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Thought Leadership

Why Fostering Female Talent is Better Than Recruiting

Companies facing a gender imbalance should focus on developing their existing female employees, rather than simply trying to recruit more women.

Monday, October 9, 2017
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Although the conversation about it began quite some time ago, diversity is still a huge issue in the workplace.  Despite the progress that's been made, the vast majority of organizations are led by men, and the average woman is still paid significantly less than her male counterpart. It's a national and global problem -- not just because equality between the sexes is vital, but because it's hard for a company to relate to its diverse customer base if it lacks a diverse workforce.

It goes without saying that women play a central role in the workforce. Some of my female colleagues have taught me the most, including one former boss at Accenture who was fearsomely good at her job. Companies that aren't openly working towards re-addressing the balance are at risk of missing out on their own employees' talent potential, marginalizing their customer-base and damaging their own reputation, as well as their ability to hire great talent. And research has made it increasingly clear that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially.  

Some organizations have chosen to address the balance by hiring new women from outside the company into senior positions, just as Alfresco Software did when hiring Marilyn Miller from Cisco. But new research from the Boston Consulting Group shows that retaining and promoting women already working within a company is the most effective way of improving the gender balance within the workforce. The study found that, while senior executives preferred to focus on recruiting more women, initiatives to support retaining and promoting women already at the company had a higher positive impact on business growth.

So, what can senior talent leaders do to identify, retain and promote women within their business?

Make more of your people data. First, you must be able to identify where gaps, talent, progress and career development is required to retain staff. Using People Science can help analyze your people just as data science has long helped companies analyze their customers. HR teams no longer need to rely on paper records but should be using digital data to answering critical business questions like these.  

Collaborate to identify these gaps. HR leaders can't do the above on their own and must work closely with department heads to identify stand-out female employers who are keen to develop. It seems obvious, but recent research we conducted found almost two-thirds (60 percent) of HR leaders would struggle to produce information about skills gaps and employee churn if their CEO asked for it today. That situation was unthinkable with customer data -- it's becoming unthinkable with people data. 

Develop new HR policies to support diversification. More than half of the respondents in the BCG research said that flexibility was the most important intervention at their company, regardless of age, gender and whether or not they had children. The policies that most improved the gender balance were making flexible working truly effective; better visibility of role models; involving men in gender diversity efforts, particularly middle managers; and backing up the program with clear targets. At Sage People, our product is much better because half the product and development team are women.

The solution to the diversity issue often sits in plain sight -- fostering and retaining female talent within an organization can prove to be a successful answer to having a more gender balanced organization. If companies bring thoughtful awareness and set goals with the use of People Science, they can achieve a balance that will empower their workforce and positively affect the business’s reputation and bottom line.

Adam Hale is the executive vice president of Sage People.


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