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Women are undeniably good for business. Numbers consistently show that gender-diverse companies are more likely to experience above-average profitability. Also, from my experience I have observed that women add an important complementary perspective to the business issue at hand, which often results in a wider range of solutions. Thus, it is rational for workplaces to create supportive environments for women in order to attract top talent.
As per recent research published in the Harvard Business Review, 61 percent of women prospects consider gender diversity in an organization’s leadership team when deciding which employer to work for. The United States has always been a pro-diversity country, and here are three ways how businesses can make their workplaces welcoming to women and nurture diverse work environments.
1. Offer flex-hours to minimize talent drain.
The effects of COVID-19 are going to be global and long-lasting, creating a climate of uncertainty and fear of future outbreaks. As per the World Economic Forum, the impact will be highly taxing for women, as much of the childcare falls on their shoulders. On the other hand, pregnant women will likely be more worried about issues from miscarriage and passing the disease to the baby to childcare in a world grappling with a pandemic. Businesses offering flexible hours, at a time when women need it the most, score higher for employee engagement, productivity and loyalty.
Related: Embracing Gender Diversity in Entrepreneurship Across the Middle East
Also, given most women quit or do not join back after maternity leave in order to allow more time for childcare, organizations must find ways to minimize talent drain. Women are placing increasing importance on flexible hours. Even though after the COVID-19 crisis, businesses that have suffered financial drains will be reluctant to entertain long maternity leaves, offering flexible hours can be a win-win situation for all.
2. Equal maternity benefits and access to advanced technology.
Improving maternity rights is a surefire way to attract young women to workplaces. Talented young professionals seek policies like paid parental leave, which currently only 12 percent of the private sector offers. Organizations can go beyond paid leave by facilitating access to advanced prenatal technology. Non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) provides the most accurate results for various genetic conditions, including Down syndrome, allowing for early detection and helping mothers experience less stress. These advanced prenatal screening tests have established clinical superiority to old serum tests, which miss 22 percent of cases with Down syndrome and result in 95 times more false positives compared to the newer tests.
Even though the majority of babies with Down syndrome in the U.S. are born to younger mothers, NIPT is only covered for women over 35 by insurance companies, like UnitedHealthcare and Aetna. Younger women are offered older prenatal screening, which often yields inaccurate results and unnecessary referrals to specialists who recommend invasive tests that carry the risk of a miscarriage or other pregnancy complications.
Encouragingly, some companies like Cisco and Google are taking the lead in the world of business by acknowledging the importance of equal maternity rights for women of all ages. These organizations are working with their insurance partners to facilitate access to advanced testing technology, which is otherwise denied to women younger than 35.
Cori Simmons, President of StandUp4APA, a nonprofit organization that works to ensure that all women in the U.S. have access to NIPT, commends their efforts, highlighting that “pregnancy is the most precious time in any woman’s life, and steps taken by Cisco and Google are the first step against the big insurance companies that put profits above optimal patient care.” At a time when OB/GYNs across the U.S. are recommending NIPT as a standard prenatal offering, organizations must ask healthcare providers to expand their insurance coverage and create work environments that are conducive for young pregnant women.
3. Shatter the glass ceiling and promote top talent.
Businesses should work to break the glass ceiling from above in order to become more convivial to women. Women are still underrepresented in leadership roles, comprising only 6.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, which goes to show that a cultural obstacle consisting of de facto rules and workplace practices is hindering growth for women.
I strongly feel that if companies are to promote top talent, they must remove the gender bias at play when it comes to leadership roles and key projects. Additionally, businesses have to create gender-neutral networking opportunities and steer clear of the negative gender perception of women in technical roles that has held them back in one of today’s most lucrative sectors. Likewise, equal pay should be discussed and normalized, with companies regularly monitoring their evaluation processes.
Related: Is There a Gender Bias in the Tech Sector Today?
Women seeking to advance their careers are still facing major obstacles due to inflexible and often discriminatory workplace policies. In order to welcome women and retain talent, businesses must focus on reinventing the maternity-benefits policies that are outdated and discriminatory, besides shattering the glass ceiling that denies women equal opportunities. In sum, a diverse workforce is the future of work and steps taken now matter the most.