How can I empower women in my business?
According to Pew Research, 42% of U.S. working women say they’ve experienced on-the-job gender discrimination.1 Discrimination can take many forms, including lower wages, fewer career opportunities and different attitudes toward motherhood, among others.
Even well-intentioned business owners can create unintended roadblocks to female success. Here are five things you can do to help empower women in your workplace:
Diversify your leadership. No matter the size of the business, the glass ceiling can still pose a barrier to women. Despite some progress — the percentage of female managers increased by about two percentage points between 2018 and 2021 — women continue to be underrepresented in management positions, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.2 In 2021, women held an estimated 41% of management jobs, while representing an estimated 43.7% of the workforce. The higher you look up the ladder, the fewer women you will find. Only 5% of CEOs are women.
If your company lacks female representation in leadership positions, you may need to be more intentional about how you recruit and develop staff.
Support mentoring. Speaking of development, one way to advance women leaders is by pairing less experienced staff with mentors. Companies of all sizes can provide networking opportunities, resource groups and mentoring programs for this purpose.
For example, women at Commerce Bank are encouraged to participate in Respect, Inspire, Succeed, Empower, known as RISE, a business resource group created to support personal and professional growth. If your company is smaller, look outside your business or industry for potential mentors.
Create equal opportunities. White women earn, on average, 79 cents for every dollar white males earn. Women of color earn even less. Black women earn an estimated 63 cents on the dollar, while Hispanic or Latina women earn an estimated 58 cents.3
Because the gender pay gap often begins on Day One of employment, start by reviewing your hiring practices. Simply relying on salary history may perpetuate past inequities. Also keep in mind that some women are less likely to negotiate4, so it is better to propose salaries that reflect actual job responsibilities rather than rely on a prospect who might undervalue her worth.
You can also empower women by conducting pay equity audits and eliminating any gender gaps. Maintaining internal workplace equity begins with the creation of a robust compensation structure. Conducting regular internal audits is necessary to uncover bias and any gender or racial pay gaps.
Age discrimination is another subtle form of bias to watch for. Women tend to be pushed out of the workplace earlier than men and have more difficulty returning.
Support work-life balance. Some companies inadvertently discriminate against women of child-bearing age. According to Pew research, roughly one-in-five mothers said they had been passed over for an important assignment or a promotion at work, while 27% said they had been treated as if they weren’t committed to their work.5
While motherhood can lead to interruptions in a woman’s career paths and impact on their long-term earnings, challenges can arise even before a baby is born. If an expectant mother faces complications that preclude her from working or taking on some assignments, she may fear workplace reprisals or job loss. You can empower women by providing equitable parental leave and other benefits that align with state and federal laws and by implementing policies that support workplace accommodations.
The opportunities for supporting other work-life balance challenges are wide-ranging. For example, Commerce Bank provides every associate with a membership to care.com, which offers assistance with child care, elder care and even pet care, as well as other helpful tasks like housekeeping.
Create space for discussion. Employees are a great source of information and are often happy to share their perceptions of the opportunities for success at your company. Anonymous surveys that assess gender diversity efforts can be eye-opening. It’s essential to listen to this feedback and, where necessary, update diversity and inclusion policies and practices to support empowerment.
You can also amplify female voices by allowing them to be heard. Invite women in your industry to be guest speakers, and make sure all employees — not just women — can attend. Also demonstrate your commitment to diversity by including male and female representation on committees.
The Bottom Line: When you empower women, you send the message that your business welcomes a range of perspectives and ideas. That’s not just good for women - it’s good for business!
At Commerce Bank, we look at challenges as opportunities to innovate and see disruption as a chance to uncover new ways to add value. We value long-term relationships and strive to know your business well. We are ready to take on challenges and opportunities together, offering creative solutions to the challenges you face every day. Learn more at commercebank.com/BuiltForBusiness.
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1. Barroso, Amanda and Anna Brown, “Gender pay gap in U.S. held steady in 2020,” pewresearch.org, May 25, 2021
2., 3., 5. US Government Accountability Office Report, “Women in the Workforce: The Gender Pay Gap Is Greater for Certain Racial and Ethnic Groups and Varies by Education Level, https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-23-106041.pdf . December 15, 2022
4. Shonk, Katie, “Women and Negotiation: Narrowing the Gender Gap in Negotiation,” Harvard Business Review, pon.harvard.edu, December 22, 2022.