The old school, “boys club” mentality remains firmly implanted in our current corporate environment, but the era of June Cleaver and Carol Brady is long over, friends
Research consistently shows that businesses managed by women are more profitable, innovative, and respected. In fact, over the last 15 years, women-owned firms have grown 1.5 times faster than other small businesses.
In one survey of nearly 22,000 firms across 91 countries, the Peterson Institute for International Economics even found that having women at the C-Suite increased net margins significantly.
“A profitable firm at which 30 percent of leaders are women could expect to add more than 1 percentage point to its net margin compared with an otherwise similar firm with no female leaders,” the report explained.
“By way of comparison, the typical profitable firm in our sample had a net profit margin of 6.4 percent, so a 1 percentage point increase represents a 15 percent boost to profitability.”
Today, more businesses are realizing the value of women in leadership roles, but still, just 5.2 percent of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies are filled by them.
Despite all of the clear benefits, why do women face such an uphill battle when it comes to climbing the corporate ladder?
It’s time to foster an environment and culture that encourages women at every point of their career to have the ambition to obliterate the glass ceiling and rise to whatever executive- and C-suite-level position she may want to have.
However, as my employer, Lucky Orange, has seen first hand, sometimes it’s not as easy as it sounds.
The Glass Ceiling By The Numbers
Women in the workplace are a force to be reckoned with.
They are made up of…
- … Millennials who graduated with two degrees and bring fresh, creative solutions to the boardroom table but still are mistaken for interns by older colleagues despite being almost 30 years old.
- … working mothers who get two kids out the door every morning on time (-ish) for school with lunches packed and signed permission slips without being late to the morning marketing meeting.
- … new mothers who can’t afford to take off more than a few weeks for maternity leave and answer work emails while pumping in the bathroom or closet.
- … seasoned professionals who listen to a whole lot of BS from fellow colleagues who speak over her, land promotions she should have received, and belittle her own experiences to boost their own egos.
With so many women rocking the workplace in 2018, why are companies still stuck in the ‘50s when it comes to empowering these women?
It’s a disgusting reality that nearly half of all women in the workplace will encounter discrimination in one way or another at least once in their lives.
They’ll be passed over for promotions, belittled and interrupted during meetings, assigned menial projects while “important” projects are assigned to male coworkers, and be called “honey” or “sweetie” on a daily basis (to name a few).
If nothing changes in the workforce, LinkedIn anticipates women would only have the same earning and leadership potential as men as soon as the year 2234.
I don’t know about you, but I am too impatient to wait for the Keurig in the morning. Waiting another 217 years to improve the economic wage gap isn’t going to fly.
Judging by numbers like these, it’s clear that gender-based discrimination is still a norm in too many businesses.
Too few are taking a proactive approach to keeping their office a positive environment where all employees can thrive, regardless of your gender.
My Personal Wake-Up Call
Prior to working at Lucky Orange, I learned to accept discrimination as just a part of my daily life.
- Sexual harassment? Check!
- Ignored at meetings and trade shows solely because of my gender? Check!
- Passed over for promotions that instead went to less qualified peers? Check!
- Lower salary than my less-than-qualified male peers? Check!
- Pregnancy discrimination? Check!
- Stuck doing “office housework?” Check!
- Hearing “that time of the month” jokes? Check!
I’ve always worked in industries typically filled with men, and though that shouldn’t be an excuse, I didn’t feel I was in a position to do anything about it.
Then it happened: at a previous job, one woman – a coworker and friend – attended a local trade show with several sales account managers.
After the trade show, the group moved to a nearby hotel restaurant where they enjoyed dinner and a few drinks. I’m sure you already know where this headed.
As the dinner was winding down and guests departing, one of the sales account managers crossed the line with my friend. She was put in a position by this man who then threatened her job if she told anyone in the company.
When she broached the topic with her boss the next day, she was advised to ignore it and move on. This sales account manager was a top seller in the company, and the company couldn’t risk losing someone like that.
If you’re not horrified, you should be.
Not only was the incident considered excusable by upper management, but it set a dangerous precedent across the company.
It wasn’t somewhere I wanted to be.
6 Principles for Creating an Equal Opportunity Work Environment
Not long after the incident, I stumbled upon a job opening at a local startup called Lucky Orange. As the interview and vetting process progressed, I faced the reality of being the only woman in an office of men and all of my past experiences came flooding to mind.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t fearful that it would just another good ol’ boys club.
However, the moment I stepped into the office, I realized that this would be different.
I quickly found that Lucky Orange is thriving in the hot tech industry because it breaks out of the corporate mold.
Two years later, I’m not the only woman in my office anymore, and Lucky Orange has more than doubled in size.
However, even with more people, personalities, and potential problems, the company remains firm on maintaining an atmosphere that allows everyone – men and women – to grow the company and their roles.
It’s about more than having an incredible product. It’s about more than having sharp and talented staff. It’s about more than supporting out-of-the-box problem solving.
How do we make it work?
Simply put, Lucky Orange makes sure it provides and maintains a positive atmosphere with equal opportunities for all by following six principles:
1. Leave Success Undefined
I’m sure you can imagine the Lucky Orange office is an eclectic group of men and women. At first glance, we are a casual bunch with a wide range of experiences and education.
No one is wearing a power suit or waving an MBA over the rest of us and you’re just as likely to see our support team helping to develop a new feature as you would a developer.
Because of this, no two successful employees at Lucky Orange look alike.
None of us is defined into one monotamous role or position, and we all bring a unique set of skills and unquenchable thirst of knowledge to the table.
Promotions and raises aren’t based on what a corporate ladder dictates. Success is undefined.
Now, leaving success undefined doesn’t mean Lucky Orange ignores what it takes to succeed. The end goal of our company is probably a lot like yours – grow business, expand operations, and kick ass.
All of the employees here at Lucky Orange are involved with the long-term vision of our company and features, and we each have high but achievable goals.
Even so, falling short of that goal doesn’t mean we have failed; it just means we may need to readjust and refocus as we learn.
The result: There is no end to how far you can grow when there’s nothing defining or limiting each employee’s success.
Everyone is on an equal playing field.
2. Make Every Voice Matter
Research has found that men interrupt women 33 percent more than they interrupt other men. It may not always be intentional, but it’s a problem that is rarely addressed at most companies. Lucky Orange tackled this problem head-on by making interruptions inexcusable.
Every single person who works at Lucky Orange – whether you’re in sales, marketing, development, or design – has an equal share of the table.
Each person who works here has a different perspective, and that diversity has made Lucky Orange one of the leading conversion optimization products on the market today.
The result: By having an equal say in the product, each employee contributes to the growth of our business and adds a unique set of insight that may have been missed.
3. Make Respect a Priority
Everyone wants to be respected.
In fact, one Harvard Business Review survey of more than 20,000 employees found that respect was the top behavior that survey respondents said would lead to greater employee engagement and commitment.
Of course, respect is more than just a gender issue; it’s a human and social issue.
At Lucky Orange, we show respect for all by:
- Honoring different beliefs, opinions, philosophies, religions, backgrounds, and ideas
- Praising each other often (this is especially common from our co-founders)
- Thanking even more frequently
- Removing guilt – just own up to your mistake, fix it, and move on
- Apologizing when needed
- Eliminating gossip
By making respect a priority, our co-founders have opened their proverbial doors to everyone, are ready to listen, and do not hesitate to take action to keep the work environment the best it can be.
The result: Employees are more engaged, trying to do their best, and take emotional stock in the company’s success.
4. Put Family First
No one prepared me for motherhood, but it wasn’t the long nights or colicky infants that I couldn’t handle. Rather, I was sorely unprepared to choose between my career and my family and defend my decision.
Suddenly, being a mom in the workplace meant I had to justify this choice to strangers and friends alike.
To other moms, I had to give up countless mid-morning play dates or listen to hours of lectures of why daycare is evil. Spoiler: It’s not.
To my coworkers at previous jobs, especially when my kids were younger, I was treated like a sub-par employee just because I was a mom.
Read that again. My skill, experience, results, or drive had no bearing on their opinion of me – it was defined only because I was a working mom.
All they saw was me leaving mid-afternoon to make it to the school pick-up line on time; they didn’t see that I would actually get to work pre-dawn, work through my lunch, and put in another four hours of work in the evenings from home.
I can’t begin to tell you the frustration in seeing my underachieving coworkers – typically childless men – receive undeserved promotions while I worked hard to be a top performer and barely saw an annual raise.
That wasn’t right nor will it ever be right.
It’s time to stop putting women into a box that makes them choose between work and family; It’s time to end the discrimination against working parents, especially working moms.
For women who are struggling: give yourself permission to not do or have it all.
It’s okay to let things go, even if it’s work.
In 10 years, I’m not going to look back and remember how many retweets or extra page views I brought in. I will, however, remember hunting for butterflies with my daughter or learning how to dance “the floss” with my son.
Take Katie Couric’s advice: “Get rid of the guilt…When you’re in one place, don’t feel bad that you’re not at work; when you’re at work, don’t feel bad that you’re not at home.”
For employers: Step outside of the box and start looking at your employees like the trusted workers they are. See what happens when you give all employees a chance to have a life outside of work!
PepsiCo’s first female CEO Indra Nooyi, who stepped down from her role earlier this year, said it best:
“We need to create an environment where we can productively allow women to use their skills but also allow them to do everything else. Our career clock and biological clock are in conflict. We have to figure out a way to resolve the conflict because nobody else will.”
Look at paid maternity AND paternity options, flexible scheduling, and open communication.
During summer months, consider even extending a work-from-home option and find ways to help new mothers (and fathers) settle in after returning back to work.
In probably no surprise at this point, Lucky Orange takes this to the next step in making it possible for the balance between work and family to be healthy and productive.
Flexible is just the tip of the iceberg.
At Lucky Orange, it’s expected that we put work to the back burner to spend time with our families, and there’s no guilt or shame involved.
For example, recently, I was juggling school pick-ups. Mind you, I have one child in middle school and one in grade school.
I left the office before 3:00 pm and shuttled my kids between school, home, strength training, and basketball practice. I was just happy that everyone ate dinner together at 8:00 pm. Needless to say, I wasn’t able to touch my work laptop until the next morning.
Because I had the flexibility to adjust my schedule, I was able to get all of my accomplishments done in advance and was more productive the next day as well. There was no guilt involved from myself or my boss.
The result: The more family-friendly the office and work environment, the happier the employees, and the stronger the team.
5. Don’t Fear Unlimited Time Off
This one kind of goes hand-in-hand with putting family first.
Stop me if this sounds familiar – you’re a working mom, and all of your personal time off is spent working around sick kids, daycare provider vacations, or school schedules. If there is a cash-out option at the end of the year for unused personal time off, you’ve never had that luxury.
Now, if you’re like me, at a traditional job, every single hour is carefully planned out early in the year just so you can try to get it approved before your single coworker can take it instead.
I can’t tell you how many times at previous jobs I had to be so mindful of my hours of vacation or work through every fever because there was simply no other option available.
In the end, I was often left working during my approved personal time off because “something suddenly came up” or I could prepare to come back to a mount of guilt from my coworkers.
Let’s just agree that the most corporate personal time off policies seem to encourage that behavior. Instead, try implementing unlimited personal time off to give everyone the option to thrive.
I know. Unlimited personal time off gets a bad rap, but for Lucky Orange, it has paid off.
- Paid maternity and paternity leave are included, meaning you are encouraged (but not forced) to take off as much time as you need to bond with a new baby
- If you’re sick, stay home. As an added bonus, that means we see less illness travel around the office as well.
- If your kids are sick, stay home. We’re urged to stay home with them; we’re even encouraged not to work from home. Sick kids need a little extra love!
- If you need a mental break, do it! There’s no need to make up an excuse that you’re sick. If you need a day off to regain a better state of mind, do it.
Basically, don’t become a “work martyr” who sacrifices vacations in hope of impressing the boss and advancing your career.
In reality, they are actually less likely to be promoted and receive a raise and more likely to burn out! So, don’t follow their lead!
Lucky Orange (and IMPACT for that matter) has found that when you treat employees like the adults they are, no one games the system or tries to abuse the unlimited time off policy.
In fact, it can be the exact opposite of what you expect.
When I told my boss I would be taking three weeks off for a long cruise at the end of the year, I assured him that I would have everything prepared in advance and could even hop on a few times during the cruise to check on my projects.
His response wasn’t to worry about that; he wanted to make sure I took a few extra days off before the vacation to avoid burning out.
The result: Employees take the time they need, avoid burnout, and are more productive in their daily tasks.
6. Rethink Your Hiring Process
Companies need to take ownership of mindsets and policies that allow discrimination to continue, but it’s also necessary to re-evaluate hiring processes as well.
For example, we all know there are specific questions employers aren’t allowed to ask in interviews, such as “are you married?” or “do you have children?” Even so, that doesn’t stop employers from looking for visual clues to give them the answers.
During a short period of unemployment during the last recession, I quickly learned that some employers were looking at my wedding ring and already judging me by it. They assumed I obviously was a young woman of childbearing age and would end up pregnant with the year.
I know because one of the employers came out and told me their concerns. Nothing I said reversed their opinions, and I didn’t get the job (not that I wanted it at that point anyway).
I needed a job, so I became one of 30 percent of the women who removed their wedding rings before interviewing to avoid any judgment from employers.
So what is an employer to do?
- Find your own bias. It’s hard to move beyond the bias we have on others, but there are steps interviewers can take. For example, blur out the names on resumes to evaluate them without preconceived bias. Catch yourself before you assume anything about a candidate.
- Interview as a panel. The more input you have for a candidate, the less discrimination can help sway the decision. I would advise having at least three different managers in the interview process to allow for broader discussion and evaluation.
- Be as objective as possible. Even if you use a panel and can recognize your own bias, it’s still possible to discriminate against a candidate solely because of her gender. Instead, create a standardized test for all candidates and compare the results anonymously side-by-side. When you get to compare apples to apples, you’re truly going to be able to see which candidate is the best fit for the position.
- Don’t forget the job posting. Avoid gender-specific word choices in the job posting itself. Research shows that masculine language (i.e. competitive and determined) can be seen by women as “perceiving that they would not belong in the work environment.” Instead, use words like collaborative and cooperative.
Lucky Orange takes the hiring process very seriously, as do most companies. Most job openings take more than a month to fill, but it’s not because we don’t have incredible candidates.
We take our time in interviewing and evaluating each candidate as a team to avoid any undue bias. In fact, there’s no judgment if a candidate is male or female or are fresh out of college or a seasoned professional.
Each position is given a test to complete in a pre-interview phone call and during the in-person interview. Since the test is objective, there’s no question which candidate is more skilled for the position.
By the time a candidate is hired, it’s based on absolute skill and expertise. No bias or discrimination can even creep into the process.
The result: Eliminating discrimination and encouraging the perfect fit makes for a productive, collaborative team environment.
Take Off the Blinders: Why Your Company Should Care
As an employer, it’s time to remove your blinders and look around.
If you don’t think you have a problem with discrimination, ask your team anonymously. Start the discussion to improve your company culture, then make real changes.
Here are some ideas if you get stuck:
- Re-evaluate your policies and handbooks. Is it punishing a specific group of employees (like parents or women)? How is it supporting employees to maintain a better work/life balance? Treat your workers as valued parts of your company.
- Follow-up with managers and demand a higher level of commitment from them to ensure an inclusive culture. Mentor managers and help them achieve better development to be better leaders that can stop harassment and discrimination.
- Make it easy for employees to take time off and encourage it! Some companies offer to help pay for vacation for employees in exchange for the promise completely disconnecting from work. It turns out, vacation time is a win for employees and business!
- Trust your employees. I’m talking to you, CEO and COO. The more you trust your employees, the more empowered they feel. Make everyone a CEO of something for them to own.
- Conduct regular, anonymous surveys. Gauge what’s going on within your company and keep your finger on the pulse of your employees. Allow them to contribute suggestions and ideas, and take them seriously. The more you value feedback and it seriously, the more you’re going to find people are encouraged to submit feedback!
Research shows that the more a company like yours ignores discrimination, employees are less engaged and the more stressed. All of this adds up to real losses for your bottom line.
The American Psychological Association estimated in 2015 that $500 billion is lost from the U.S. economy due to workplace stress so the potential costs of getting this wrong are very real.
The ball is in your court. As employers, discrimination is likely already within your company walls, and the longer it goes unaddressed, the more talent you’re to lose and miss out on incredible growth.
As an employee, take action. If your employers aren’t listening, share this with them. Print it out and put it on your COO’s desk.
As Indra Nooyi says, “We want to create an environment where every employee can bring their whole self to work and not just make a living but also have a life.”
Your voice matters. Discrimination should never be tolerated as not the status quo.
Editor’s Note: This content originally appeared as a contribution in IMPACT.