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It’s well-known that the pandemic disproportionately impacted women in the workforce. With the increased amount of caregiving necessitated by lockdowns, women, who still perform the majority of those roles, were forced to drop out of the workforce at an alarming rate.

More than two years since the start of the pandemic, there are still 808,000 fewer women in the labor force compared to February 2020. By comparison, male workers regained all jobs they had lost as a result of the pandemic by January of this year. Today, there are 693,000 more men in the labor force than in February 2020.

This situation only exacerbated an issue that tech has been grappling with for a while now, which is the lack of women within our ranks, and begs for change.

One of our mandates as HR leaders is to create teams where everyone can thrive regardless of their background, origin, or any other differentiating factors. Exposure to diversity has been proven to improve innovation, creativity and problem-solving skills — attributes that every tech company values for their ability to affect the bottom line. In fact, companies with a diverse workforce are 35% more likely to experience greater financial returns than their non-diverse counterparts.

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In other words, it’s high time that we increase the presence of women within our ranks.

Female hiring starts with an inclusive culture

Hiring and retention are major challenges for today’s organizations, as demand for both technical and soft skills confront the Great Resignation. An organizational culture that drives a sense of belonging in the workplace is a critical asset in this environment.

An inclusive culture helps its members feel connected, valued and vital to the enterprise, enabling them to positively impact their organization. This sense of belonging is highly correlated with business success: Employees who feel they belong are comfortable being their authentic selves, which helps foster psychological safety and positive employee engagement. Ultimately, this contributes to drastically greater performance (high belonging is linked to a 56% increase in job performance) and, in the long run, higher retention.

This is where the heart of empowerment and hiring lies. By creating a culture of inclusivity, employers can lay the groundwork for women to be heard, valued and set up for success in the workplace, and, in the process, cultivate an environment of respect and trust that applicants will be drawn to.

Designing a more inclusive hiring process

In the ideal workplace, everyone works together as a single team towards clear, common goals. Companies that fully recognize the value of teamwork understand the crucial importance of nurturing a culture in which everyone has a voice and can make an impact, regardless of their demographic group. This all begins with a company’s hiring process.

My company employs people in more than 80 offices in over 28 different countries, which gives us the opportunity to experience multiple cultures. It’s important to us to go beyond that baseline, however, and ensure gender diversity within our ranks. So we set ourselves a goal: 25% of our new hires in 2022 would be women. While this may seem like a small number, it’s an aggressive target in the technology and telecom industries, which are notorious for their underrepresentation of women.

As we embarked on this hiring goal, we learned some huge lessons about creating equal opportunities for all employees and putting forth initiatives to further diversify our workforce. These included:

Put inclusion first; diversity will follow

Don’t just look to hire diverse candidates, knowing that it would be very hard to make them feel represented. Before working on hiring, take the lay of the land: Talk to your current employees to understand what’s working and where you need to focus your efforts to drive inclusiveness and belonging within your teams. It’s important to ensure current employees feel respected for their individual talents and for their ability to grow based on their motivation and skills. This will lay the foundation for inclusion, as employees must feel respected and valued if you want to become an employer of choice to a diverse workforce.

By starting your diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) journey with an understanding of how your people feel, you can address internal weaknesses and simultaneously identify successes that should be maintained and replicated. This may include conducting a DEI employee survey, which will allow your team to get a complete viewpoint across all global regions and set a baseline for your DEI efforts. Questions should seek to determine things such as how many employees feel like they are valued and respected by their colleagues regardless of their demographic background and whether men and women feel like they have equal opportunities to advance.

Take a holistic approach, but work gradually

DEI is a long-term proposition. Focus on one community to start, and use the results of these efforts to start building a community of people within your organization that can help scale DEI to additional populations, creating a virtuous cascade effect.

For example, companies may decide to invest more time in working with managers on how to avoid biases that could affect advancement opportunities between men and women. This can include launching a series of workshops, lectures and webinars on various DEI topics for managers. Key components can include training hiring managers on how to create job descriptions that appeal to female candidates and reviewing hiring processes to ensure that there are no unintended biases. Once managers are trained, you can then make resources available to all employees, leveraging management to help promote inclusive practices.

Make objectives visible and drive transparency

People want to stay with companies that embrace who they are. So, make it easy for applicants to understand who you are as an organization and the role inclusion plays by making a public commitment to share your DEI goals. Communicate why inclusivity is a core part of your culture and how it helps define your organization on your website, blog and career pages. On social media and other external media, ensure you’re highlighting female employees and leaders, and their collective accomplishments. This allows candidates to easily understand how inclusivity relates to your values and actually see those values in action. Then, build a regular cadence to share ongoing progress toward those goals and to demonstrate the value of your efforts and how you plan to continue improving.

Much more to accomplish in female hiring

As we have followed these practices, almost 30% of the new hires we welcomed so far this year have been women. Now that we’ve surpassed our initial target, we’re moving ahead with a charter to have women hold 30% of all management positions by 2030. Reaching that goal will require access to female talent that is ready to lead, address the obstacles that women face when pursuing management positions and create a community for change. Fortunately, these best practices have laid a solid foundation for inclusivity that will make attaining this goal possible.

While we’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish so far, there is more the industry can collectively be doing to create a more inclusive work environment, elevate the presence of women and expand diversity efforts across the board. Only by making real, measurable commitments to foster inclusivity will the technology industry finally create workplaces that are more representative of the world we live in.

Petrena Ferguson serves as SVP of HR at Ribbon.

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