Women in the Workplace and Human Resources

Women have been slowly gaining workplace equality for decades. It’s finally gotten to the point where the gender ratio for secondary education, a huge predictor for workplace ratio, has more women graduating college than men. The Herman Group published a Trend Alert entitled “Increasing Numbers of Women Graduates” that validated these claims. It also brought to light the challenges HR professionals will face, with what is sure to mean more and more women in the workplace. We’ll look at some of these numbers and try to understand what effect this rising number of female applicants will have on those of us in HR, in addition to what changes we can make to accommodate women, and improve the over-all workplace quality for women.
The Herman Group Trend Alert was based on a study published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that focused on 34 countries. Let’s look at some interesting facts the Trend Alert revealed:
•    In 32 out of 34 of these countries, more women than men completed their secondary education.
•    Internationally 58% of the OECD participants that graduated in 2009 (most recent year available) were females.
•    Almost 75% of the graduating students in health and welfare are female, and almost two-thirds of the graduates in humanities and the arts are women.

It’s easy to speculate that with a significantly higher amount of women graduates than men, women are going to be more eligible than ever to be taking on higher positions in the workplace. Obviously women are taking the steps necessary to become qualified to take on executive and board room roles.
That said, it’s about time. This fall UC Davis did a study on women in executive positions. It was limited to the state of California but the results were very telling of the discrimination that still exists when it comes to women in executive positions. Here’s a summary of some of the most shocking facts:
•    Only 10.4% of the board seats and highest-paid executive officer positions, are held by women.
•    122 (more than 30%) of California’s 400 largest public companies don’t have a single women in a top executive position or on the board of directors.
•    Half of the 400 companies have no women among their executive officers.
•    47% percent have no woman in the boardroom.
•    13 of these 400 companies have a woman CEO.

These statistics taken together, lead me to speculate that women are sick of not being represented at the executive level, and they will do whatever it takes to get there. Including taking their secondary-education more seriously than their male counter-parts. It seems inevitable that these numbers will begin to change organically once the older generation steps-down and the younger generation steps-in to fill these positions. When this happens HR needs to be prepared.
The Herman Groups was quoted as saying:
“Employers will have to work harder than ever to keep women on the job, so there will be more emphasis on lactation rooms and childcare on-site and back-up services to help young parents cope. We also expect to see more stay-at-home dads and gender-specific programs aimed at boys to encourage them to stay in school…. In the future, it will be more important than ever to keep childcare costs reasonable, yet the latest study reports that childcare costs are rising.”
Being accommodating to mothers is a good jumping off point for female employee retention, but there’s more to the story than affordable child-care and lactation rooms. In addition to that there’s the issue of maternity leave. The US is one of four countries in the world that doesn’t have a national law mandating paid time off for new parents. This needs to change if the US wants to retain its own female work-force, not to mention recruit talented women internationally. As an HR professional, you can require your own firm to put policies in place that allow new mothers, who have been with the company for an allotted amount of time, to take the time off they need without breaking the bank.
Another issue that needs to be addressed is pay inequality among women, which is a commonly held belief among many female workers. There’s some truth to this perception if you consider the UC Davis study, assuming the higher position you hold, the more money you make. As an HR professional, you need to address these issues head-on and do everything you can to change them, or if they’re already changed, then to change the perception. Doing whatever it takes to make sure women and men are paid equally, hold equally important positions, and that women can clearly see that, will help attract high-quality female talent, in addition to retaining it.
With more women college graduates than ever before, it’s clear there will be major changes taking place in the workplace. What these changes will mean is still up for debate, but there are some guidelines that if followed, will most likely mean happier and more qualified, female employees. Placing a higher importance on family and personal issues through on-site child-care, lactation rooms, maternity leave and any other measure requested or observed to be needed by female employees is an important step. Erasing the perception of unequal pay for women and men, by making sure that it doesn’t exist in your workplace through means of salary or promotion, is another important factor for recruiting and retaining qualified, talented women in your workplace. These are just a few simple and obvious steps that can be made now, as time goes on, and more information is available, you will have to continue to adapt your work environment to satisfy the ever growing population of females in the workplace.

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