Below are ten important recommendations supervisors can readily adopt to improve retention for all employees. They are particularly useful for retaining women and employees from underrepresented groups.
- Sponsor female employees and make their accomplishments visible
- Encourage female employees to take on specific roles and challenges
- Ensure that your team recognizes a diversity of communication styles
- Provide female employees with clear opportunities to demonstrate their technical abilities
- Ensure that female employees know "it's not just about technical ability"
- Provide early, ongoing, and specific feedback
- Treat employees as individuals, not as representatives of a group
- Examine task assignments for patterns that subtly disadvantage female employees
- Ensure that performance evaluation instruments or processes are results-based and avoid unconscious biases
- Track recruitment, retention, and advancement
Sponsorship means advocating for employees and showcasing their work in the right places and with the right people. Research shows that women with sponsors are four times more likely to remain with a company than those without a sponsor.
More than 350 studies show that being a minority in a particular environment can significantly reduce confidence and risk-taking but that simple encouragement can be a big help. Never underestimate the power of simply saying, "You should take on this role or apply for this position" or "You did well on this project."
Some employees have been raised to believe that it is immodest to "sing their own praises." Talk with your team about the importance of listening to a range of communication styles -- not just to team members who speak loudly or most often or who feel comfortable talking about their own accomplishments. Actively seek out the perspectives of quieter team members.
Give female employees explicit responsibility for technical assignments with defined deliverables and expectations. This enables women to demonstrate clearly their technical abilities -- something that research shows can be more difficult to do when one is a minority on a team.
Sometimes employees believe that doing a great job is all that is needed to get ahead; however, employees also must be well-rounded in business acumen, company politics, and knowledge of the industry landscape. Communicate this early on and help female employees develop a plan that will enable them to do this.
Do not rely on vague assessments such as "you need to be more of a team player." Make sure all feedback is specific, compares actual performance to expectations, and includes concrete examples of things that have been done well or need to be improved.
Avoid calling attention to employees on the basis of their gender, race/ethnicity, or disabilities. While it is important to remember that members of underrepresented groups can share some similar experiences, do not treat employees as "token representatives" who can speak for an entire identity group.
Women are often assigned or feel compelled to take less visible assignments or execution rather than creative roles. Keep track of which employees get which roles. If patterns emerge, ask whether these patterns are based on actual ability or if they might be based on unconscious assumptions.1
Use concrete examples to support all evaluative statements. Make sure that promotion and resource allocation policies do not unfairly penalize employees (e.g., for utilizing flextime, working from home).2
Keep tabs on the demographics of candidates who are interviewed and who accept positions, as well as employees who stay, leave, are promoted, and receive pay raises. This information will help you identify how well you are meeting your goals and where improvement is needed.
This resource was produced in partnership with the Mid-career Project Team of NCWIT's Workforce Alliance.
- Supervising-in-a-Box Series: Full Series at ncwit.org/resource/supervising/