9 strategies for advancing women in today’s workplace

Look around your workplace (or picture it if you’re working from home like many of us these days). If you don’t see a lot of women, your organization is in the minority — and it might not be performing as well as it could be.

Women make up nearly half the workforce in this country. A recent Gallup study found gender-diverse business units have higher average revenue than less diverse business units. Gender-diverse teams also have higher sales and profits than male-dominated teams. Other research has shown Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women on boards financially outperform companies with the lowest representation of women on boards.

Read more: Promoted on maternity leave: How Salesforce supports working mothers

But the importance of ensuring women are a vital part of your organization goes beyond the profit-and-loss statement. A study by the Center for Creative Leadership found having more women in the workplace actually makes an organization a better place to work. More female talent in an organization creates greater job satisfaction, stronger organizational dedication, less burnout, better retention and higher engagement. And those responses were reported consistently by both men and women, across ages, ethnicities and industries.

Read more: How companies can support female employees as they return to work

You don’t have to work for a Fortune 500 company to reap the benefits of advancing women in your workplace. Here are several strategies companies large and small can implement to help champion women where you work.

Help shrink the pay gap.
Even though women now outpace men in earning college degrees, overall they earn just 79 cents on the dollarcompared to men. Commitment to change starts at the top. Push leadership to look at the pay gap, cultivate a culture of transparency — and set a goal.
Help women develop their leadership potential.
Establishing a formal program for women’s professional leadership can help women expand their networks, capitalize on new connections, consider new directions for their careers, and increase their impact on the business. Consider training and self-assessments to strengthen their skills. Make full gender parity among leadership your goal. Unum has committed to gender parity by 2030 to foster an inclusive culture where every employee can thrive.
Offer employee resource groups.
These employee-driven groups can help women to succeed in all aspects of life by supporting authentic leadership, a gender-intelligent culture and a commitment to identifying and removing barriers. It’s important to create a safe space where everyone involved feels heard, can ask questions and get honest feedback. Understanding the needs of the women in your workforce is the first step toward creating solutions that work.
Create a mentoring program.
Mentors can help increase awareness of women in the organization, identify alternatives and initiate action to guide women’s development. For example, at Unum we pair members of the women’s professional network with a mentor to build relationships, learn from experiences and discuss developmental or career goals that the mentor can help them achieve.
Go a step further into sponsorships.
A sponsorship program helps high-potential women gain the confidence to take the next step in their careers. Through a sponsorship program, Unum’s women’s professional network created a forum to recognize working women are often balancing multiple priorities but can still be successful in their career. Women who have sponsors are more likely to be represented at the leadership level and this kind of program accelerates relationships where they may not be occurring organically.
Engage men as allies.
It may be tempting to resolve gender inequality by focusing only on women, but gender inclusiveness needs both men and women to drive change. Every organization has men who understand the need for gender diversity — seek them out and get them involved.
Offer flexible work schedules and locations.
The pandemic has illustrated the value in a flexible workforce. Your company can continue to operate and serve customers while supporting work-life balance by offering employees options to work in the location that best suits their needs. Unum has temporarily transitioned to working remotely and flexible hours during the pandemic.
Support new parents.
Paid family leave isn’t yet a federal mandate in this country, but an increasing number of corporations, municipalities and states are offering this benefit. Unum offers new moms and dads up to six weeks of paid leave to use following birth or placement of a child through surrogacy, adoption or foster care. Unum employees who want to expand their families by adoption can receive a one-time benefit of up to $25,000, providing a valuable financial benefit to an often-costly process. Once offices are open again, consider providing private space equipped with supplies and refrigerators for nursing mothers during work hours. Shipping services such as Milk Storkare also a great option for nursing mothers to ship their milk while traveling on company business.
Ease access to medical and behavioral health resources.
Women are overwhelmingly the primary decision-makers for their family’s health care. Telehealth benefits can support women in this responsibility, especially as flex working becomes more prevalent. Doctors can provide virtual help with everyday care needs, such as colds and flu, non-emergency diagnoses or filling some prescriptions. Employee assistance programs offer free counseling and extensive resources for families at every stage of life, including motherhood, divorce, or loss of a loved one.