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About the Author
Jonathan Sposato is chairman and co-founder of Geekwire, PicMonkey and WeCount.org, an angel investor, and the only person to have built and sold two companies to Google. He is the author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller, Better Together: 8 Ways Working with Women Leads to Extraordinary Products and Profits.

Three Ways to Invest in Women in the Workplace – And Why it’s the Smart Thing to Do

JSposato
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It’s 2019, and one of the biggest social issues of our time is still gender inequity.

 

We’ve been talking about gender inequity for decades, yet we still live in a time where more than 90% of all CEOs in Fortune 500 companies are men, 91% of all board members are men, and over 75% of elected officials are men.

 

When my mother was raising me on a single mom’s salary in 1967, women were making 58 cents to every man’s dollar. Now it’s around 80 cents – we’ve gone up less than half a cent a year.

 

Those are some of the many frustrating facts about women in business. Allow me to throw some more intriguing facts your way.

For every dollar of funding received, startups founded by women generated 78 cents, while male-founded startups generated just 31 cents. Fortune 500 companies with a higher percentage of women board directors performed significantly financially better than those with few or no women board directors. Fortune 1000 companies led by women saw returns that were 226% higher than the baseline.

 

As an investor, I noticed the positive effect of increasing gender diversity in the companies I founded, I read these statistics, and I made the choice to only invest in companies where at least one of the founders was a woman.

 

And I saw firsthand how giving women more of a seat at the table actually makes the table bigger for everyone.

 

Getting more women into management positions isn’t a zero-sum game and it can make a big difference on your company’s health. Here are three practical solutions that you – whether you are a CEO or a board member or a manager or an employee – can put into practice at your place of work tomorrow.

 

1. Create a physical and policy environment that is friendly to women

The environment in which we work – from the office layout to the company culture – shapes the way people work and think. Making that environment friendlier to women is one of the biggest things your company can do to move the needle.

 

For example, if you create an environment where workers are encouraged to bring their kids to work, it sends a very clear message to working parents – male and female – that they’re not lower priority than other workers.

 

Logistically, those changes can be incredibly simple. Such as, don’t ever have meetings before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m. Then working mothers (because even in couples with egalitarian views, women still shoulder the majority of childcare responsibilities) won’t have to make trade-offs between going to a meeting versus dropping a kid off at school.

 

Smilebox is one company that is architecting its hiring practices and using tools like job sharing to create an environment welcoming to mothers who are returning to the workforce. Working mothers are half as likely to land a job interview, yet preliminary studies have found that mothers have better brain function after having children. They can multitask better, they’re more efficient, they’re better problem solvers.

 

Meanwhile, companies like Salesforce and Intuit are creating a welcoming environment by conducting internal studies on pay gaps. Over the past two years, Salesforce has paid nearly six million dollars to raise the salaries of their female and minority workers. Maybe that’s one reason they hit number one on so many best workplace lists last year.

 

2. Remove bias from the hiring loop

There’s no shortage of incredible, talented women who are qualified for the job you’re hiring for – which means the lack of women in certain positions isn’t a pipeline problem. It’s a matter of companies working harder to make sure that the workforce is balanced by taking a hard look at their hiring process.

 

At the top of the hiring funnel, start by removing unconscious bias. It’s been shown many times that when John Smith and Jill Smith have an identical resume, John is far more likely to be pulled in for an interview – whether the recruiter is male or female. One obvious way to counteract that (which has been proven to be very effective at scale in countries like the UK, Australia, and Canada) is to anonymize resumes.

 

Midway through the hiring funnel, make sure your interview loop mirrors your hiring goals. If you want to have 30% women in engineering, start by making sure at least 30% of your interviewees are women.

 

Then, remove unconscious bias during the interview process. What one of my companies, PicMonkey, does is to make sure two people interview each candidate, and that one is a woman. For a technology consumer Internet company of about 100 people, PicMonkey is nearly 60% women – across all functional areas.

 

3. Retrain the way we listen

Lastly, we need to retrain the way we listen to women.

 

In a study where the same identical startup pitch deck was narrated by a male rather than a female voice, the male voice was 68% more likely to get funding from venture capitalists and angel investors like myself.

 

That says something profound about the way we are listening to women speak, and the way we are judging the strength of ideas merely on the gender of the presenter.

 

It’s not just the sound of a woman’s voice that we’re biased against as a society. In the ’80s, Harvard researcher Carol Gilligan found that women tend to lace their language with a bias toward inclusion and preserving the lateral relationships in the tribe. This can sound uncertain when compared to the more aggressive speech patterns of men, but in reality, it is an attempt to make sure consensus is being built. 

 

For too long, corporate America has tried to train women to advance their careers by talking more like men, sitting more assertively, putting their elbows on the boardroom table, and taking up more space. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the former way of communicating.

 

As leaders in our companies, as investors – as men – we need to stop interpreting women’s speech as weak or ineffective. Instead, we need to learn low to listen louder.

 

It’s time to make room

Taken altogether, the evidence is clear that having more women at all levels of a company equals better business results. It creates better working environments. And it helps us all be better humans. It’s not just the right thing to do to give more women more of a seat at the table in corporate America, it’s also smart thing to do.

 

Let’s make the table bigger for everyone.