Why are We Still Shortchanging Women in the Workplace?

 Sander Flaum is principal of Flaum Navigators.
Sander Flaum is principal of Flaum Navigators.

In the past few months several high- profile executives have destroyed their careers with ill-advised com­ments about women. 

As reported in The Wall Street Journal, Gustavo Martinez, CEO of J. Walter Thompson Worldwide, was accused of spewing an “unending stream of racist and sexist comments.” He's gone now. And Raymond Moore, a prominent tennis tournament director, suggested that “women tennis players should get on their knees to thank the men's professional tour for the success of their sport.” He too was soon cleaning out his desk.

You have to wonder what they thinking.

Yet jeopardizing careers is nothing compared to the real problem with gender discrimina­tion. Why would any CEO tolerate a corporate culture that holds people back?

When I took over as CEO of Robert A. Becker (now Havas Health) in August 1988, the agency was down to its last client and on life support. I let most top executives go and replaced them with people I thought better qualified. Most were women. Some had risen from within the agency; others came from the client side. Gender was irrelevant — they were the best candidates.

The ultimate Becker culture? Hire the best of both genders and let them perform.

After hiring, the next critical issue in gender discrimination is how we treat women in the workforce. Consider compensation. Women receive on average about 80% of men's annual earnings — for similar jobs. I remember reading statistics like that 30 years ago. Today we're in a new century, yet nothing has changed.

But the times may be a-changing. Once women would accept the short end of the paycheck. Today they're more inclined to walk out the door. And they'll either join one of your competitors or start a business of their own and come after you.

Before that happens, explore these ideas.

Enlist your HR department to explore methods of developing objective data to track and evaluate your methods for recruiting, assessing, and rewarding performance. Be sure your job search website doesn't skew strongly to one gender or the other. Check out how companies like Google reduce turnover and promote loyalty.

See also: MM&M's Hall of Femme: 16 women leaders who changed the industry

Monitor the progress of women newly hired for entry-level positions. I'm always astonished by the number of top women in our industry who had to fight their way up from clerical jobs. A little encouragement could determine whether they stay or go.

Look carefully for signs of bias in the metrics used for awarding bonuses or raises. For example, if new women sales reps are routinely assigned low potential territories, don't be surprised when their performances suffer because of it.

Look at it this way: In 1920 women finally got the right to vote in U.S. elections. Why don't we celebrate suffrage's coming centennial by really making the workplace gender neutral?

Sander Flaum is principal of Flaum Navigators. 



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