Cultivating and engaging the talents of women in the work place makes business sense for everyone. Research shows that teams that include both men and women outperform single-gender teams. The presence of more women on Fortune 500 corporate boards is associated with better stock growth and lower risk of insolvency. Yet engaging fully the talents of women remains a challenge for many organizations.
According to Women in the Workplace 2016, a comprehensive study of women in corporate America, 78% of companies report that commitment to gender diversity is a top priority for their CEO, but fewer than half of employees believe their company is doing what it takes to improve gender diversity. Promotion rates for women fall behind those of men and the gap is largest in the first step up the ladder to manager. The study reports that women receive less access to senior leaders and opportunities that can advance their career. Women of color are the most underrepresented in the corporate pipeline, holding 3% of C-suite positions. The study concludes that women fall behind early and continue to lose ground. As a result, they remain underrepresented throughout the corporate pipeline.
Greenville’s business community is committed to a more inclusive workplace, and leaders recognize that a more diverse workforce leads to a stronger organization. To help advance women’s leadership, the ATHENA Leadership Symposium, a part of the Greenville Chamber’s Diversity and Inclusion initiative, was created to foster women leaders and highlight best practices for engaging the talents of women in the workforce. The annual symposium, now in its fifth year, was conceived by the recipients of the Chamber’s ATHENA Award. These women, recognized for excellence in their fields and leadership in the community are: Chandra Dillard, Anne Ellefson, Lynn Faust, Jo Hackl, Susan Hoag, Jennie Johnson, Barbara League, Susan Lill, Xanthene Norris, Judith Prince, Patricia Haskell Robinson, Michelle Shain, Minor Mickel Shaw, Diane Smock, Deb Sofield, Virginia Uldrick, Nancy Whitworth, and Vivian Wong.
The 2016 ATHENA Leadership Symposium will be held on Monday, November 7, from 11:30 AM - 1:30 PM at the TD Convention Center. Susan Story, President and CEO of American Water, the largest publicly traded U.S. water and wastewater utility company, is the keynote speaker. At the Symposium the ATHENA Organizational Award will be presented. This award is designed to honor organizations that support and develop women leaders and provides an opportunity to share best practices throughout our community.
The criteria for the award includes: a diverse governing board, senior leadership demonstrating a commitment to advancing women in leadership roles, initiatives to specifically advance women as leaders, senior women leaders serving as role models for women employees, mentoring women as they develop career plans, setting goals to increase the number of women in leadership and monitoring progress toward those goals, sharing information throughout the organization on women leaders, developing programs to help women balance families and careers, and supporting and developing women leaders in the Greenville community.
Two organizations, Wyche, P.A., and the Greenville Health System have received the Organizational Award, and a third award will be conferred at the upcoming ATHENA symposium. Some best practices used to help maximize the potential of women employees are highlighted below.
- Make developing the talent of women employees a priority and give initiatives visibility within the organization. The old adage that “what gets measured gets done” certainly applies to developing the potential of women employees.
- Sponsor affinity groups. Affinity groups can provide training and support systems to help women employees thrive.
- Be flexible. Flexible workplace policies allow employees, both men and women, to balance career, family and community service.
More initiatives will be highlighted at this year’s ATHENA Leadership Symposium. By sharing information about strategies to engage the talents of women employees, our entire community can become stronger.
About the Authors
Dr. Judith Prince is Professor Emerita of University of South Carolina Upstate. Prince was awarded the Urban League’s 2014 Whitney M. Young, Jr. Humanitarian Award. She chaired the ATHENA Organizational Leadership Award committee. She can be reached here.
Jo Watson Hackl
Jo Watson Hackl is a corporate and securities attorney with Wyche, P.A. She is Past President of the Greenville County Bar Association and is a part of the Women of Wyche initiative. She served on this year’s Organizational Leadership Award committee. She can be reached here.