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4 Ways To Create A More Gender-Balanced Workforce

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Mar. 15 2018, Published 3:17 a.m. ET

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We’ll never get enough women out of the bottom of the funnel if we don’t get more into the top.

It may sound simple. But it’s not easy.

The case for recruiting more women executives to your company …particularly in its senior ranks… is well-documented. It’s not just good business. It’s smart business. Women likely make up more than half your customer base. And I’m unafraid to admit that the fairer gender usually excels when it comes to emotional intelligence, and instilling certain sensibilities into a company.

Even Amazon – a pillar of growth, innovation, and invention – has just two women amongst its top 38 executives.

As Chairman of Chicago-based Retrofit, a fast-growing online wellness company, I’ve seen the difference it can make. We’re consistently rated as one of the nation’s (and Chicago’s) best places to work. And one of best places to work for women. No coincidence.

But it didn’t happen by chance. It took focus, and a commitment to building a gender-balanced workforce.

Above all, it took filling the top of the funnel with its fair share of women. That’s right. At least half.

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The corporate world has seen a number of female executive departures in recent months. Irene Rosenfield (Mondelez), Meg Whitman (Hewlett Packard Enterprise), Pat Russo (Lucent), Pat Woertz (ADM) to name just a few. And while we’ve made a lot of progress with gender balance, we’ve stalled in the past few years. 6.4% of Fortune CEO’s are women. The cold truth: women just aren’t being replaced by women.

I’ve been in the executive search business for 25 years, and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not always easy to find women candidates for a role. Women software developers in Silicon Valley? Good luck. Women Chief Financial Officers in Atlanta? You wish.

But you know what?

It’s just an excuse.

Yes, it’s hard. But recruiting is hard. Recruiting Rockstars is really hard. And Recruiting women Rockstars for some roles can be downright painful.

But nobody said that business was supposed to be easy. With a 4.1% unemployment rate, you’re already fighting a war for talent. You might as well double-down, fight the war for female talent, and ignite your business.

So, what to do? 4 simple (but not easy!) things starting tomorrow:

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There’s a little-known study that finds – regretfully – that nearly 100% of women will not apply for a position unless they believe that they meet all of its posted requirements. Yet, I see companies every day post job descriptions with their laundry list of ‘requirements,’ most of which they’re happy to cave on when they find a compelling candidate. Include the non-negotiable items (there shouldn’t be many), but focus instead on attracting the Rockstar candidate by detailing why she’ll thrive at your company.

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Require it of your executive search firms. Demand it of your internal HR department. They’ll kill me for encouraging you to ask this, but it’s the key way to make major strides in a reasonable period of time. If I’m interviewing 6 finalists for my company, I expect at least 3 of them to be women. If I’m presenting a slate of 6 candidates to my clients, I do everything humanly possible to ensure that at least 3 are women. I dig deep to find the talent, and you can too.

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We’re all susceptible to bias. Men tend to hire men. So change the odds in your favor. Ensure that 2 of the 4 interviewers (side note: Google found in a retrospective study that 4 is the ideal number of interviewers) are women.

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Unlike #1 and 2, this one isn’t an overnight change. But the fish stinks from the head down. Enlist a Board comprised of older white men, and don’t be surprised when your C-suite mirrors that composition. I can think of very few exceptions and I’ve been in many a boardroom. I applaud men who nominate women as their successors when stepping off a Board.

These days, we talk a lot about encouraging women to enter the business profession and, yes, that’s important to the long-term pipeline of candidates. But in the short term, when time is not on our side, the way forward is to ensure that women are getting their fair share of consideration in the hiring process.

I can think of no better way than getting a woman on one or both sides of the table (candidate and interviewer) to achieve a much better gender balance.

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