by Neylan McBaine, founder/CEO of The Seneca Council.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2017 edition of Silicon Slopes Magazine.
There is so much to celebrate here in the Utah business community: routine placements at the top of the Forbes Best States for Business list, among other accolades and growth statistics. But one recent report placed Utah at the very bottom of the list. The Center for American Progress’s report entitled “The State of Women in America: A 50-State Analysis of How Women are Faring Across the Nation” placed Utah dead last out of all 50 states in terms of women holding positions of decision making and leadership.
Is this concerning, or something to be proud of? A little of both, I propose.
When we’re declared the “worst” at something, it may be hard to find anything to be proud of. But one of the metrics that makes us “worst” is that Utah ranks last in the nation for children with both parents in the labor force (52%, well below the national average of 65%). Having a parent dedicated to care instead of career is good for our children, but bad for reports like “The State of Women in America.”
However, there’s plenty still to be concerned about, especially for our business community. The report also reveals that Utah has the lowest number of women in private sector management positions. That means there are very few women contributing to the decisions being made by our businesses. Why does this matter? Because research shows time and time again that when women are involved in decision making, companies make better decisions, are more in touch with their customers, have higher engagement and retention rates among employees and, at the end of the day, have higher profitability.
We should also be concerned because, even though mothers in two parent households may be working at a lower rate than the national average, Utah mothers in general are actually working at almost the same rate as the national average (73% vs. 77%). So our women are working. And they need to work. A lot. But they are disproportionately occupying low-paying industries like retail and administration. Our female workforce is overall one of the lowest paid in the country.
So it would be good for our business community and for our women to have more female participation in tech and other higher-paying sectors. But how to do that? That’s the multi-million dollar question.
There are two key areas of focus for companies that want to increase the participation of women in their workforces: one is creating an environment of critical mass, and the second is enabling caregiving flexibility.
Critical mass means that a female employee comes into an environment where she is not the only woman in the room, the token representation of her gender. Ideally, a team should be 30% women for those women to feel like they have the voice and network they need to be successful. Critical mass can be achieved over time one hire at a time, as long as the first women stick around long enough and create enough of a network to support each other. Or it can be achieved by hiring several women at the same time, as some companies do, so no one woman has to carry the weight of being the token female.
Creating an environment of critical mass is also achieved by making sure the company is a place where women want to work in the first place. Chatbooks demonstrates their dedication to making their workplace attractive to women by integrating women-only interviews into their hiring process. They recently declined to make an offer to a highly qualified male candidate because he didn’t pass muster with the female interviewing team. It takes discipline and that level of commitment to make a critical mass environment a reality.
Secondly, addressing the need for affordable childcare is one of the most important ways we as a business community can increase female participation in the workforce. Childcare is cost-prohibitive for many families in the nation, but the dilemma is exacerbated here in Utah as we have more children than the national average. Making substantial paid maternity leave a given at every Utah company would be a promising start, but the whole subject is ripe for innovative thinking. For example, Degreed encourages new parents to take off as much time as they need for a new child, as long as they commit to returning to the company twice as long as they took off.
Local, high quality child care centers like Bright Horizons that are partially subsidized as part of company benefits would allow more new mothers to stay involved at work while still being the kinds of mothers they want to be.
Lots of good things are happening in the Utah business community. But if we want our companies to continue to grow, make good decisions, stay in tune with customers and be attractive to investors and top talent, getting more women into our management teams has got to be a priority.