The Most Important Step to Recruiting Top Female Talent, According to Female Execs

Salesforce President Cindy Robbins

Cindy Robbins, President of Salesforce. Photo: Krisanne Johnson

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GALVANIZE 2018: Making Women’s Resource Groups Powerful, an annual summit hosted by Fairygodboss, was focused on changing a startling statistic. According to the World Economic Forum, it will take 217 years to achieve gender parity in the workplace. But Fairygodboss founders Georgene Huang and Romy Newman believe that by challenging and changing the status quo, women can change this timeline. 

Data on gender equality remained a theme throughout the conference: how can we collect it, and how can it be used? 

Salesforce’s President and Chief People Officer, Cindy Robbins, who says the “power is in data,” spearheaded the first two audits of Salesforce’s gender pay practices, along with her colleague Leyla Seka. When it comes to instituting equality, Robbins says the there is a “certain level of accountability that starts at the CEO level,” but any woman in power must work to support the advancement of other women. 

It can be difficult to move from the abstract idea of “supporting women” to taking actionable steps towards gender parity. To achieve real change, Robbins says companies must look at “all streams of data — from promotional pipelines to interview pipelines to new hire pays” to advance women there. She suggests setting a diversity goal and going above it. But for her, looking at numbers — say, the amount of women represented in a department or the number of women taking maternity leave — is not enough. Instead, companies must “ask ourselves ‘why?’” to decide what policies are working and what is still holding women back. 

Robbins advocates for speaking to women and listening to their stories. Then, this mix of quantitative and qualitative data “will show some very clear tactics you can use” to ensure workplace parity. She adds that while having tactics or goals in the C-suite is critical, it isn’t enough to move the needle; organizations must also hold themselves accountable to these goals by making their current numbers and their aspirations public. 

Kiersten Barnet, Deputy Chief of Staff at Bloomberg LP, sees similar value in using measurable data and data disclosure to achieve gender parity. 

“Without data, our goal of gender equality is a hunch,” she said, “and being socially responsible and seeing returns aren’t mutually exclusive.” 

In her speech on “How Gender Equality Drives Shareholder Value,” Barnet emphasized that millennials and women are the “catalysts of change” in the modern workforce. When considering employment, they tend to consider a company’s level of social responsibility, making it integral to recruiting top talent. 

When Bloomberg realized investors were seeking a metric for companies’ equality, they developed their Gender Equality Index (GEI), which launched in 2016. The GEI provides data on corporate gender parity by measuring 67 data points that contribute to a company’s diversity — from how many women take maternity leave to how equal a company’s pay really is. This makes equality data standardized and disclosed. 

The 2018 index included 104 companies across all sectors headquartered in 24 countries and regions, and despite the range of employers included,  Bloomberg discovered one commonality among them: all of the GEI companies outperformed the general pool in several data points, which is likely a result of these companies’ transparency. 

Barnet noted that based on Bloomberg’s GEI data, women representation on boards, women represented in the top 10 percent compensated group, women represented in revenue producing roles, and representation of multicultural women were all important to gender parity. In addition,, employee resource groups for women, paid parental leave, unconscious bias training, formal employee development programs, and flexible work schedules and locations helped to boost gender parity in organizations. 

Like Robbins and Barnet, Leanne Pittsford, founder of Lesbians Who Tech, believes in using data. She suggests leveraging it to create a sense of urgency to recruit and include underrepresented people. Lesbians Who Tech enforces a quota of having 50 percent of speakers at their events be people of color, and saw almost 40 percent Black and Latinx attendance at one of their latest conferences. 

"I want a CEO to come out and say, 'We’re going to be X percent women and X percent Black and Latinx by this year,’” Pittsford says. “Incentives aren’t in place right now, and they need to be to start that shift to gender parity,” she says. “We need to keep up the urgency and keep the pressure on these companies.” 

Sheri B. Bronstein, Global Human Resources Executive at Bank of America Corporation, says the bank has been able to use data to diversify its workforce.

“We said, ‘Let’s break down the data by every level of the organization,’ If you have some good analytical people, it’s not too much to deliver on,” she told the crowd. 

Bronstein explained that breaking down diversity data by metrics like employment level, ethnicity, and geography has given Bank of America a more holistic picture not only of what their employee base looks like — so they can implement useful retention efforts — but also a more holistic picture of the “why” behind their employee demographics. 

Bronstein says the more diverse a company’s employees are, the more likely customers are to identify with and build an emotional attachment to a brand.