I recently had the pleasure of moderating a panel discussion at Advertising Week New York as part of the Future is Female track. The event focused on empowering the next generation of future women leaders.
One thing is clear: while women’s representation in the workforce has increased across all levels, there is still a way to go. That was noted in the 2021 McKinsey Women in the Workplace report, which cited that women are still underrepresented in leadership roles – particularly women of color.
The good news is organizations are increasingly recognizing the importance of creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace culture – one where all voices are heard and everyone’s contributions are seen, including women’s.
So what are the five steps organizations can take to inspire and empower female voices and the next generation of women leaders?
1. Understand the current climate for women in the workforce
I personally feel now is a great time for women in the workforce, with more doors opening across all levels. With that said, the reality is that over the last two years, the rate of burnout across the U.S. population has skyrocketed – and especially among women. In the latest LinkedIn Workforce Confidence survey, 74% of women said they were very or somewhat stressed for work-related reasons, compared with just 61% of employed male respondents.
Women have taken on more of the emotional, caretaking work in the workplace – supporting their teams and leaning in more broadly across their organizations. We’ve had to balance our day-to-day tasks with keeping morale high, ensuring we are empathetic to each of our team members’ situations in what has been an especially challenging time across the globe. Talk to women in your workforce to understand what they’re experiencing.
2. Ensure your policies and practices are truly equitable
You can’t create an equitable culture without recognizing the importance of acknowledging and accepting differences. Every individual has different needs, and organizations need to be up front about company benefits and support programs that will enable people to thrive in their careers, as well as in their personal lives.
At Acxiom, for example, we offer a full range of benefits to all our employees, including flexible working situations, competitive health insurance and free emotional wellness counselling.
3. Equip leaders as inclusivity champions
It’s important for leaders to lead by example, and training is a fundamental part of enabling leaders. Even the language we use in everyday calls and meetings can be more inclusive if we are really conscious about our choices. Words matter. By using inclusive language, such as using “chairperson” rather than “chairman,” leaders demonstrate that they’re making an effort.
It’s also crucial to raise awareness of unconscious bias in the workplace – like challenging the assumption that if people have a child playing in the background of a Zoom call, it means they are less committed to their work.
This year, all Acxiom leaders were required to complete inclusive leadership training. What’s more, 100% of DEI goals and objectives are directly tied to company leadership compensation.
4. Provide opportunities for women to voice what they need
As well as empowering leaders, there is a need for safe spaces where people are free to express themselves. This is where business resource groups (BRGs) can be very useful. They help bring associates together, give everyone a voice, host regular events, strengthen business impact, support professional development, and level the playing field for all.
In 2019, Acxiom’s Women LEAD (Leadership Enrichment And Development) BRG was developed to advance gender equality and increase opportunities through education and networking. Today, 30% of employees are members of the program, and we have seen a significant increase in women who are associated with the BRG advancing forward in their careers. The efforts of this BRG contributed to Acxiom being named one of Fortune’s Best Workplaces for Women 2021.
5. Foster a culture where women are empowered to grow in their careers
Leaders should shine light on the opportunities for growth and excellent work regardless of gender. A great way to empower employees is to encourage a culture where everyone’s accomplishments are celebrated. People across your organization should be ready and willing to give credit where it’s due, as it can help with employee recognition and increased confidence.
At Acxiom, we understand how important it is for all our associates to be visible, valued, and validated in what they do. That’s why we set up a “Wall of Winners” Slack channel to encourage coworkers to recognize and celebrate their peers. Every month, a number of employees receive gift cards, and we also have an annual ceremony with several awards given, including ones for collaboration, excellence and innovation.
There are so many ways organizations can empower their people, including their leaders, to lead the way in promoting inclusivity, growing the talent of their teams, and providing everyone, regardless of their gender, the same resources, tools and opportunities to become leaders themselves.