By Sandra Martinez, Vice President, Global Talent Management and Diversity, at HARMAN

For decades, the workforce ecosystem has recognized the link between company financial performance and diversity—that gender-diverse organizations have a competitive edge. However, while the global conversation around ethnic and gender equality intensifies, significant gender inequality persists in the workforce.

With women representing 34 percent of HARMAN’s workforce, the company understands the importance of diversity. We are cognizant of the fact that we still have more work to do to support women in leadership and technology roles; however, we are confident that we’re heading in the right direction.

Here are a two important ways that companies can support and encourage the retention and upward mobility of future female leaders.

1. Encourage Women to Speak Up

Academic studies from the University of Cambridge reveal that women are less likely than men to speak up in public. There are many reasons why women are hesitant to offer their perspectives. However, organizations should recognize this and alleviate their fears by enacting policies and taking actions that encourage women to speak up.

Creating an awareness of the lack of female voices, ideas, and insights at every level of business and society is a first step. In order for companies to close the Gender Say Gap, they must combine that awareness with an actionable approach. At HARMAN, we’ve adopted a framework that not only recognizes the gap at every stage of a woman’s career, but also applies best practices to help rectify the current situation:

  • Entry Level: Young women typically seek purpose-driven environments and look to role models to help them achieve success. To attract more women, organizations should showcase successful women in the company, have a strong presence in schools and at career fairs, and promote success stories in traditional media and social channels.
  • Early Career: At this stage of their careers, most individuals are buried in work; even the women themselves are likely unaware that a gender gap exists. To correct this notion, companies should provide coaching and development programs that will help these women gain confidence and offer female-friendly feedback that affirms their strengths.
  • Mid-Career: At this stage, women with families may face the career-vs.-family dilemma. Further, many reject higher-level roles because they underestimating their capabilities, while their male peers are ramping up their pursuit of career advancement. To overcome the challenges, organizations should expose women to role models who have successfully navigated the complexities of work and life. Leaders should also encourage women professionals to be their authentic selves and assure them that non-alpha styles can also succeed in the company.
  • Senior Level: At the senior level, women have the professional skills to be leaders; however, many women continue to activate someone else’s vision. Women need to have and pursue their own visions, without the fear that they may be too bold or not good enough. To overcome these challenges, leadership must allow women to step out of the daily routine and give them the opportunity to formulate strategic visions for their teams and the company.

2. Overcome Unconscious Bias

We all carry unintentional notions about others who may not sound, act, or look like us. Because these biases can stymie recruiting, promotion, hiring, and retention efforts, it is critical that human resources professionals educate executives, managers, and the broader workforce. At HARMAN, we teach our managers about the existence of unconscious bias and equip them with the tools for spotting troublesome situations. Additionally, we incorporate feedback from many stakeholders across the company through the HARMAN Women’s Network, an employee business resource group focused on attracting, developing, and listening to women team members.

Every company has an opportunity, even an obligation, to dramatically shift the trajectory of women entering their industry. It starts with management cultivating an environment in which all employees feel empowered to catalyze bold ideas and be their authentic selves. Achieving greater equality is a business imperative for every company in every sector—and the benefits will spread far beyond. And let’s not forget, diversity is not a problem to be solved—it is a journey that we all need to walk together.

Sandra Martinez

Sandra Martinez

Vice president of global talent management and diversity. She is working to develop, prioritize and implement effective diversity and inclusion practices throughout Harman.