How can HR leaders best support women in their workforce? It takes more than good intentions, says Danielle Crane, chief people officer at OneStream Software in Birmingham, Michigan.
Crane spoke with StrategicCHRO360 about what HR can do to bring in and support women, what progress has been made—and how much more needs to be done.
How can organizations better utilize their HR teams to support and keep women in the workforce? What progress have you seen within the last five years?
Mentorship and development are critical to building a workforce that is more diverse and well-rounded. Women can benefit from having trusted advisors, which includes men, who are able to guide them through different stages of their careers. HR teams can establish and promote mentorship programs to help employees get connected with more experienced individuals. They can also facilitate training and development initiatives to prepare employees at all levels for the changing business landscape. These programs can also prepare women in male-dominated industries with the skills needed to navigate specific environments. Investing in your existing talent and workforce will promote retention and morale.
Transparency in compensation, opportunities and performance expectations also set women up for success in the workplace. This can look like having candid conversations with your manager or an HR partner about salary expectations or mapping out your career goals at your current organization. These transparent conversations should be a two-way street: what you want and need, and where your employer is able to support you. Within the last five years or so, the employee/employer relationship has become more integrated, which has been a benefit to increasing female representation in the workforce.
Flexibility is also an essential component of keeping women in the workforce, and we have already seen how that pays off with work-from-anywhere initiatives coming out of the pandemic. We know we can trust our employees to get their work done, so we do not need to worry about them signing off early when needed to watch their child’s basketball game or their play on the theater’s opening night. We have begun to see more integration of the full self at work, and HR can support and enable leaders to work with their team members on accommodations to make it more feasible. This new visibility and understanding help both men and women lead healthier lives—both personally and professionally.
The gender pay gap is still a significant obstacle for women and even more so for women of color. Why have we not seen substantial change? What should organizations be doing differently to address gender pay equity?
We definitely have a long way to go as a society, and more so in particular sectors of the economy, but I do think we have made significant progress in having more female representation in STEM and finance, as well as at the leadership level.
The last several years, while we were in the throes of the pandemic, amplified how much of the caretaking was placed on women—whether it be young children doing online schoolwork or sick relatives needing extra support. But simultaneously, work culture shifted to accommodate for more flexibility and began to recognize the whole person by integrating parts of everyone’s personal life. Hello—barking dogs in the Zoom background and little ones running around! This flexibility will be a benefit to everyone and especially for women who have traditionally carried more of the physical and mental household workload.
Much of the responsibility toward equitable pay remains with employers, and we are seeing hopeful progress. More job postings have the salary range listed publicly to help with pay transparency and set reasonable expectations for job applicants. This will only become more widespread as employers work to instill a culture of transparency and consistency to accurately portray what it is like to work for their organization.
Companies are also developing programs and systems to continue monitoring the pay gap, inflation and market trends related to compensation. These initiatives look at what the role demands and an applicant’s contributions to that role. A lot of research and conversations with other HR experts are involved to ensure these programs are well executed and provide meaningful results for employees. I think we will continue to see more organizations establish similar programs to address the gender pay gap.
How do companies create a culture that attracts and retains diverse tech or finance talent? What tools and methods should leaders consider?
At a human level, we all want to experience a sense of belonging, and that is no different in the workplace. Visibility and community are two key factors in creating a culture that attracts and retains diverse talent. HR can help establish or promote internal groups within an organization that foster belonging around specific interest groups, like veterans, working parents, alumni, women in finance, etc. These spaces build connections around common interests and histories and give employees immediate access to a community. It is important to keep these groups authentic while also leveraging them in the recruiting process to show potential employees the communities they can join.
Recruiting tech and finance talent has historically posed a diversity challenge because many organizations recruit around physical office locations—oftentimes in high-rent areas, but the pandemic has flipped that strategy on its head. Applicants are no longer tied to a specific locale, which greatly expands the talent diversity pool.
Many of my peers recognize the benefits of leveraging employee networks for hiring, but I would ask people to recognize whether it positively impacts their diversity objectives. You might be unknowingly limiting the type of candidates you receive by going down the same avenue time and again.
Instead, encourage employees to be visible and engaged on social media if they are comfortable. Potential employees will likely scan your organization’s social channels, but they will also look at the comment section, reactions and reshared content. They will look to see who is posting photos of company-sponsored events or less formal get-togethers. These subtle interactions speak volumes about how teammates interact with one another, and all these examples are public displays of a culture that celebrates diverse individuals.
Another way to be more intentional about recruiting practices is to invest in local programs that build skills related to your workforce, which includes programs that support minority groups. These programs may look like after-school coding classes or robotics clubs for high school students. Partnering with local schools and universities is a great way to participate in building the future workforce.
Given all the uncertainty in the world, what do you think is the most important thing chief people officers can offer in their role to their employees?
In times of uncertainty, we seek out stability, and that is what a chief people officer can provide. Leaders must remain committed to showing up on a regular basis for our coworkers and peers, whether that be town hall meetings or company-wide emails—show people that you remain at their side.
For organizations with a board of directors, consider having a spokesperson engage with employees so that they have exposure beyond leadership. And in those addresses, do not shy away from topics people are seeing on the news because we all know that those parts are with us even during the workday.