Diversity. It’s become one of the most talked about, written about, and analyzed topics in business. And rightfully so.
External pressure has led to internal action, making those in charge take considerable strides towards a more balanced and representative boardroom. Unfortunately, they’re doing it all wrong.
Businesses are struggling to employ a fair representation of women, especially at the C-suite level. In advertising, there’s a real urgency to fix this issue, and it isn’t just to save their reputation. Smart agencies realize it’s about survival. By now, anyone working in marketing or advertising knows (or should know) that women control most household spending—somewhere between 70% and 80%.
It’s clear where the purchasing power lies. So without experienced, dynamic women on staff, agencies could get left behind as clients seek out firms that both understand and represent their target demographic.
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been asked by clients to help them find women to fill leadership roles. However, hiring based solely on gender to appear more equal will not fix the problem. Nor will it provide women with the same opportunity as their male counterparts.
Progress towards parity is incredibly important, but it needs a new approach. Instead of looking at the top-down, we need to think of gender equality at a much more foundational level.
Here are three tips for agencies looking to build a dynamic, diverse, and high-performing team.
1. Diversity doesn’t have a price tag.
Need more women in the workplace? No problem, just hire a few females, give them corner offices and fancy titles. Boom—you’ve got a balanced roster, right?
Throwing money at the problem is viewed as an easy fix. In fact, it just hurts the business further. It puts new hires at an even greater disadvantage. When their gender becomes more important than their skills and experience, women are just being set up to fail.
So when a client asks us to find a woman for a position to build more diversity in the team, we’re transparent from the start. Recruiting can never be based on gender; it all comes down to experience and personality. Just like you can’t pay for the sun to come out or the snow to fall, your checkbook can’t dictate the image of the company.
What’s the best way to have more a gender-balanced team? Ask candidates thoughtful and revealing questions in the interview process. Pay fairly and equally. Offer the same amount of maternity and paternity leave. Start with foundational values and work your way up.
2. Change your rigid policies.
Have you ever heard someone say, “She’s a hands-on mom,” or “She’s babysitting the kids tonight”?
Women work. Women have children. So unless you can offer flexibility and support for parents, you’re not going to acquire highly qualified female professionals. Though parental roles are shifting, motherhood is still regarded too often as a liability or an inconvenience to employers, yet fathers never receive the same scrutiny.
As the assumed primary caregiver, women don’t want to lose their spot in the corporate ladder out of fear of being left behind. This is an issue their male counterparts have never had to consider.
It’s time to change your business model to seek mothers as employees, rather than let it deter your decision. Women who have children encapsulate some of the most sought-after skills for any organization, and will often become some of your best-performing employees. Motherhood makes you resilient, efficient, organized, and empathetic. It also makes you step outside of your comfort zone, solve problems on the fly, and delegate effectively.
3. Start from the ground up.
Many agencies who try to hire women in leadership roles complain there’s not enough talent to choose from. They’re missing the point. There’s a clear missed opportunity: development.
One of the best ways to employ dynamic leaders is by recognizing great talent at an early stage. Which of your current entry or mid-level staff are excelling at their role? Who shows passion for the company and goes above and beyond for the team?
Pay attention and begin implementing a strategy that puts these shining stars on an upward trajectory within the company. If you’re simply not getting enough women applying, be proactive. Offer to pay for post-secondary tuition to those who show promise. This gives them the ability to acquire skills they’ll need to excel, while simultaneously building retention and loyalty.
Workplace gender equality should be a goal for all employers, not just because it is the right thing to do (though it is), but because it is good for the bottom line. The sooner companies realize that and make fundamental changes to their recruitment and, just as important, development practices, the better off we’ll all be.
Mandy Gilbert is an entrepreneur, writer, speaker and investor. In 2002, she started Creative Niche, a recruitment firm purely focused in marketing, advertising, digital and design and in 2015 she co-founded RED Academy, a design and technology college.