Actionable ways companies can proactively empower their female workforce

How to empower female workforces to be the leaders of tomorrow in male domincated STEM sectors, the Progress way?

Katie Kulikoski of Progress discusses how companies can better empower their female workforce, the importance of female leadership in career development, and how we can best support younger generations to pursue careers in STEM. 

Why is it important for companies to practice empowering their female workforce? 

Practising empowerment with our women leads to expanded opportunities for input, contribution and influence. It drives a wide range of return from innovative approaches, challenging status quo, and shared commitment. Empowering them not only benefits them personally but the company as a whole. By continuously providing women with opportunities to expand their skills, to widen their networks and to demonstrate their leadership capabilities, their confidence levels increase, which can encourage them to take on new challenges and achieve more.  

Are there any instances where companies might be missing opportunities to empower them? 

I’m sure there are many, but the one that is capturing my focus currently is the concept of the broken rung. How do we empower our women to reach for the next role sooner? How do we battle the concept of imposter syndrome that is so disproportionately represented in our gender, especially with regard to leadership positions? I think by missing these opportunities early on in their careers, women are less likely to pursue or be considered for executive-level positions, leaving fewer women available to fill these executive roles. It starts by mentoring young female employees and encouraging them to think where they want to take their careers in the future. It may seem daunting to think about your career when you’re just starting, but we must provide them with the right guidance from the start to set them up for success. It further continues at the mid-career level, particularly if women are the primary caregivers for family. How do we support returning to work or the flexibility that these additional out-of-office roles might require?

Where does female leadership/board representation come into play?  

Women must have other women to look up to as role models. There is true value in being able to envision yourself in a role because you have seen someone like yourself in that role. It brings aspirational endeavouring to the realm of possibility. If women see examples of female leadership through board representation and c-suite executives, they have the opportunity to leverage these executives as mentors and gain first-hand experience as to what it’s like to be a female in a leadership position. According to research from Progress, 71% of women say that the presence of a woman on an executive leadership team or board influences their decision to work for a company. Female board members play a critical role in challenging leadership teams to ask and answer the hard questions about inclusion, diversity and belonging for underrepresented peoples.

What role do employee resource groups and mentor matching programmes play in encouraging women to ensure their voices are heard?  

Employee groups and mentor matching groups are an important part of employee development. They allow female employees to receive the guidance they need to achieve their goals. There is strength in numbers, and networks are a critical element of power in our society. These groups and programs can strengthen the voice of women who want to implement change, make recommendations, start initiatives, and much more. In fact, the study also showed that 78% expect companies to offer real initiatives to address gender equality. These groups allow women to develop professionally and build their networks.  

Can you provide a few examples of actions companies can take to start empowering their female workforce?  

Start by looking at the facts: how successful are female candidates in landing new roles, both internal and external? What is the promotion rate of women at all levels across the organisation? In what cohorts, teams, or levels are women the least represented? It’s hard to create a goal for every one of these, but it starts with gaining a deeper understanding of where the issues are and then forming a targeted response to the specific scenarios. For example, if your women are stagnating in terms of promotion at a certain level, maybe there is a topical training investment that can be made for that group on career planning conversations, etc. 

How can companies best support younger generations who want to pursue careers in STEM but aren’t sure where to start? 

Companies can begin by encouraging younger generations to network. Leveraging networks and connections can help younger women create relationships with women from whom they can learn and seek career advice. Progress research showed that 67% of moms are concerned about their daughters’ ability to get and stay ahead in their career which is why it’s so important for women to get ahead in their careers so early on. As a mother of two daughters, this is both a professional and personal passion for me. Job shadowing or even hosting a local coding event can spark some interest in younger generations who aren’t sure where to look for these types of opportunities. It’s also a great way for a local company to connect with its local community.  

What does female empowerment look like at Progress? 

Here at Progress, we empower our female workforce by conducting business in ways that have a positive impact on all customers, partners, communities, and most importantly, employees. Female empowerment is built into many aspects of our business – from our corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme, which includes “Our People,” “Our Communities”, and “Our Environment”, to our strong emphasis on inclusion and diversity. We lead with inclusion versus diversity and inclusion because it is important that we instil a culture of inclusion in everything that we do while creating an environment where diversity can be celebrated among all employees. We have brought in a team of dedicated inclusion and diversity specialists from Harvard University to support and challenge our approaches to building and fostering an inclusive environment for all. Also, we oversee a programme called Progress for Her, our company commitment to creating better, more inclusive opportunities for women. From the United States to India and beyond this programme is championed at our offices across the globe.  

We also recently launched a scholarship for women in STEM, the Mary Székely scholarship. The scholarship honours the company’s co-founder and aims to help a new generation of women in technology. The scholarship is just one of the many ways in which Progress is doing its part to help foster the next generation of female leaders in tech.
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