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Years ago, women who wanted to be taken seriously in the business world had to assume the characteristics of a man in a male-dominated world. They dressed in dark suits, spoke in deep voices, took aggressive and assertive stances in the boardroom and in negotiations, and showed little to no emotion. How ridiculous, if not unnatural, to be forced to downplay one’s gender.
Despite the huge strides women have made in business, politics, entertainment and the arts over the past decades, we still have a long way to go before they are fully integrated and celebrated in the American workforce. It starts with highlighting and emulating the unique qualities and traits that have enabled women to succeed — the attributes that set them apart from their male counterparts.
Businesses that want to be successful must not only hire and promote women; they must listen to and learn from them. When women are fully included in business, everybody succeeds.
Don’t hire blindly
To truly be successful, businesses should bring more women into the fold at all levels. Recruiting and hiring processes should ensure that gender is not a factor, either explicitly or subliminally. Application questions should be written in a way that doesn’t identify gender, and recruiting should be done through diverse channels, not just through the “old boys’ network.”
That being said, there is no such thing as blind or unbiased hiring. Even if we believe ourselves to be fair and open-minded, we are all shaped and shadowed by our backgrounds and experiences. So let’s take the blinders off.
At some point in the process, your recruiter will know the gender of the applicant, and if your company did its job of diversifying outreach, chances are that applicant will be female. Don’t try to overlook her gender. Instead, do whatever you can to find a place in your organization where she can learn, grow and contribute — and pay her adequately.
Women work differently
Women are natural team leaders and players. They typically read the room, non-verbal cues and body language better than their male counterparts. They tend to be more direct and transparent, as well as more supportive of others. When male egos and rivalries are tempered or removed, the workplace can be less toxic and more productive.
They must also teach their male leaders and workers how to embrace the qualities women exemplify. These are traits inherent in most men, but men have been trained to suppress them. Imagine a workplace in which people actually listened to each other. Envision a company where more workers supported others’ efforts and celebrated others’ achievements. This shouldn’t be something to imagine, but to foster.
It’s happening now at women-owned and run companies. For example, Bobbie, a company founded and led by mothers, created a new employee support system after its cofounder saw how the pandemic was changing the landscape for working women. As mothers across the country were dropping out of the workforce to care for parents and young children, a new in-house role was established to provide balance for workers juggling work-life demands, to alleviate the invisible mental weight.
All workers, not just working moms, could benefit from such a system, as could the companies for whom they work. A more balanced workforce — one in which stress is lowered and productivity is increased — can only improve a company’s bottom line.
Women deserve more
So why is it that women continue to be undervalued and, in many professions, pretty much shut out? In March, we marked on the calendar the number of extra days women, on average, must work to earn what men, on average, earned the prior year. For mothers and many women of color, this date is still a long way off.
The good news is that women are no longer settling. If they can’t be accepted and valued in the “good old boys” club, they’ll unapologetically create their own workplaces. Women are master networkers who choose collaboration over competition and know that a high tide lifts all boats. They understand the importance of connecting with customers and stakeholders. They value family and team over their own egos.
Women are succeeding
And they’re succeeding. Female startup founders with all-female teams received $6.9 billion in venture funding in 2021, compared to $3.3 billion in 2020, according to a recent report from PitchBook Data. Mixed-gender teams with at least one female founder received $47 billion in VC funding in 2021, up from $19 billion in 2020. In 2022, venture firms have already invested $980 million in all-female founding teams, compared to $758 million for all of 2012, according to the report.
Investors don’t throw money away. They do their due diligence and invest only when they have confidence they’ll see a good return on their investment. Business owners should do the same. They should look beyond antiquated biases and stereotypes, and invest in a workforce that welcomes and celebrates women and their unique insights, energy and talents.