smarter, more impactful teams.
The pandemic led to historic turnover, with over 47 million workers quitting their jobs in 2021. According to SHRM data, nearly twice as many managers as individual contributors report looking for new opportunities. Forward-looking organizations can use these gaps as opportunities to mend the broken talent pipeline and ensure a more diverse, effective and profitable workforce.
Researchers discovered that when women made up more than 50 percent of a team, the team’s collective intelligence rose above average.
Research shows that closing the gender gap in the workforce could increase the global GDP in both developed and developing countries by 26 percent by 2025. In the U.S. alone, this would lead to a GDP gain of $2.7 trillion. This sum might never be realized though if action to support gender diversity is not taken. This sum might never be realized though if action to support gender diversity is not taken.
Reaching gender parity in the workplace is no longer just an equality issue, it’s an economic one. During the Great Resignation, quit rates have been highest among mid-career employees. But with careful planning, companies can turn the Great Resignation into the Great Reshuffle, luring valuable employees back to the workforce with returnships and other support.
Organizations that don’t engage women for leadership are overlooking a large opportunity to grow capable employees for their talent pipeline. This could lead to:
Being unable to see themselves climb the corporate ladder could lead many women to look elsewhere for employment. By preparing women for management roles and career advancement, companies can bring diverse perspectives to the direction of an organization. This type of diversity fosters innovation and creativity through a greater variety of problem-solving approaches, perspectives, and ideas7.
The middle stage of a woman’s career can be one of the most pivotal moments, as many women make the decision of whether to push further into the executive ranks or give up their aspirations, and sometimes workforce participation, altogether.
The ‘Mid-career Marathon’ as Sally Blount, dean of the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University, calls it is the time when women start to feel torn between work and the stressors of home life, whether this is having kids or caring for aging parents. Blount notes that whether by “choice, necessity, or default”, women feel more compelled to make decisions that can disqualify them from the C-suite8.
Providing opportunities for enablement—networks, mentorship and sponsorship—during this time will help women better navigate these pivots. After all, hiring women and investing in the early stage of their careers just to let them exit or become stagnant is poor strategic planning, execution, and economics in the long run.
Mentoring Women in the Workplace
Gender diversity means better business. McKinsey & Company found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Gender equality has become an increasingly competitive driver when it comes to talent recruitment and an advantage in the marketplace.
Companies that have more women on their board of directors also have better financial results. A McKinsey study showed that companies in the top quartile of diverse executive teams were 21 percent more likely to be highly profitable than those in the bottom quartile. More and more, women are becoming the decision makers in consumer and enterprise sales. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found women account for 41 percent of employees with authority to make purchasing decisions10. In order to appeal to this buying community, organizations benefit from the inclusion of the diverse perspectives of women.
Improved ROI and organizational performance is why more and more corporations are prioritizing gender diversity.
The biggest reason researchers Woolley and Thompson saw teams with more women outperform the others is due to social perceptiveness, or the ability to read expressions and nonverbal cues. Women tend to score higher on social perceptiveness than men. This trait and others like empathy and collaboration lead to higher collective intelligence and better communication skills within teams.
While full causation of improved company success is often a combination of many variables, the data does elicit that women play an increasing role in helping organizations reach their goals. Gender diversity is not just a fair idea, but in fact, makes economic sense, driving more successful outcomes for a company’s bottom line.
McKinsey & Company found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are more likely to have increases in financial returns above their respective national industry medians by 15 percent.
Closing the gender gap is imperative for organizations to perform at the highest caliber, and mentoring women is the ideal strategy to enable skill development and build networks, increasing employee engagement and retention. With the addition of technological innovation, mentoring has expanded beyond just the traditional one-on-one approach. Modern mentoring is a collection of new uses and formats of mentoring adapted for the modern workforce that enables employees to drive their own development while creating a highly scalable model for organizations. Whether it’s mentoring circles, flash mentoring, or high potential mentoring, modern mentoring imparts a feeling of inclusivity that can help employees, especially women, feel more connected and engaged with their place of employment.
Mentoring programs can set employees up for success in terms of salary and promotions. In a study by Sun Microsystems:
Why is mentoring women the answer? A study in the Academy of Management Journal found that career development for women is tied more to attachment and relationships, whereas career development for men means increased autonomy and separation from others12. This makes mentoring women within small groups or one-on-one sessions perfect for fostering conversations and relationships.
Cultivating early mentoring habits build a woman’s belief in her capabilities and willingness to mentor others. “As women see that they’re effective in mentoring each other, and as those women move up in their careers and get older, they start mentoring women,” Lean In founder and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said. In fact, 65 percent of women who have been mentored will go on to become mentors themselves, thus perpetuating the positive mentorship cycle for women13.
Mentoring in the workplace allows mentees to engage in experiential learning, so they are able to apply concepts immediately, helping them to understand and adopt new skills. This can lead to better employee engagement over time. In a study, 78 percent of people said it made them feel more engaged with their organization to be part of a mentorship program20.
Since women fall behind in promotions early and continue to lose ground in the workplace, there’s no time to waste in getting them engaged and building skills and networks14. Mentoring women can start as early as day one. Whether it’s new hires or existing employees, there’s no need to wait until women reach a certain level before mentoring can be of value.
“There’s a very narrow window of time for women to be pulled into existing networks, especially inside corporate America,” said Victoria Pynchon, co-founder of She Negotiates15.
While 67 percent of women rate mentorship as highly important in career advancement, 63 percent report they’ve never had a mentor16.
Why is this? Many reports point to women asking for mentorship less than men. Being unsure of who to approach or hesitant of the response they might receive keeps many women from raising their hands. This lack of involvement can increase as women move into the later stages of their career, but formal mentoring programs can give women access to influential peers early on. In fact, formal mentoring programs, or company-sponsored programs that have designated mentor pools and facilitated relationships, break down silos and ease the connection process.
In organizations with formal mentoring programs, half of all women have had a formal mentor in comparison to only one in four at organizations without a formal program23. This puts women in the workplace at a better advantage moving forward, combating obstacles that usually leave them struggling to make up ground against male counterparts.
Mentoring women reminds them that their career development is important to their employer, and can help women progress through the mid-career drop off and into the leadership positions left by the boomer exit. In fact, Sun Microsystems found the ROI on mentoring can be 1,000 percent or better, growing as the mentoring program matures.
In order to excel within their careers and through the mid-career marathon, it is important for women to hone several key skills in order to overcome certain preconceptions and obstacles. Mentoring can be a space to discuss how to confidently approach these matters head on.
Making initial connections and building a network within a new job or an industry can be overwhelming with little instruction of where to start—especially within male dominated industries such as science, engineering or technology. Mentoring can break down barriers, allowing mentees to approach mentors, irrespective of gender, seniority or function. It also connects women to executives who can guide them through the skills and connections they’ll need in order to advance in their careers.
Negotiating can be difficult for anyone. The good news is women in the workplace are negotiating for promotions just as much as men. But despite this, women are on average less likely to be promoted than men17. Mentoring allows for an open discussion around this topic that can empower women to be more prepared at the negotiating table, and help an organization to review its own policies and personal reactions when it comes to negotiating with men and women. This discussion can alert co-workers and leadership to any potential bias within themselves or the organization that needs to be reviewed. Mentoring also promotes skill development in this area, allowing women to hone successful tactics for approach from both male and female co-workers.
Constructive feedback is something all employees should receive on a regular basis. But Stanford professors Shelley Correll and Caroline Simard found women are less likely to receive explicit feedback related to outcomes. Poor specificity leaves women questioning what it was about their actions that was liked or disliked. It can stunt a women’s progression when review time comes around. “Vague feedback is correlated with lower performance review ratings for women—but not for men. In other words, vague feedback can hold women back,” Correll said. Mentoring provides regular intervals of feedback between mentor and mentee. Consistent interactions allow women to be better prepared to handle ambiguous feedback.
Mentoring women can help close the leadership gap by ensuring they receive support and resources at all stages of their career development. These types of mentoring programs can help strengthen the talent pipeline:
Often structured as cross-departmental groups with rotating leadership, mentoring circles provide employees with the opportunity to share resources and support around common personal and professional issues.
High-potential mentoring for women targets promising employees and pairs them with mentors who can help them develop their skills. The goal is to strengthen the leadership pipeline from within.
These programs pair new hires with experienced employees to provide support during the critical first few weeks of employment and develop relationships that last beyond the onboarding period. These programs can help to create a sense of belonging earlier on in an employee’s tenure.
Reverse mentoring provides a framework for junior employees to share their insight with higher-ups while ensuring that women have the opportunity to develop connections with senior staff. This can be a valuable format, especially to DEI initiatives.
Creating greater gender diversity within your organization is within reach. Affecting change requires reflecting on current practices and establishing new initiatives to move your organization forward.
As the research shows, adding more women to teams:
Women are pushing into the workforce in vast numbers, and just in time. As the baby boomers exit, women stand ready to fill the gaps in every organizational echelon, from the forward thinking C-suite, to the climbing mid-career and managerial operators, down to the entry level, ambitious new hires.
Organizations can unlock this talent pipeline with the right strategy and programs that support women in building the skills and knowledge needed to elevate to the next level, and initiating a network of resources available to give advice and guidance at each stage of the employee lifecycle. Mentoring women provides the key to this strategy. Robust, formal and structured mentoring programs support the women in your workplace, making them feel engaged, productive, and overall emboldened to seek more.
To learn what type of women mentoring programs best fits your objectives and organizational goals, download the full version of the ebook.
*See references in the ebook.