Many companies realize the importance of fostering an environment that focuses on a diverse and inclusive culture. It’s increasingly understood that an effective way to foster diversity and inclusion is to create a work environment that women are able to grow in and make positive, impactful contributions. Women currently make up over half of the U.S. workforce according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and that percentage is expected to grow over the next few years. In addition, they’re educated – women earn fifty-seven percent of degrees. Focusing on them as highly skilled contributors to your organization is simply good business practice.

However, it can be easy for organizations to focus on in attracting female talent and forget the importance of putting practices in place that will retain them. Recruiting focuses on the short-term appeal that makes female talent (or any talent) interested in joining your organization – a brand image that people would like to be associated with, being a leader in your industry, a good benefits package, or roles that look promising by title and responsibility. But what happens when women get in your organization and realize the external perception is far from what they experience everyday?

Your organization loses because when women leave, it costs you time, money, and knowledge that can impact business results. A 2020 McKinsey study shows that the relationship between gender diverse leadership and business performance is strong – companies who invest in diverse talent see above-average profitability. Simply put, when women leave your organization, your bottom line “feels” it.

So how do you keep female talent and benefit from their contributions? The following are five ways I believe you can:

1. Make Inclusion and Diversity Your Priority.

There’s a lot of hype around building a diverse workplace today but diversity must be accompanied with inclusiveness – and your female talent will know the difference. Diversity focuses on the make-up of your organization, but inclusiveness focuses on creating an environment that allows those in your organization to thrive. If you focus on just “hiring more women” but you don’t create a culture where their contributions, differences, and leadership abilities are valued, and provide equal access to opportunities, you will not retain talented women. It will become evident in your policies, promotional opportunities, and rewards systems that they are the “other” group instead of valuable members of the team.

Consider companies policies that might impact women differently than men like time off or maternity leave, assess whether your senior executives reflect inclusiveness or if it’s homogeneous, and consider whether you’ve had honest conversations about how women of color may have another set of needs in your organization. Build a culture that makes women – of all backgrounds – feel welcomed instead of isolated.

 Pulse check: Are you as intentional about building an inclusive culture as you are about creating a diverse one?

2. Focus on Mentorship and Sponsorship.

The focus should be on mentoring and sponsoring women at various levels in the company because they are your pipeline of leaders. Show your high potential female talent that you are invested in their long-term success by connecting them to leaders who can help them prepare for the next stage of growth in their career. Providing a role model or mentorship program can make a big difference for women who want to advance their career. A Women in Technology survey by Capital One found that 75% of women remained in tech careers if they had role models at their companies. In industries that are traditionally ‘male-dominated’, it is especially important for female employees to have the support of their leaders, who should be encouraged to sponsor or mentor other employees.

Sponsorship plays a pivotal role in advancing women because it provides access to promotional opportunities for women who have the potential to move up and take on more leadership responsibilities. One way to implement this within your organization is use a sponsorship spectrum, which is a useful tool for women who are trying to move up in the organization. It also gives the sponsors a baseline to see how they can help female talent. Sponsors can use their influence within the organization to help move women along the spectrum and provide stepping-stones to the top. Pairing a sponsor with a high potential female employee for a period of time can have a huge impact on her career path.

Women who want to advance their careers cannot do so without the advocacy of senior leadership within the organization. Make a commitment to build a bridge between your leaders and women moving up within your organization.  

 Pulse Check: Have you established a way for senior leaders to connect with and develop female talent? 

3. Ensure Salary and Benefits are Equitable.

Retaining female talent is not all about money, but you should be compensating all employees fairly given their skills and expertise. Women in the workplace are very aware of the gender pay gap so create practices that encourage consistent compensation across job levels. If it has not been looked at recently, this is a great time to review your benefits package and make sure it is within (or exceeds) the standards in your industry. If you find that disparities exist in pay for equal roles, identify what practices within the organization perpetuate these gaps and address them. One way to lose female talent is to underpay them – particularly if they are highly skilled. You’re essentially training them to leave, which is counterproductive to your retention efforts.

 While equal pay is important, benefits such as flexibility are just as important for many women. As the primary caregivers at home, balancing professional and personal live can be difficult. A flexibility policy can be an asset to female employees that are looking to achieve a work-life balance. For example, this may be providing flex work hours or remote work options on certain days. 

Pulse Check: Are you tracking pay equity and benefits in your organization? 

4. Offer Peer Connection and Support Groups.

In addition, an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for women is a way for females to share ideas and concerns to help impact the bottom line. An ERG is a network of underrepresented employees that come together based on common interests. The groups are voluntary, employer-approved but led by employees. Is there an opportunity for women to connect and share as peers in your company? If not, it’s time to create one. For example, a monthly lunch dedicated to this can be easily incorporated and help female talent feel connected and supported within the organization. This will also create a cohesive work environment that focuses on diversity and inclusion.

 Pulse check: Is there a peer support group for the women in your organization?

5. Place an Emphasis on Their Professional Development. 

By committing to female talent’s professional development, women will gain new skills and excel in their jobs. Examples include giving them access to conferences, courses, education, and tuition reimbursement to further their careers. Providing opportunities for stretch assignments or to lead new projects that develop their skills and give them more visibility to leaders in the organization can be another way to retain women. For women who value building out their portfolio of skills or new challenges, these assignments can keep them engaged and accelerate their growth. In the long run, it provides them with the opportunity to apply these new learned skills and knowledge to other projects. And of course, your organization benefits from their expanded suite of skills.

 Pulse check: What opportunities exist for women to expand their skillsets in your organization?

The COVID-19 Challenge

While these tips are helpful in developing a company culture that attracts female talent in a regular work environment, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented additional hurdles for organizations to navigate when it comes to retaining women employees. Women have often been forced to choose more flexible positions because they need to care for their families. Now in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, those challenges have been highlighted even more predominantly. The pandemic caused a large percentage of the workforce in the U.S. to work remotely. As schools across the nation closed, parents were left with the daunting task of caring for and helping to educate their children as well as continue to perform well at their jobs.

Organizations need to remain mindful of the challenges the last year has presented, as well as the continued issues that lie ahead with the pandemic. Providing female employees with flexibility and understanding in what they also might be facing in their personal lives currently will go a long way in their satisfaction with the company.

If there is a perception that other employees are more valued within an organization, there is no incentive for female employees to stay. Companies that care about the future of their business need to place on emphasis on diversity and inclusion when it comes to women, and women of color. Creating such a culture will ensure that high performing female talent feel valued by your company, and in turn will be productive and less likely to look for a job elsewhere.