With the increase in percentage of women making up a large part of the working population, now more than ever, research is being published, it seems daily and yet more are underway to understanding what is contributing to this upward trend and what impact this increase is having on business performance. Not only are more women working in general, there has been a steady yet impressive increase in women in leadership.
In 2009, women held 13.5 percent of Fortune 500 executive officer positions. In 2013, that number grew to 14.6 percent. Women who now occupy seats on the boards of Fortune 500 companies perhaps has shown even more rapid growth, with 9.6 percent reported in 1995 to 16.9 in 2013, according to Catalyst.org in their March 2014 report, Statistical Overview of Women in the Workplace.
One can interpret from these numbers an indication that women are becoming a competitive advantage hence more companies have been prompted to become more “gender diverse” by strategically recruiting women into their organizations.
But this article is not about the strides women are making in business. Rather, this article is about another area of research conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), on trust in the workplace. In their World Leadership Study, “Building Trust In the Workplace – A Key to Retaining Women,” it was discovered that women were less trusting of their bosses than men. Even more revealing was that women indicated they were also less trusting of their co-workers.
Naturally, I wanted to know what was contributing to this lack of trust women were feeling in the workplace. You would think that with women assuming more leadership roles their comfort levels would be high and subsequently their level of trust. This study revealed the exact opposite.
When asked, “How much do you trust the people you work with?” men expressed higher levels of trust than women. Specifically, when it came to trusting their bosses, women were more likely to indicate that they trust their boss “not at all” (9.5%) than men (2.7%).
There were several contributory factors to this lack of trust women felt in the workplace in CCL’s report. One had to do with what women were experiencing at work. While more women are being hired, they continue to lag behind when it comes to equal pay compared to their male counterparts. One can understand this being a factor when it comes to trust. It’s almost like saying you are good enough to hold the position, but not good enough to receive equal pay. This will inevitably lead to trust issues as in any relationship; fairness or equality should have no gender. It is a basic human right.
Another possible contributory factor noted in the report was the introduction of flexible work schedules. Women who weren’t interested in working 80 hours per week opted to take advantage of flexible work schedules in order to maintain that elusive work life balance. The term, “be careful what you ask for” immediately came to mind as I pondered this. While some women wanted to strike that perfect work life balance, they also felt vulnerable to losing their jobs because of it. Whether this fear of losing their jobs is real or imagined, the pressure women are experiencing to work harder and longer in order to stay ahead is real and is at an all time high. Which may translate to some women to mean, “if you can’t keep up, you can’t play in the game.”
Employee trust, gender aside, is extremely important in any organization. If employees can’t trust their employers, managers, or supervisors, they are less likely to be productive. Employee productivity is almost always one of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) used by progressive companies to measure their business and financial performance because low productivity significantly impacts the bottom line.
Here are three simple steps companies can make to build trust in the workplace.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. One of the number one complaints I hear from employees is poor communication up and down their organizations. This communication gap can cause damaging effects on an employee’s sense of belonging; one of the basic human motivational needs according to Maslow’s Classic Hierarchy of Needs theory on motivation.
- Solicit feedback from your employees. Employees often tell me they are not being heard or rather, their opinions are not valued or taken seriously. Further, their employers are not doing a good job at solicited ideas from their staff. Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart developed the “Grass Roots Process.” He believed formal ways of capturing associates’ ideas, suggestions and concerns needed to be a part of the company’s philosophy.
- Resolve conflicts quickly. When conflicts arise as they often do in the workplace, it is important that leadership responds quickly, consistently and fairly. Many relationships go awry due to the mishandling of conflicts on the job. Whether the conflict is between two employees or between an employee and manager, the senior leaders of the organization (which includes human resources) must use conflict resolution techniques to assist employees in “burying the hatchet.”
These three steps, although easier said than done, if implemented will go a long way to rebuilding trust of both women and men in the workplace.
Billie Bowe is the President and CEO of Benchmark Consulting Services Ltd., a management consulting firm with expertise in human resources management. We believe in a global, strategic approach to management consulting. As our clients’ needs change and evolve, we offer solutions that grow along with them. We work as ‘business partners’ with our clients bringing about innovative solutions that are aligned with their business goals and objectives.
Photo courtesy of Anton Petukhov [FLICKR]