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The Rewards of an Engaged Female Workforce

What can companies do to ensure their senior-level women feel engaged throughout the employee lifecycle and, in turn, are freer to cultivate a work environment that leads to better business results? 

Friday, February 24, 2017
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Employee engagement is a critical indicator of a company’s success, as engaged employees feel a bond with their company, are proud to work there and take steps to improve the company’s prospects.

The Boston Consulting Group's recent report -- The Rewards of an Engaged Female Workforce -- examines how engagement levels change over time between men and women, and how existing trends impact the most seasoned employees. The study was designed to examine engagement based on key areas including mentorship, work-life balance and compensation and promotion opportunities.

The results reveal that companies that get engagement right -- those with the highest engagement scores overall -- do not have any disparity between genders. However in companies that do not -- companies with slightly above average, average and low engagement scores overall -- there is a prominent gender gap. Moreover, we found that this gender gap increases with seniority, disproportionately affecting women in senior managerial positions and above. This creates two challenges: Not only does engagement correlate with financial performance, but if senior women leave, companies pay an additional penalty around leadership diversity.

There are several factors that contribute to this gap. For example, some women report feeling underleveraged in their positions, which suggests that employers are missing an opportunity to utilize the full skillsets of some of their employees -- a problem for both the employee and the company. Additionally, with regard to mentor and coworker relationships, men are more likely to cite more positive and closer connections as they rise in seniority. Women, however, have somewhat lower ratings when asked if their managers care about their wellbeing and if there is a sense of support amongst their teams. A lack of meaningful relationships can lead employees to lessen their commitment to an organization.

With rising seniority, some expect that employees are meant to feel more of a connection to the organization, form closer bonds with colleagues and managers and be supported in their aspirations. While many men hold this sentiment, women on average experience somewhat less of a sense of mutual appreciation and loyalty as they reach higher ranks.

Having an engaged workforce is a priority for a number of organizations and is top of mind for many who sit within HR, diversity and inclusion, and talent acquisition. What can companies do to ensure their senior-level women feel engaged throughout the employee lifecycle and, in turn, are freer to cultivate a work environment that leads to better business results? 

Understand the unique issues women face in your organization.

Every workplace is different; there is no one-size-fits-all approach for getting engagement right. The first step is listening to your people. And the focus here should be organization-wide and not focus solely on senior women. Through listening exercises, companies can learn what the root causes are of disengagement. Whether it’s through surveys or open dialogues between employees and managers, having tangible interactions will make it easier to identify what solutions work best for your organization.

Rethink feedback and recognition.

Once you understand the root causes of the engagement gap you can start looking at solutions. For example, if a primary issue is dissatisfaction with manager relationships, this could point to a need to reshape how performance feedback is given. In 2010 we found this issue within our own organization. Employees reported that the feedback they received was too focused on areas that needed improvement and lacked recognition of their strengths. To address the issue we implemented a new method for feedback that encourages managers to highlight strengths as means to tackle weaknesses. This change was made as part of the launch of our Apprenticeship in Action program, which specifically aimed to enhance the mentorship experience for women -- but satisfaction with the feedback process increased by ten percentage points for both male and female employees.

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Allow senior managers to shape job responsibilities.

To guarantee that the strengths of your workforce are fully utilized, companies should consider offering senior managers more flexibility in determining job roles, allowing them to focus on their expertise and passions. Within reason, performance management systems should have customization options in order to embrace the unique strengths of high level employees. Part of achieving this solution is promoting employees based on potential, not just performance. This will help companies cultivate a diverse set of leadership styles, which is more conducive to fostering a creative and successful work environment.

Make sponsorship a priority.

Companies should strive to support their employees across all levels of the organization. A major part of this involves demonstrating loyalty to team members -- including those at the senior level. Management should actively invest in sponsorship connections for their employees, including ensuring that promising women have mentors, sponsors and peers with whom they can communicate openly and frequently. This approach takes mentorship beyond performance reviews that simply check the boxes - and demonstrates a genuine investment in employees.

Women want to be engaged in the workplace -- they want to bring their best selves to the office and be part of teams that conduct meaningful and valuable work. This should become easier for women as they reach higher levels of seniority, not harder. The tools exist for companies to develop a more engaged female workforce. When they invest in these changes, the results can be beneficial for all.  

Matt Krentz is a senior partner, managing director and global people team lead at BCG. Claire Tracey is a partner and managing director at BCG. Send questions or comments about this story to hreletters@lrp.com.

 

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