Blog post by Wendy Lund, CEO, GCI Health, featured on WorkingMother.com
Companies and even industries need to support gender equality through clear career pathways and options for advancement.
So many talented women are yearning for the next step.
Lately, I’ve noticed that companies in my industry, communications and public relations (PR), are putting out a lot of “sponsored” content extolling the importance of gender equality in the workplace. In a sector made up of 70 percent women, but with only 30 percent of them holding top positions, our industry should be showing the way for other industries by sponsoring women, not content, to foster discernible change.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about this disparity and why it even exists. From surprising my family at my college graduation by holding up a sign highlighting the pay inequality between men and women (“58 cents to the dollar”), to earning a master’s in women’s history, to a successful 30-year career, I have seen so many positive changes for women, but I still feel we’re only occasionally getting to the true top of our game.
One thing I’ve noticed is how hard it still is for women to come out and ask for what they want, or even conceive of what they want. If you ask a woman what she’s looking for, she’ll often respond with some variation of “What do you need?” (focusing only on the immediate ask) or “I have no idea—I’m too busy working and managing my family.” I remember the many times in my own career when I depended on the powers-that-be to just tell me what was next and where I was needed most, rather than a range of options I could pursue for advancement.
A recent article in our industry press addressed this very issue with feedback from senior women about the main barriers women in PR face—with all of them citing lack of confidence, lack of flexibility and a need for work and family balance. While I’ve noticed that younger women do have a better sense of what they want and have limited qualms talking about it, companies still need to do more to help women envision what is possible, and to provide “guideposts” to help them see what their career pathway could look like. So many talented women are yearning for the next step, new responsibilities and opportunities to ascend to the top of their careers, but they seem to lack the confidence and words to ask. Both men and women leaders have the power and ability to create stronger companies and grow talent by looking for and creating these opportunities.
So what can be done across all industries?
– Companies should examine their gender pay gap. In 2015, female full-time workers made on average just 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, a 21 percent wage gap. This is a far cry from the 58 cents more than 30 years ago, but clearly not where we should be. What is your company doing to close the pay gap?
– Mentors and sponsors play a fundamental role in cultivating more female leaders. Women need to feel confident in their abilities and feel empowered to ask for what they want. An internal advocate can help them feel more comfortable addressing their goals, and internal advocates should be supported by top leadership.
– Having a critical eye toward helping employees maintain a good work life balance is the real cornerstone to women feeling they have the opportunity to advance without sacrificing their mom role. If a company offers telecommuting options, an employee should not feel conflicted about using them. With all the technological advances of today’s world, true face-to-face interaction should not be a prerequisite for achieving a leadership role.
I hope that a year from now, we will see real change in my industry and others. But it’s up to companies and their leadership to make it happen and for all women, and for us to speak up and ask for what we want even if we don’t know what that is. In other words, we need to get sponsored and create our own content—our own story.