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#BreakTheBias and make Women’s History Month a year-long cause.

Mike Smith International Women's Day #BreakTheBias Randstad Sourceright

Earlier this month we celebrated International Women’s Day, and as Women’s History Month comes to a close, we’re faced with an inflection point in the development of the female workforce around the world. If we don’t support their participation in the labor market, if we don’t help them regain lost earnings and career progress, if we don’t promote them to the corner office, there will be long-term repercussions for the world economy and the welfare of women everywhere. We will also lose out on great leaders who serve as inspiration and mentors for us all.

So many outstanding women leaders at Randstad have shaped the leader that I am today. Jane Adams, the hiring manager who brought me on, was a great mentor who provided great insights on selling, articulating value propositions and achieving success through determination, tenacity and a growth mindset. As a young graduate she taught me how to manage fears and anxiety in the workplace.

Deb Loveridge, the managing director of Randstad’s APAC region, taught me how to nurture leadership traits such as empathy, connectedness and trust in people. Rebecca Henderson, the CEO of Randstad Global Businesses, shared lessons on being a strategic thinker, great sales leader and fearlessness — all the while being a grounded and personal executive.

Women at all levels — from graduates to senior executives — left the workforce at alarming numbers during the past two years, after their ranks had been growing for some time. We need to make sure that the next Janes, Debs and Rebeccas remain on course to develop their strengths and make a tangible impact on the world of work.

disproportionate losses in the global crisis

According to the World Bank, female labor force participation rates had been rising steadily from 2012 to 2019, but fell sharply in 2020. Even as employment began recovering in 2021, many women remained sidelined. A recent LinkedIn study revealed that during the period from May 2020 to February 2021, some women were out of the labor market for as much as 40% longer than they would have been a year earlier (compared with 27% for men).

A report published in the Lancet found that women have been more negatively affected socially and economically than men. From March 2020 to September 2021, women were more likely to have lost work (26%) than men (20%). Females were also more likely to drop out of school and suffer gender-based violence than males. An additional analysis by the National Women's Law Center in the U.S. found that female employment as of January of this year is still down by 1.8 million.

In light of these startling findings, the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day — #BreakTheBias — seems especially relevant. Even in the most advanced economies, women continue to face discrimination in society and the workplace.

Consider this: last year saw the highest number of female CEOs heading up Fortune 500 companies at 41. While some may consider this significant progress, women still only account for just 8.1% of those on the list. And just two Black women headed up companies on the list.

So while hiring, particularly in the U.S., has been brisk in recent months, women still need support and resources to recover much of the economic ground lost during the pandemic.

Company leaders we surveyed as part of our 2022 Talent Trends research found that promoting workforce diversity, including inclusive representation around gender, is critical to many companies' growth ambitions. Nearly two-fifths of C-suite and HR executives say a strong diversity strategy means a broad range of talents, skills and experiences across their workforce, driving creativity and innovation. One-third also say it also helps with talent attraction, employer branding and retention.

the path for women leaders

To help women get back on track, we need to address chronic challenges. Firstly, ingrained discriminatory practices still exist in workplaces around the world. A recent poll of American women found that almost half have made career changes due to sexism in the workplace, and 40% said they were held back because of their gender.

As a male leader in an organization that values diversity and equity, I believe the most effective way to overcome biases is through commitment to change. Throughout the Randstad group of companies, we have and continue putting mechanisms in place to help ensure women have equal opportunities for career advancement. Initiatives include a new global business resource group for women and mentorship programs at all levels. Today, more than half of manager roles at our organization are held by female leaders.

Female representation at the top matters; it not only demonstrates fair career paths for women at an organization, but it's also how inclusive cultures often get created.

At Randstad, we have very diverse female leaders with a range of backgrounds and experiences who provide different perspectives on everything from innovation in our talent solutions and best practices, to driving flexibility and productivity for our own workforce. These perspectives reflect the experiences of our broader workforce, the talent we work with and certainly the clients we support. Our female leaders add to the cultural richness that make us representative of the communities we live in and serve.

closing the skills gap

Another key reason why women have fallen behind in the world of work is the lack of updated skills. The pandemic accelerated digital transformation during the past two years, and women in industries that rapidly shifted to a digital business model often lost their jobs because they lacked the right skills. According to the European Commission’s 2021 Women in Digital Scoreboard, a significant gender gap exists in specialist digital skills. For example, the report found that only 19% of ICT specialists and only one-third of science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates are female.

To bring more women back into the rapidly transforming global economy, we need to make careers in these fields accessible and welcoming so they remain marketable for the foreseeable future. For those who have been displaced, governments and employers may have to develop programs that help identify their skills gap and provide training and development so they can quickly go back to work.

hold yourself responsible and accountable

Finally, allyship is an important pillar for facilitating working women’s efforts to regain the progress they achieved pre-COVID. Breaking the bias means asking your female workforce how they could be better supported, recognizing barriers to their advancement and growth, and taking steps to remove those barriers.

While I may not have walked in the shoes of my female co-workers and experienced the biases that they have endured, I can take time to listen and empathize with their struggles to better shape policies within the company. I urge you all to do the same and to examine the ways in which you can make a difference regardless of your role.

International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month come once a year, but hopefully the learnings we take away from it permanently stay with us. As you celebrate the professional accomplishments and gains women are making in the post-pandemic world of work, I hope you can appreciate that these achievements have not been easy. That’s why it’s more important than ever to #BreakTheBias.

Learn more about steps you can take to build a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace. Explore additional insights here.

about the author

As chief executive of Randstad Enterprise, Mike Smith intentionally drives a culture of innovation and collaboration across our Enterprise businesses to build long-term client relationships with the world’s largest corporations. He consistently brings Randstad's “tech and touch” thinking to client conversations to solve complex talent challenges and create sustainable business value and agility.

Profile Photo of Mike Smith