What makes a company “the best workplace for women”?

Office-min 2“We want to provide the best work environment for women,” is a phrase I’ve heard more than once since we started EUPanelWatch over two years ago.

But what exactly does that mean?

And if you’re the best workplace for women, can you still serve your male employees just as well?

We’re not looking for men to suffer the differences in treatment that women have faced in the professional world, we’re looking for them to “share the wealth” of the career experience they get to enjoy.

Doing some research into companies that seek to claim this title of “best employer,” I’ve come across rankings, goals and unforgettable testimonies of bad experiences — more on that later.

If you’re Vodafone, 2025 is the golden year. That’s when this multinational telecommunications company aims to be the best employer for women. It plans to do that by using measures including promoting flexible working and home working policies, mentoring, coaching and peer support, as well as quarterly tracking of a 2020 global target of 30 percent women in management and leadership roles across markets and functions. You can read more about those initiatives put in place by Vodafone, here.

IKEA Group finds its targets in diversity of all kinds, setting goals for gender representation, but also aiming to promote diversity in its company in terms of age, sexual orientation, physical ability, ethnicity, race and nationality.

IKEA Group says gender equality is “at the heart of human rights and as a humanistic company,” the group believes that gender equality is good for co-workers, for customers, and for business.

“We want our business to be equally lead by men and women, as we know it reflects our values
and it’s essential for our future growth and business success,” IKEA Group says.

The US National Association for Female Executives (NAFE), a division of Working Mother magazine publisher Working Mother Media, publishes annual rankings of the top 50 companies for executive women.

To be considered for NAFE’s list, companies need a minimum of two women on their boards and at least 1,000 employees in the US. NAFE chooses the top 50 based on women’s representation at all levels, employees’ access to and use of programs and policies that promote women’s advancement, training opportunities and managers’ accountability.

Companies included on NAFE’s list include IBM, Johnson & Johnson and Fleishman Hillard.

All of these goals in some way or another are promoting women in the workplace and making it more possible than ever before for female professionals to succeed and even outperform their male counterparts.

To a certain extent, those goals are setting targets and those targets are a quota of some description — a subsidy to give gender equality the push forward it needs so that we can shorten the time it will take to achieve equality. Right now, that’s as far off as 170 years from today, according to the World Economic Forum.

When I started thinking about this blogpost, before I looked up rankings of companies, I really thought younger companies would outperform older ones. I thought startups, with their groundbreaking work cultures, would be closer to getting it right.

In fact, neither Google, nor Facebook — two early entrants to our digitally disrupted world — feature on the 2016 NAFE list for executive women.

And it’s hard to see beyond two cases that have come into the spotlight recently.

Tesla and Uber — two companies selling the future of how we move and yet, when it comes to serving their female employees they are more than stuck in the dark ages.

Last month, a former Tesla engineer broke her silence on legal action she took against the carmaker in 2015. AJ Vandermeyden, who still works at Tesla, accused the company of ignoring her complaints of harassment, paying her less than her male counterparts and promoting less qualified men over her. Read the full report by The Guardian here.

Vandermeyden spoke out in response to a blog post that had sent the media sphere spinning less than 10 days previously. That blog post was by Susan Fowler, a former site reliability engineer for a company that’s disrupted transport systems and caused taxi drivers to take to the streets in protest in Europe — Uber. Fowler alleged that management and Human Resources at Uber rejected her complaints over documented sexual harassment and sexism and protected the colleague she filed her complaint over because he was a “high performer.” r

Those are two glaring examples about how to make your company just about the worst workplace for women.

Making your company a good place for women to work in requires overhauling the way things may have been done in the past. It requires constant monitoring. It requires setting goals.

One thing that some companies have chosen to do is blind recruitment. It seems extreme. Surely we can all accept that we should view female and male candidates in the same way? Wrong. We all have many unconscious biases.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics was dissatisfied with the number of women it had in senior roles. Roughly 21 percent of their most senior officers were female. So ABS overhauled its recruitment process, concealing names, gender, and other identifying details of hundreds of applicants for 19 positions. The bureau offered flexible hours and options to work from home.

The results were overwhelming. Of the 19 positions available, 15 were filled by women. ABS doubled the number of female bosses…in a few months.

So being the best workplace / employer for women isn’t just about creating new opportunities, new goals and new flexibilities (something that comes up every time I ask someone about this topic), it’s about getting rid of the existing, perhaps unconscious elements that hold us all back from seeing someone’s true potential.

After all of this and a lot of reading, there’s one thing I haven’t noticed around very much in company manifestos, but it’s the one thing I would expect to contribute the most to improving a workplace. Asking the employees!!

Ask what employees want, provide what employees want and watch success grow!