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March 27, 2012

Studies show women are key to organizational excellence. Image via United Way of Greater St. Louis on Flickr.

Womenomics” is right up there with the web as a top factor in business in the 21st century. As women have become a stronger influence on the workplace, it’s become increasingly evident that many of the innovative practices designed to attract and retain women have proven to be beneficial for men, too – as well as the bottom line of the company.

The benefits of being a great workplace for women have been observed and studied, along with the dilemmas and issues. A 2007 study found that companies with 30% or more women in senior management achieved higher scores in organizational excellence (areas like leadership, accountability, and innovation) than those with no women. Public companies with flexible workplaces have seen higher stock values than those of their more rigid counterparts.

On the recruiting side, skills shortages are rampant in fields that have had a hard time attracting women. If you’ve tried to hire a web developer lately you’ll understand this firsthand. Other fields with shortages of qualified workers are engineering, IT, and skilled trades – all fields that haven’t succeeded in recruiting women.

The dilemma many women have faced has been to find flexibility and a family-friendly environment and career advancement. Can you make babies and still be the boss? At an increasing number of best companies, the answer is yes.

Leaders from four of Arizona’s best workplaces for women spoke at a panel moderated by Denise Gredler on March 15, at a breakfast celebrating the 25 Best Places to Work for Women. Here are some of their ideas.

Decide what the needs of the organization and its employees are. “Our programs are for working women, not just working mothers”, said Stella Shanovich of Grant Thornton. “We started in 2004 focusing on family issues, and now we’ve shifted our focus to advancement for women.”

Ask the women in your organization what their needs are. American Express provides programs based on employee feedback, according to Tammy Weinbaum. Those programs are then delivered through the Women’s Interest Network (WIN).

Provide a forum or framework for mentoring, networking, and sharing of ideas was a common theme. “Start early, mentor the junior women in your organization”, advised Nicole Goodwin of Quarles & Brady.

A monthly employee breakfast including their families hosted by Dignity Health allows families to become a part of the hospital community. “We also host lunch and learns on women’s issues”, states Maureen Sterbach. While healthcare has long been a female-friendly field, physicians and other highly trained medical staff are still in short supply.  Dignity Health’s decade-long commitment to being a best workplace for women has paid off, since 87% of Dignity’s workforce is female.

Research shows that men may have an even more difficult time balancing the needs of work and family than women. Goodwin points out that both men and women need support in child and elder care. Maureen Sterbach sums up the viewpoint of these great organizations; “Care for those that care for your customers, clients, and patients”. We couldn’t agree more -that’s what being a great place to work is all about.

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