In my evolution from a young professional to a partner, I often encountered the question of ‘what does it take to succeed as a woman in business?” My response and thoughts on this question have evolved with time as I’ve gained more experience working with colleagues, clients and leaders in the business community.
On this Women’s History Month, as we celebrate the accomplishments and reflect on the challenges women have faced in the past, it is important to look forward at what can be done in the present and future to ensure greater equity for women in the workplace.
We often instill in women what they need to do to break through the glass ceiling, earn respect and succeed in their profession. But the conversation should center on what management and leadership of companies are doing and should be doing to better support women in their organizations.
Here are three measurable ways in which companies of all sizes, small or large, can create a more level playing field and encouraging environment to help advance women’s career development and long-term success.
Studies and surveys that analyze women’s career paths often point to motherhood as a potential setback in the course of their professional development and earnings. This starts with motherhood and taking maternity leave to care for a newborn.
A new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that fewer than half of employed women say their employer offered paid parental leave.
This leaves many women with limited choices, having to take unpaid time off or use up their allotted personal days off and often take a shorter leave than they would desire. In fact, parental leave should be equitable for both men and women, allowing both parents the opportunity and time to care and bond with their newborn children.
I decided to have a child two years after becoming a partner at Schwartz Media Strategies, the integrated communications agency where I’ve worked for the past decade. There were many times during those nine months that I wondered if having a family would mean having to sacrifice my career. Yet, my decision to become a mother was met with incredible support from the firm’s leadership. We developed a plan to ensure our campaigns and clients would be properly serviced, my colleagues at the company stepped up to provide full support, and I received paid parental leave. I returned from maternity leave, reenergized and confident putting the same focus and dedication than before I became a mom. It is up to managers and leaders to provide a supportive environment, including offering adequate and paid parental leave, so that working women don’t feel that becoming a mom means derailing their career path.
A source of discontent for women in the workplace is the gender gap in compensation. U.S. Census Bureau’s latest data shows that on average women earned 83 cents to every dollar paid to their male counterparts in the US. Salary benchmarks vary amongst companies and industries, but the statistics don’t lie. Taking a proactive look at the pay structure across an organization and adjusting it fairly can make a significant difference in the equity an employer provides, not only fostering employee loyalty but also benefiting our overall society.
The biggest gift you can give someone is your time and attention. This is something that has profoundly influenced my life trajectory. From my high school years and throughout my career, mentorship has served as a compass in helping to advance my career. From mid-level managers to c-suite leaders, investing more of your time in mentoring talent and ensuring others are as well will have a positive impact in your culture and talent retention.
Additionally, seek opportunities to mentor younger women in the community through established organizations such as Women of Tomorrow as it can have a meaningful impact in their life and career path. I was actually a mentee of the program during my high school years and two decades later, I’ve had the privilege of mentoring students going through the program now and supporting the organization.
When it comes to fostering an equitable environment for women in the workplace, it’s important to take an introspective look, make actionable modifications across the organization and proactively communicate them externally and internally in a transparent manner. As the country continues to experience a historically tight labor market and the unemployment rate remains at 3.4% – the lowest level it’s reached in 54 years – cultivating and retaining talent is crucial to a company’s short- and long-term success.
Yudi Fernández Kim is a partner at Miami-based integrated communications firm Schwartz Media Strategies, where she leads communications, marketing and social media campaigns on behalf of some of the top residential and commercial real estate, construction and financial firms in the country.