Event Recap: Driving Gender Diversity: How to Build Workplaces That Work for All Women

More than 3.5 million women left the U.S. workforce during the pandemic and nearly half of women (48 percent) are planning to change jobs in the next six months, posing significant challenges to organizations’ gender diversity goals. 


How can your company better support women so they not only remain in the workforce but also thrive and stay with your organization? We recently hosted a webcast focused on this urgent topic, “Driving Gender Diversity: How to Build Workplaces That Work for All Women” as part of HR.com’s “The Future of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 2021.” 


Addie Swartz, CEO at reacHIRE moderated a fireside chat featuring expert panelists, Sylvia Mahlebjian, Senior Director, Talent Development at Analog Devices, Summer Davies, Global Senior Manager, Talent and Leadership Development at Mars, and Sharra Owens-Schwartz, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Senior Director at Rocket Software. See below for a recap of actionable takeaways from the event. 


Shift Managers’ Mindsets About Flexible Work 


Data from CNBC and SurveyMonkey found that 39 percent of working women are concerned that opting for flexible work arrangements could harm their career goals – and this number jumps to 53 percent for women with children under the age of 18. It isn’t always enough to simply offer flexible hours or remote and hybrid work options. Rather, managers need to embrace workplace flexibility and avoid being biased against employees who take advantage of these benefits. 


Sylvia Mahlebjian from Analog Devices explained, “We’re challenging ourselves to think differently. We’ve had a particular focus on our people managers overall and working with them in a way that meets employees where they are, especially women. We have worked with people managers to change the mindset and narrative from how many hours someone works to focus on outcomes.”


Analog Devices rolled out a flexible work policy and people managers are encouraged to have conversations with employees about moving away from traditional work hours. One example Sylvia shared was avoiding early morning meetings when parents are trying to get their children ready for school, so their needs are considered.   


Sharra Owens-Schwartz pointed out that many women at Rocket Software are mothers, single mothers, handling elder care, and balancing other personal responsibilities outside of work. The team at Rocket Software is helping women – and all employees – juggle home and work life by having managers work closely with individuals to understand their needs on a case-by-case basis, which has helped women continue to work and thrive.  


Summer Davies highlighted that Mars encourages managers who lead hybrid teams to do so without bias by focusing more on the work itself. As employees move from remote to hybrid work, managers at Mars are being intentional about what work truly does need to be done in person and allows the work to dictate when people are in the office, rather than requiring stringent in-office schedules.


Curb Burnout by Building Community & Connection 


The Women in the Workplace 2021 Report found that 42 percent of women “often or almost always” feel burned out, and this number jumps to more than 50 percent for women who are responsible for managing teams. During the fireside chat with HR.com, expert panelists shared steps their organizations are taking to curb burnout and keep employees engaged.


At Rocket Software, supporting psychological safety is a priority and the company has a supportive environment where employees don’t always have to be “on” and can be human. Sharra Owens-Schwartz said that women often feel as though they need to go above and beyond when they’re already spread thin – and this is even more so the case for women of color. Rocket Software also provides space for women to share their experiences and hear from one another – such as public panels where others can learn how to act as allies and remove barriers for women in the workplace.


As Summer Davies shared during the panel employees often face burnout because they don’t feel a connection or sense of purpose at work. “As we think about the ‘Great Resignation’ and the ‘She-cession,’ a lot of this is clearly tied to people having more time to pause and think about what it is that they’re doing with their time at work,” she said. “For many, especially women, [the pandemic] has been an opportunity to consider whether what they do every day, how they’re spending time away from children, pets, parents or hobbies, is bringing meaning and purpose. For many individuals, they don’t feel a connection to work.”


The team at Mars is committed to bringing meaning to the world and its employees through initiatives focused on sustainability, gender equity, and more. Employees have had a lot of time to rethink how their work ties to their values over the past 18 months and Mars strives to connect with employees’ personal purpose so they don’t cross the burnout threshold that leads to resignation. 


The leadership team at Analog Devices understands the challenges women face balancing personal and professional priorities in this new world of remote work, so the company has expanded some of its benefits such as parental leave, childcare support, and tutoring. Analog Devices also now hosts regular people manager forums on a variety of topics, including burnout, which sparked an idea for meeting-free Fridays, to curb some of the back-to-back meetings that can often lead to burnout. 


Address and Fix the Broken Rung


According to the Women in the Workplace 2021 report, while some progress has been made with women’s representation in leadership, there’s still room for improvement. Women are promoted to management positions at far lower rates than men, with only 86 women promoted to manager for every 100 men. Additionally, between the entry level and the C-suite, the representation of women of color drops off by more than 75 percent. As a result, women of color account for only four percent of C-suite leaders.


Just before the pandemic, the team at Mars completed internal research examining their own metrics on first level promotions. They had an inkling that the broken rung was a problem, but weren’t aware of the full scope or specific causes. According to their research, Mars identified a broken rung at a very specific point clearly seeing that women fell behind across the organization and did not recover, and this was even more so the case for women of color.

To address this, Mars launched a few strategic initiatives, including the “Here to Be Heard” campaign encouraging women to share their motivations and why they like working at Mars. Mars also shaped their women’s leadership program to specifically address feedback from women who were dropping off. Many shared that they feel lonely or that others don’t understand their experience. This led the Mars team to lean into social networking and helping individuals feel more of a sense of belonging through mentoring, allies (including a men’s allyship network) sponsors and great managers.


Take Action: Walk the Walk


Sylvia Mahjlebjian from Analog Devices pointed out that DEI and the focus on women is no longer a standalone and needs to be a top-down focus at any organization. Recently, at the executive level the two most recent hires are women and Analog Devices is committed to having this increased representation at the leadership and board level. 


The team at Analog Devices has also taken a close look at the progression of women in their workforce and how to better expose them to targeted development opportunities specifically for women. Over the past year, the company launched women’s development programs to look at the unique needs of women at different career stages – early career, mid-career and senior career women. Sylvia pointed out that Analog Devices has seen great impact in leveraging the Aurora employee engagement platform with its early career, high-potential women to foster belonging and build leadership skills.


As a technology company, Rocket Software often faces challenges with accessing and retaining women in the workforce. To address this, over the past year, Rocket Software focused on goals to attract and retain women.

“We launched our first ever cohort of Aurora, where we are able to give women at different stages in their career some focused time on their leadership, and accompany that with coaching and an opportunity to build peer-to-peer networks across Rocket,” said Sharra Owens-Schwartz. “As a global organization, we have had women in cohorts who are on different continents and in different countries and had the opportunity to create connections across the organization in ways that might nor have otherwise been possible. We’re going to continue to send women through that. It’s been highly successful and is one of the ways we’re addressing the broken rung.” 


Are you interested in learning more from the fireside chat? Watch the replay here.


Engage Women to Support Your Gender Diversity Goals


reacHIRE’s Aurora employee engagement platform takes a unique community-based approach to build the careers of all women, as well as accelerate growth for high-potential talent – so women thrive and stay at your organization.


During the fireside chat, Addie Swartz shared, “A lot of intention and almost a decade of learning went into the development of the [Aurora] platform and the experience that I like to call ‘surround sound.’ It offers an opportunity for women across an organization to go on a journey together so they make important peer connections and build communities, while learning and developing their skills so they are ready for their next challenges.”


Learn more about how the Aurora platform can help you make progress toward your gender diversity goals, and bring career opportunities, learnings, and community to help support and drive retention among women in your organization.