Women comprise only a third of managers, a quarter of senior leadership, and only a fifth of executives, according to data published by Mercer. As a result, it’s easy for most working women to feel cynical, or think that employers see gender diversity as a checkbox to tick rather than a real marker for growth. Far from being more balanced, the scales seemed to be perpetually, unfairly, tipped to one side.
5 Steps To Creating, Maintaining, And Benefiting From A Gender-Diverse Team | Stephanie Burns
Kimberly Taylor was one such leader who was getting tired of proving herself despite her accomplishments in marketing and digital strategy. Taylor spent over a decade navigating the intricacies of Los Angeles’ marketing sector, and her efforts propelled her up the corporate ladder. However, at each new rung, she found herself needing to defend her presence. “It sounds crazy, but I’ve worked at places where I felt like every move was still under a microscope,” Taylor shares. “It was as if I needed the buy-in of my male counterparts to do the job that I was hired to do.”
Things changed for the better in the summer of 2019. Taylor became the VP of Client Strategy for Altru Labs, a hiring and onboarding experience startup that helps businesses use employee-created content to humanize their brands. Altru didn’t take a halfhearted approach to diversity; instead, it actively recruited people of diverse genders, ages, and backgrounds. Shortly after Taylor’s arrival, Altru achieved a two-thirds female majority.
Taylor is a believer in the fact that any company can create, maintain, and benefit from a gender-diverse team as well, if they would only give it a shot. I sat down with Taylor to gather a few tips any entrepreneur can apply to their business.
1. Catch Up On The Business Case For Diversity
Most people frame diversity at work as a social issue. However, Taylor believes that too many leaders overlook the very real and compelling business case for diverse hiring.
“There is a lot of research out there on exactly this,” she says. “We don’t have to prove it or launch a study at Altru — it’s already been proven!” She has a point. In 2016, the Peterson Institute for International Economics surveyed nearly 22,000 firms across 91 countries and found that gender balance on the C-suite level can have a significant positive impact on net margins. As the researchers write: “A profitable firm at which 30 percent of leaders are women could expect to add more than one percentage point to its net margin compared with an otherwise similar firm with no female leaders. By way of comparison, the typical profitable firm in our sample had a net profit margin of 6.4 percent, so a one percentage point increase represents a 15 percent boost to profitability.”
Current and aspiring entrepreneurs need to understand the potential benefit that gender diversity can bring to a business. If they don’t, they may dismiss or de-prioritize diversity, thereby losing out on a tool that could have helped propel their businesses to greater heights.
2. Don’t Hire For A Quota — Hire For The People
But by that same measure, embracing diversity doesn’t mean hiring for a quota. According to Taylor, if leaders view it solely as a checkbox to tick by hiring one or two people, they won’t see any real benefit from having a diverse office. Altru, she points out, isn’t hiring women to meet a diversity quota — it’s doing so because the people they choose are the best-suited to build and execute the company’s vision for success.
Altru’s CEO, Alykhan Rehmatullah, elaborates on this perspective. “Over 90 percent of our clients are in the Fortune 500. This client profile requires a different level of service and empathy to be successful,” he explains. “With two-thirds of our employees being female, we have been able to produce unique and innovative client solutions that we may never have even thought of otherwise.”
3. Understand That Being “Diverse” Isn’t Just About Hiring
However, both Rehmatullah and Taylor say that having women at the metaphorical table doesn’t mean that the conversations had there will be diverse. “Some leaders say diversity is important, but they don’t put those words into action,” Taylor says. “Or, they listen — but don’t react. The fact of the matter is that diversity should already be a part of business culture. Companies who aren’t there yet are significantly missing out.”
According to Taylor, diversity is a workplace philosophy, not a gender ratio. Everyone needs to have a voice and feel as though their ideas are welcomed and valued. If the office environment is oppressive or only values the input of a few, a seemingly diverse office may remain, in practice, homogenous. This outcome can be toxic to the company and undermine the whole point of hiring for diversity. Leaders need to encourage free speech, welcome feedback, and moderate conversations to ensure that everyone is heard. Otherwise, their business may not be as diverse — or successful — as they believe it to be.
4. Make Sure To Avoid Anti-Diversity Entrepreneurial Pitfalls
Rehmatullah, who experienced the founding process firsthand only a few years ago, has his own thoughts on why some modern companies and startups are lagging in their diversity measures.
“In general, companies raise too much capital and are then forced to run the same playbooks that their venture capitalists have run in the past, and expect the same outcomes. But the world has changed — you simply can’t build a successful and scalable company the same way you did ten years ago. You need creativity, empathy, and humility to execute on the right playbook, and that comes from having diversity on your team.” Rehmatullah suggests that when companies strategize for funding opportunities, they should always keep in mind the directional trade-off that comes from taking too much money — and agreeing to too much control — from investors who may have outdated views on the importance of gender diversity in the workplace.
5. Promote Optimism And Share Positive Change
Today, Taylor looks to the future with hope. She believes that Altru stands as an example of what a truly diverse workplace could look like — and wants to share her experience with women who feel weighed down by cynicism. “As a female with children, I believe that it’s important to see and hear from other women who are navigating the business world. I try to be as transparent as possible because there are certainly times I feel like I’m juggling it all and am in over my head,” she explains. “But I think that’s the important part — women need to hear and know that opportunities exist and are available despite feeling like they’ll be looked over due to their circumstances.”
So, foster hope; share change. As Taylor says, we will only be able to build a truly gender-diverse business world if women everywhere unite, and lay the groundwork together.