Robbyn Scribner: Utah businesses need to meet women halfway

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Michael Clough and Participants crowd the halls of the 3rd annual Silicon Slopes Tech Summit, at the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center. Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019.

Gender diversity is a hot topic in Utah’s equally hot business climate. It was a constant theme at the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit the past two years. (An older gentleman at my lunch table even remarked, “Are they going to talk about anything else besides women?”)

As a strong advocate for women’s leadership, I’m thrilled with this dialogue, as the business case for advancing women is rock solid, not to mention it’s the right thing to do.

Still, our conversations surrounding a commitment to diversity are undercut by hiring managers’ complaints: “We’d love to hire more women, but we can’t find them!”

Now, there are thousands of Utah women who are wildly successful and whose careers mirror those of our top men. I applaud and celebrate them. But if we really want to move the needle toward parity, Utah businesses need to find a way to include the countless women who are highly educated, insanely talented, but not currently willing or able to “lean in” the same way many men can.

Here are five things companies can do right now to increase gender diversity in Utah businesses over the long term:

  1. Create (and advertise) more career track part-time positions. Though Utah women work at similar rates to U.S. women overall, we rank highest in the nation (by far) for women working part-time. Not surprising, as we have the largest families in the country, and we do a larger share of unpaid care work. Though our employment rates dip during childbearing years, they rise again afterward, but too many women aren’t returning to high-paying, professional jobs. Meaningful part-time work would make it possible for women to hit the ground running again once their caregiving responsibilities decrease.

  2. Embrace the flexibility movement and establish formal policies that meet your employees’ actual needs. Many women will continue to work solidly through their lives if they can find work that works for them. Bonus: Flexibility is great for men as well, and the lack of flexibility is fast becoming a deal-breaker for many workers.

  3. Stop penalizing and/or overlooking women who have taken career breaks. The days of a steady climb on a distinct pathway are long gone in almost every industry. Re-launchers should be treated like any other potential hire coming from another field. It may take time to come up to speed with certain technical skills, but mature, experienced women are not “starting from scratch.”

  4. Recognize the tremendous knowledge, skills and abilities women gain during time off. Just because women haven’t been getting paid, it doesn’t mean they haven’t been learning, growing or developing mad skills. I’m amazed when I hear top male CEOs brag (and rightfully so) about their incredible stay-at-home wives, even as their HR departments are rejecting resumes from women who are just as incredible because they don’t see the value in what women have done outside of paid work.

  5. Deliberately expand networks to recruit more women. We all know that job-seekers find their best positions through networking, and many roles are filled through word of mouth by someone on the inside who “knows the perfect guy!” Sadly, in some companies, it is almost always a “guy.” Encourage all your employees to expand their networks to include more women.

If we truly want to increase women’s leadership, we need to keep more women working in meaningful ways, including those who will sometimes prioritize other things during their (potentially) long careers. Companies who are willing to meet women halfway will be the ones who will ultimately benefit from the immense value that comes with greater gender diversity.

Robbyn Scribner | Utah Valley University

Robbyn Scribner is the assistant director of the Utah Women and Leadership Project at Utah Valley University and a fierce proponent of women’s flexible workforce engagement.