In 1967, Muriel Siebert became the first woman to join the ranks of 1,365 men at the New York Stock Exchange. It took 10 attempts before someone agreed to back her application, the New York Times reported. Twenty years later, it took the threat of bringing in a "porta-potty" to persuade management to install a women's washroom on her work floor.
Now, 30 years after that ladies'-room battle, women have cracked the proverbial glass ceiling in several ways in the financial services sector. But the fight for gender parity in the workplace is still taking place in subtler, but no less critical, ways.
While there's no single playbook on how to support women's ambitions, here are a few ideas on how you, as a manager, can make your workplace more women-friendly:
> Support education
Women who hit the pause button in their career track to focus on their family don't want to have to start at the bottom when they return, and they shouldn't have to, says Jennifer Reynolds, president and CEO of Women in Capital Markets (WCM) in Toronto. While they may have missed out on opportunities to hone their skills over the years, that shouldn't reverse their progress up the ladder.
Firms can set aside some funding to help women get back up to speed through education and training to help them sharpen their skills.
WCM has the Return to Bay Street program, which helps women relaunch their careers in capital markets. The program pairs women with financial institutions for a four-month stint and provides a $5,000 bursary to use toward training.
With this level of support, Reynolds says, participants are brought back in at a level commensurate with their skills, and many have secured full-time jobs at the firms they were matched with in the program.
> Build a support network
After a few years off work, women who re-enter the workforce have to rebuild their base of industry contacts and, in many cases, prove their credibility.
"If you take a break, it's very difficult to dive back in," Reynolds says. "They may have lost contact with their network."
To help women in your firm reintegrate, consider creating a mentorship program that helps reacquaint these women with people in the industry. For those who have stepped away for several years, having a mentor can ease the process of figuring out how to navigate an industry that may have changed significantly since their departure.
> Embrace parental leave
Even in firms in which policies exist for both spouses to claim parental-leave benefits, Reynolds says, there's often a stigma attached to taking that leave. While the stigma applies largely to men, it can apply to women as well.
People may look down upon an employee who takes time off to care for a child, believing that person is not committed to her career. "You can change the policy easily," Reynolds says, "but it's harder to change attitudes."
For companies to simply adopt progressive parental-leave policies is not enough, she adds. Managers have to do their part to normalize the practice, as well.
For example, you can have a well-defined process for determining how an employee's responsibilities will be shared when they take their leave. That way, the burden will not be on the employee to make those arrangements.
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