5 Meaningful Things Companies Are Doing to Recruit and Retain Women

March 8, 2018

Six years ago, I had a baby boy. And while this was one of the happiest moments in my life personally, it was also one of the most stressful professionally. I had very limited maternity leave and, though it may sound illogical, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be viewed as valuable when I came back to work.

Even though struggles like mine and those around equal opportunities at work are still common for women, the good news is that in the past few years I have seen companies push for meaningful change when it comes to gender diversity and equality.

Many have started to set specific goals to recruit and hire more women and give them the flexibility or executive support they need. Our most recent LinkedIn data shows that more and more women are taking on leadership positions, with software and IT seeing a 27% increase in female leadership hires over the past eight years. And as if the goodness of all this needed validation, research has proven that companies with a more even ratio of male and female employees are more productive, more innovative, and overall more successful. #ItsAboutTime  

Since today is International Women’s Day, we wanted to celebrate the efforts of these companies that have truly embraced hiring, retaining, and elevating women. Here are five that stand out, and we welcome you to join us on social if you want to share how your company pushes for gender equality:

1. Etsy’s “Hacker Grants” helped them grow their female engineer numbers by 500% in one year

80% of Etsy’s customers are women and, as of 2016, 54% of its employees are also women. That might make it seem like they were doing pretty will with regard to diversity, but that great representation didn’t extend to its engineering team, which was only 20.5% women just two years ago.

To turn things around, Etsy developed their “Hacker Grants” program, which provides talented women engineers with three-month scholarships to Hacker School (a.k.a. The Recurse Center), an intensive program that teaches engineers to hone and improve their skills. The unique program was super successful for both parties: Etsy’s applications from women engineers immediately skyrocketed, while the Hacker School significantly improved the gender parity in its classes.

Also, though Etsy’s team had realized that it was difficult to hire senior female engineers, the Hacker Grants program allowed them to bring in women at a junior engineering level and then provide them with valuable hands-on experience via the Hacker School.

2. Intel offers larger bonuses to employees who refer female candidates

At Intel, employees who refer a female (or minority) candidate that ends up getting hired are eligible for a double referral bonus of up to $4,000. This was an especially important initiative for Intel, where women made up only 20% of the company as recently as 2014—compared to 47% of the workplace overall.

No strategy leads to overnight results—but Intel has seen its female representation go up every year since making the commitment. In 2015, their first full year after announcing the new bonuses, 43% of Intel’s new hires were either women or minorities, including 40% of VPs. This was actually 3% above Intel’s target goal and significantly better than most of its competitors. Since then, other companies have followed in Intel’s footsteps, including Accenture and Microsoft.

3. Google improved its maternity leave benefits to boost female retention

When it comes to improving overall representation for women, retention is just as important as hiring. For example, a 2017 report from the Anita Borg Institute, which advocates for female representation in tech, found that even though tech firms are hiring more women, female employees have been leaving companies at a higher rate (5.7%) than men (5.1%) for two years running.

Google addressed this problem with one simple change: significantly increasing maternity leave benefits to five months.

“We give five months with full pay: salary, bonus, stock,” says Laszlo Bock, Google’s former SVP of People Operations. “We used to do 12 weeks of salary, and women who came back from leave [left] at twice the rate of men. Now it’s the same [for men and women].”

And as Laszlo points out, working to retain more female employees isn’t just good for diversity—it also makes business sense, given how much less expensive it is to retain an existing employee than to replace them.

“On the face of it, you’re losing [months] of a worker’s productive time,” says Laszlo. “But someone can pick up the slack. It more than pays for itself in not having to go recruit someone brand new.”

4. Accenture encourages a sense of belonging to attract and retain more female employees

Creating a “sense of belonging” for employees is one of the most important factors in improving diversity at any company. Realizing that, Accenture made “belonging” a centerpiece of its strategy to attract and retain more female employees.

Accenture recently set a diversity goal to grow its percentage of female employees to at least 50% by 2025—they were at 36.2% in 2016—but the real strategic work is being done behind the scenes by its TA team, led by Kim Cleaves.

Of Kim’s strategies for hiring more women, one of the most important is creating an environment where all employees can bring their “whole selves to work.” One way they achieved this is through their “Inclusion Starts with I” video, an internally produced video in which real employees share their honest opinions on inclusion and belonging in the workplace. The powerful result was so popular that Accenture ended up sharing it with the public.

“We embrace diversity as a source of creativity and competitive advantage,” adds Accenture’s Ellyn Shook. “As we work toward ‘50 by 25,’ our ultimate goal is to create a truly human environment where people have a real sense of belonging, where they can show up every day, be who they are and be their best, both professionally and personally.”

The approach seems to have paid off for Accenture: they tied for 2nd in a recent ranking of anonymous female employee scores by Fairygodboss, with 79% saying they’d recommend the company to other women.

5. Iceland’s new equal pay law makes the gender pay gap illegal

Yes, Iceland is a country, not a company—but it’s definitely worth mentioning the major stand it recently took against pay discrimination in the workplace with a new law that requires employers to pay men and women equally for the same work. The equal pay law was actually proposed on International Women’s Day in 2017 and went into effect on January 1st of this year.

Under Iceland’s new law, companies and agencies with 25 or more employees will be legally required to have their equal pay policies certified by the government, and fines will be given to companies that fail to prove they’ve achieved parity. The certification process ensures that companies don’t just commit to paying men and women equally—they have to actually follow through.

"I think that now people are starting to realise that this is a systematic problem that we have to tackle with new methods," said Dagny Osk Aradottir Pind of the Icelandic Women's Rights Association.

Iceland is obviously doing something right: they’ve been ranked as the world’s most gender-equal country for nine years running by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and have a plan to completely eliminate the pay gap by 2020.

Final thoughts

While there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy that will instantly bring about gender equality in the workforce, I’m excited to see companies making real efforts to get there—from changing how they source and hire to implementing new benefits, coaching, and support for female employees. There’s still a ways to go, but it’s clear that pushing for what we need is bringing about change.

And if you personally want to be part of the change, I invite you to jump on social and take a moment to thank a woman who has helped you #PressforProgress in your industry or more specifically, your career.

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