The Importance of Tapping Female Talent

Solutions at Work values the input of the innovative thinkers of our field. We are pleased to offer the following guest blog from renowned author and expert Tamara J. Erickson. Tammy will be speaking at our September 23rd 2014 webinar: Modern Families, Modern Employers: New Research on Making Work Work.

Globally, over the past year, the number of employers who believe talent shortages will negatively impact their business increased by nearly a third. There has been a collective realization that the hunt for talent is on again and those big populations loom as large and important targets for many. Companies are often focused on the big opportunities. In the talent marketplace, that often equates to a desire to tap into the billion-plus populations of India and China, both certainly attractive options for augmenting your workforce in the future. But in reality there is another billion-plus population standing on the threshold, available to join the global workforce: women. Women have not yet have received the same level of attention from many business leaders, but they will almost certainly play a significant role in the global economy in the coming decade.

Why Women in the Workplace Will Be Essential

For companies seeking a workforce with higher education, women will be essential. In the U.S., the Department of Education estimated that women earned 62% of all associate's degrees in the graduating class of 2013, 57% of all bachelor's degrees, 60% of all master's degrees, and 52% of all doctorates. Today woman are educated in higher numbers in most major countries throughout the world, and the gap is expected to grow. In fact, the anticipated importance of women in the workplace is not new. Over the last century, the rise of the female worker in the U.S. has added nearly 2 percentage points per year to GDP growth. As Derek Thompson wrote in The Atlantic, 'More than China, more than the Internet, and more than banks and central banking, economic growth is driven by women?'

Poised for Dramatic Change

Today's young women are poised to continue the impact. Well-educated, they are the first cohort in modern history to start their work lives at near parity with men. A recent Pew survey found that women under 32 now make 93% of what young men earn, up from just 67% in 1980. The pay advantage for women under 32 today stems directly from their educational advantage. Nevertheless, despite having a better place at the starting line of their careers, Gen Y women still see roadblocks to their success, particularly in corporations. Pew's research found that young women are just as likely as members of the older generations to believe that women face an uphill climb in terms of being treated equally by society and by employers. One of the implications of this view is that women are forsaking large organizations to become job-making entrepreneurs. Women have been starting businesses at a higher rate than men for the last 20 years, according to Forbes. Going forward, American Express OPEN predicts that women will be responsible for over half of the nearly 10 million new small business jobs expected to be created by 2018.

Support For Women and Men

To attract and retain this talented pool into corporations, businesses will need to create a workplace that is geared to support women's workplace preferences. This will involve:

  • Designing task-based work. The practice of structuring important work so it can only be done on a full-time basis severely limits its attractiveness to women (and to many men today, as well).
  • Making flexible hours the norm. Cultures that equate long hours with the price of success have a profoundly negative effect on women's emotional state and commitment to the company.
  • Approbation for diversity. Companies whose leaders exhibit a warm acceptance of diverse ideas and perspectives, along with an appreciation of and curiosity about different points of view, are more inviting to women.
Smart companies are realizing that the challenge of attracting talented women closely involves men, as well. Men have a critical role to play in devising and implementing strategies for leveraging all talent in the workplace; many are eager for the same elements of flexibility and diversity that are essential for attracting woman today. Some organizations are creating forums specifically to bring men into a focused discussion of the options. For example, a Catalyst group called Men Advocating Real Change (MARC) offers a global platform for business leaders to engage in critical dialogue, take a stand for workplace equality and inclusion, and become a part of a global network of like-minded professionals who are committed to creating inclusive workplaces. Increasingly, companies are learning what has been true for the past century: that when they support women ' as customers, employees, leaders, future investors, and partners ' their businesses win.

Tamara J. Erickson is a McKinsey Award-winning author, a leading expert on generations in the workplace, and a widely-respected expert on the changing workforce, collaboration and innovation, and the nature of work in intelligent organizations. She has three-times been named one of the 50 most influential living management thinkers in the world by Thinkers50, the respected ranking of global business thinkers. She has written a trilogy of books on how individuals in specific generations can excel in today's workplace: Retire Retirement, What's Next, Gen X? and Plugged In, and is working on a fourth book for the generation under 18 today. Tammy has authored or co-authored numerous Harvard Business Review articles and the book Workforce Crisis: How to Beat the Coming Shortage of Skills and Talent. Erickson is the Executive Fellow, Organisational Behaviour, at London Business School, where she has designed and co-directs the school's premier leadership programme for senior-most executives, Leading Businesses into the Future. She is the Founder and CEO of Tammy Erickson Associates, a research-based firm dedicated to helping clients build intelligent organizations. An experienced executive, Erickson has served on the Board of Directors of two Fortune 500 corporations, with experience on the Governance, Audit, and Compensation Committees. She holds a BA degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Chicago and an MBA from the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration.