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Embracing education opportunities that elevate women in the workplace

Thankfully, more and more companies are recognizing that elevating women requires conquering biases, building relationships, and rethinking ways of working. Across industries, it’s clear that the problems facing women in business are deeply rooted in the ideas people bring with them to work.

Giving women more access to skills-based training and traditional leadership programs won’t change that, as long as companies still embrace outdated ways of thinking – especially in internal education

As organizations look for new ways to elevate and support women in the workplace, HR and development are key areas to invest in. Reimagining education and engagement programs across the following three areas can help advance inclusion at any company.

1. Training on biases: Advancing women in the workplace starts with hiring more of them, but inherent biases can limit the potential for women to even be contacted for a meeting. Data shows that when recruiters are searching for candidates and see a list of men and women, for example, they’re 13% less likely to click on a woman’s profile.

Given long-held misperceptions about what effective leadership and “bossy” behavior look like across genders, interview processes can be further biased against women without HR professionals or managers recognizing why. Leaders who think hiring biases are a fallacy may be the most biased of all: One study found that bosses who do not believe sexism holds back women’s careers are more likely to give jobs to men.

Conquering the impact of gender biases starts with education on the problem. (Ideally, it should also be coupled with the kinds of gender-blind hiring practices that improve women’s chances of getting hired. Trainings on unconscious biases are growing more common across workplaces, and shouldn’t be limited to hiring professionals and managers.)

As hiring and other business practices get more automated and AI-assisted, the risks of building gender biases into organizations’ internal and customer-facing systems have grown exponentially. That makes it more important than ever for the people using, designing, and creating those technologies to understand the potential for bias to (unfortunately) be “built” into what they do.

2. Cross-functional learning: A byproduct of biases can be a tendency for internal units to be more “gendered” than equal. 

It’s highly common for departments such as engineering, IT, and/or business development, for example, to be more “male” than others. Ignoring that sense of difference can hold back women’s careers, because it leaves them with less exposure to those areas of the business. (It can also limit their potential to find mentors or colleagues who can help them seize opportunities or spark new initiatives across departments.)

Offering programs for employees to learn about the work done in units outside their own can help change internal gender demographics by creating more opportunities for lateral, cross-department moves. It can also better equip women to rise into leadership roles by giving them stronger knowledge of the business as a whole, and by creating new opportunities for relationship-building across functions. 

3. Advocacy programs: Training and collaborative learning experiences can have a positive influence on inclusiveness, but experts advise organizations to go a step further by building women’s inclusion into the culture itself. About 65% of tech companies have formal leadership development programs for women in place, for example, and 66% have a formal pay equity policy. 

Building teamwork and advocacy for gender equality into a company’s culture takes commitment, but reaps a positive impact on the business as a whole: Experiences of inclusion are proven to drive 18% to 49% improvements in areas like team problem solving, work engagement, employee innovation, and employees’ desire to stay at the organization. According to the same research, however, a full 45% of employees’ experiences of inclusion are explained by their managers’ leadership behaviors. 

Managers and other leaders shouldn’t be the only allies employees have for gender equality. Establishing internal advocacy groups and pinpointing diversity “champions” across various areas of the business is a valuable way to boost engagement and have more change-making conversations internally.

Companies should have those conversations externally, too. Participating in broader programs – including those that require reporting metrics-driven progress on elevating women at work – can provide companies with the resources, support, and collaboration they need to make meaningful changes (and stay accountable to their goals).