3 Steps for Brands to Create Long-Lasting Diversity in Their Organizations

More women need to lead conferences and internal teams

Clear skies in the background; there are steps in the front with a woman standing on the highest one
Brands need to build up the women within their organizations. Getty Images
Headshot of Mita Mallick

March 8 was International Women’s Day, giving companies everywhere the opportunity to spotlight the achievements of women within their organizations and beyond. Research from McKinsey & Company reveals that a diverse organization delivers positive impact, growing revenue and supporting innovation. This is one reason why the day is so important: It brings attention to the value women have in the workplace at a time when gender bias persists in many places.

On International Women’s Day, I spoke at Empower in New York, which highlights women leaders in marketing. Bizzabo hosted the event after analyzing 60,000 speakers at thousands of events over five years in 20-plus countries. Their research found that men made up nearly 70 percent of all speakers at professional events in 2018.

The findings were disappointing but unsurprising to anyone who has ever attended a conference. It’s likely linked to the poor representation of women in key leadership roles. According to the Pew Research Center, the share of female CEOs at Fortune 500 companies was less than 5 percent in 2018, while the number of women sitting on boards was less than 23 percent. And overall, according to a LinkedIn analysis, while women make up 55 percent of the workforce, they only own 40 percent of all leadership roles.

The panel I sat on addressed how companies can scale their organizations while ensuring a diverse and representative team. With that in mind, here are three takeaways from the discussion that can benefit any company or brand.

Beware the “I like people like me” bias

As you start to scale your company and build your culture, be intentional about having a diverse slate of candidates for openings. Avoid sourcing candidates based on “culture fit”; it may seem harmless or even appropriate, but it can perpetuate biases. Instead, work from a set of formalized criteria that makes hiring more evidence-based. If your personal network isn’t diverse, reach out to others in and outside of your networks to help build a strong pipeline of great candidates.

There are a growing number of technology platforms that can support your pipeline in these areas. For example, Jopwell can help you identify and source underrepresented talent, while software solutions like Greenhouse can be used to mitigate bias during the hiring process by using checklists and data.

Treat employees like customers

Hiring is only part of the battle. To keep diverse talent and grow a more inclusive organization, emotional intelligence is essential. At its core, emotional intelligence is empathy, like being able to understand employee attitudes and feelings. This is why companies and team leaders should spend as much time listening as they do communicating. They should ask employees what policies and benefits they need depending on their life stage. How can the company best support their work-life integration? Those insights will help retain diverse talent as you build your culture. The process also shows employees that you’re invested in and value them and helps you secure their buy-in on other initiatives.

Use the power of sponsorship

In an organization, sponsors are those who have power and use it to advocate for an employee. Sponsors have valuable capital and can meaningfully shape careers. In fact, 70 percent of men and women who have had a sponsor say they’re satisfied with their professional advancement. Unfortunately, fewer women have sponsors than men, and even fewer have male sponsors. Leaders need to encourage sponsorship within their organizations, and men who sponsor women need to use their political and social capital to help advance a women’s career. This means getting her on the CEO’s calendar, introducing her to the power players in the organization and getting her name on the list to be considered for key assignments whereas she was previously overlooked.

International Women’s Day is such an important day. It’s a platform for us to highlight the value of gender diversity in organizations. Companies must take long-term solutions to mitigate gaps or they will be left behind.

Mita Mallick is head of diversity and cross-cultural marketing at Unilever where, under her leadership, Unilever was named the No. 1 company for Working Mothers by Working Mother Media in 2018.