Equipping and Supporting Women in the Workplace

How can employers attract and retain female talent to stay competitive?

04 Mar 2022 Articles Performance management Recruitment Best practices

Globally, there are now a record number of women chief executive officers leading Fortune 500 companies; 23 in 2021, compared to just 14 in 20201. In Singapore, there are encouraging signs of increased diversity in the workplace, with a third of senior management roles being held by women2  and the country being ranked top in terms of the percentage of women in CEO roles (13.1%), according to a survey by Deloitte3.

While women are proving their mettle in leading organisations, there is still room to close the gender gap in the workplace. How can employers attract, retain and uplift women in their bid to nurture gender diversity?

Here are four practices to consider:

1. Management Needs to Lead the Way 

Changes to culture and policies must start at the top. When leaders recognise the business benefits of gender diversity in the workplace, they are likelier to invest the time and resources to drive diversity initiatives and policymaking.

One example is DBS Bank, where CEO Piyush Gupta has actively advocated for greater participation of women in senior leadership positions4. The bank’s practices reflect these convictions, with women holding 40% of DBS’ senior management roles5. Regular salary reviews are also carried out to check for parity in male and female incomes6. The bank also seeks to increase female representation in engineering roles with the annual “DBS Women in Tech” career fair, and the 2021 edition saw 140 openings for women7.

Employers who are committed to progressive employment practices should consider the tangible benefits that come from having a diverse workforce; better decision-making, greater creativity and innovation due to multiple perspectives, which ultimately contribute to business results. With this, management teams can consider initiatives and policies to better hire and retain women in their workforces.

2. Keep Unconscious Biases in Check

In order to encourage greater diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, employers will need to guard against unconscious bias; personal blindspots due to stereotyping and prejudices that may have formed over time.

When hiring, in addition to a fair and transparent recruitment process, employers will need to check for biases that may creep in through communication as well. For example, when interviewing female candidates, refrain from asking questions about caregiving or other personal responsibilities that are unrelated to the job role. This information may be used to draw wrong conclusions about a candidate’s suitability for the job.

With existing employees, make an effort to dissuade conversations and even casual joking about gender stereotypes, which may make certain groups, including women, feel excluded or discriminated against. Employers may also prevent bias by providing training for employees on diversity and inclusion and adopting a zero-tolerance stance when it comes to workplace discrimination.

3. Invest in Insights to Understand Workforce Needs

Employers will need to dig deeper to understand their workforce in order to cultivate gender diversity in a sustainable manner. HR plays a crucial role in this process by gathering insights and providing data to support the decision-making process. Data analytics can be used to identify current workforce trends and gaps. By analysing attrition patterns, HR can identify ‘drop-off’ points where women employees leave the organisation. This information can then be used to review and refine HR polices, as well as emphasise fair and merit-based hiring and promotion. This will likely encourage female employees to build careers with the organisations in the long run, especially in industries where they are under-represented.

Monitoring the workforce profile will also enable HR to identify any gender gaps that exist at different levels of the organisation. For example, in organisations where women account for a low proportion of the middle management or senior leadership level, steps may be taken to ensure female employees have the same access to training and mentoring opportunities as their male counterparts.

4. Provide Targeted Support for Female Employees

To nurture and retain female talent, employers may also consider stepping up initiatives that will support them. Work-life initiatives such as flexible work arrangements (FWAs) are relevant to all employees, including women in the workforce.   

Progressive employers often identify needs through employee surveys, focus group discussions and one-on-one interviews, enabling them to create specific solutions and resources. IT company Hewlett Packard Enterprise, for instance, provides up to six months of parental leave for both mothers and fathers8. Energy company Shell offers early talent identification and access to key roles for women. 

Business chambers such as the Singapore Business Federation also play a role in harnessing the full potential of Singapore’s female workforce, with recommendations such as building up mentoring networks for women entrepreneurs9. Such a positive environment could build confidence in women which can lead to greater acceptance of leadership roles. 

As the local workforce evolves, diversity is increasingly commonplace in organisations, with women forming a key demographic that contributes to business success. Employers who recognise their abilities and find ways to leverage these, will find it easier to sustain their talent needs, stay competitive and ultimately enhance their business results.