Happy Women’s History Month! This is a great time to reflect on women whose work has impacted society, including in the corporate and nonprofit spheres. So many women are CEOs and entrepreneurs. We’re also leading nonprofits and founding own own. But despite these achievements, there is a lack of women consultants in executive and leadership positions. It is still all too common for women’s ideas, opinions, experiences, and ambitions in the workplace to be dismissed. This impacts women in nearly every industry, including those considered more “women friendly.”
It impacts consultants as well. Consultants are often brought on for their expertise in a particular area. However, despite this expertise, women are not often sought out as thought leaders. Several studies have shown that editors publish fewer op-eds by women. The Women’s Media Center found that, in 2017, the percentage of women as news anchors and correspondents actually shrank. And the traits American society stereotypically associate with leadership — including assertiveness, self-reliance, confidence, and ambition — can be at odds with how many people view women.
So bias is a problem. How do we challenge it and hire more women in high-ranking executive or consultant positions? We have tips!
1. Acknowledge that bias exists.
It’s not a pipeline problem, writes Susan Chira for The New York Times. It’s a pervasive bias that differentiates between how those who identify as women versus those who identify as men are viewed. We can’t fix what we don’t face. Step one, is to acknowledge our culture influences values and opinions. We must recognize the presence of unconscious bias in our culture and how this spills over into our views of how women can and should contribute to the workplace.
2. Change the makeup of the decision makers.
Or, as CEO and author Lisa Brown Alexander suggests, increase decision maker diversity. Currently, the makeup of many nonprofit boards and executives (aka, those who make many of the top-level hiring decisions) is overwhelmingly male. As a result, men may be used to seeing people who look like themselves in higher-level positions. More diversity in these areas may lead to increased diversity among new hires.
3. Diversity does ≠ inclusion.
Diversity is important — but means nothing without the effort to actually be inclusive. Good recruitment efforts can help ensure that women of many backgrounds and identities are working within your organization. However, if women are present but not allowed the opportunity for leadership roles, your organization’s efforts at being truly inclusive may have fallen short. As HR consultant and author Jennifer Brown says, “Diversity is the who and the what: who’s sitting around that table, who’s being recruited, who’s being promoted… Inclusion, on the other hand, is the how. Inclusion is the behaviors that welcome and embrace diversity.” Do the women you hire feel that they’re an important part of your organization’s work? Are they being listened to? While the “how” may seem difficult, there are several strategies your organization can undertake to ensure that all stakeholders, including consultants, feel represented.
4. Appreciate what women consultants bring to the table.
There are several advantages to hiring women consultants, an important one being the impact it could have on the people you serve. Representation matters — particularly if your organization is invested in the lives of women and girls, and especially if you work with girls and women of color. How can organizations ask their clients and stakeholders to develop aspirational goals if you don’t show them examples of what they can aspire to?
We know women perform jobs well and can provide unique perspectives while doing so. Younger women entering the workforce tend to be more educated, and therefore may bring new or different strategies and approaches toward work. Research shows increased gender diversity leads to better efforts at problem solving and productivity. Finally, women are often more likely to collaborate with their peers or other co-workers.
This month gives nonprofit organizations an opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements, including those women who broke barriers in the workplace. That is the past. Let’s not forget about the present. Organizations should reflect on how they work with women now. So, expand your professional networks. Get in touch with women consultants who are as dedicated to social justice as you are. Set up an intro call or two and go over what your needs are.
Respect women’s ideas. Respect their experiences. Respect their opinions. Respect their ambitions.