Make Promotions Fair. Currently, a woman’s career journey deviates from a man’s right at the beginning with men advancing 21% more at the first level of promotion. This translates into pay inequity at the very first rung of the ladder, and compounds over time, making it nearly impossible for women to catch up to their male peers. Even worse, according to the 2018 Women in the Workplace report, only 38% of companies set targets for gender representation across levels and only 42% hold senior leaders accountable for making progress toward gender parity. If we want a new reality for women, we have to first acknowledge the current status quo and put systems in place to change it.
As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the gender wage gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Addie Swartz. Addie is the founder and CEO of reacHIRE and a leading voice on how to support and advance professional women at all stages of their careers. Under her leadership, reacHIRE has grown from a pioneering Boston-based company focused exclusively on the return-to-work market, to the new digital platform Aurora, offering Fortune 500 companies solutions for engaging and retaining early-career women, mid-career women and returning women.
Thank you so much for joining us, Addie! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?
Thanks for having me! Empowering women has always been my passion. As CEO of reacHIRE, I work with Fortune 500 companies and talent innovators to help women thrive at all ages & stages of their careers — from young professionals via our exciting new Aurora platform, to returners using reacHIRE’s proven return-to-work cohort model.
Can you share a story about the funniest or most interesting mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Aside from going to work one day wearing two different shoes, my most interesting mistake still guides me today. When I was early in my career at a major software company, I was assigned a mentor from senior management. And while I was thankful for her time, the relationship never became more than the obligatory annual check in. We just didn’t have common projects that bound us together.
Yet, a few years later, I was a fledgling entrepreneur in need of a smart, seasoned professional to serve as a sounding board and advisor. Suddenly it dawned on me. I knew exactly who to call! United in a combined mission, she helped me grow the company to its eventual acquisition. Her impact on my career was so significant it is why mentors and guides are such an integral part of our Aurora platform today.
Recently, I met with a woman who spent her whole career as a developer in the tech space. I wanted to explore her interest in taking a significant tech role at my company. When I learned that she was newly (and happily) retired, I let it go. But a few weeks later, I had an idea. What if I asked her to help me recruit the tech talent I was looking for directly? With her deep experience and wide network, I knew she could help me find the right person for the role. And while she wasn’t a professional recruiter, she had attracted and developed talent her entire career! So I reached back out to her to see if she was interested in helping me fill the open technology role at reacHIRE. Within a few short few weeks, we had an amazing new employee.
I learned from these experiences, and countless others, that there are never any dead ends. If you think creatively and drive with your eyes open, everything and everyone can lead you somewhere.
Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. Even in 2019, women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. Can you explain three of the main factors that are causing the wage gap?
While there are multiple factors contributing to the wage gap, the three that are most detrimental to women’s advancement are also the most fixable problems. Here are three changes reacHIRE is working to positively impact for professional women today:
- Make Promotions Fair. Currently, a woman’s career journey deviates from a man’s right at the beginning with men advancing 21% more at the first level of promotion. This translates into pay inequity at the very first rung of the ladder, and compounds over time, making it nearly impossible for women to catch up to their male peers. Even worse, according to the 2018 Women in the Workplace report, only 38% of companies set targets for gender representation across levels and only 42% hold senior leaders accountable for making progress toward gender parity. If we want a new reality for women, we have to first acknowledge the current status quo and put systems in place to change it.
One of reacHIRE’s partner companies has “calibration meetings” where multiple people come together to discuss a person being considered for promotion. Employees know what they are being evaluated on, the information is set with context, and women have more confidence that the process is fair.
2. Elevate more women into leadership positions. While women make up 48% of entry level positions, only 22% of women make it to the C-Suite. And despite popular belief, only 2% of women leave the workforce to focus on family, proving that attrition is not to blame for the huge drop-off in women at senior levels. The dearth of women at management levels impacts the gender wage gap because we know from implicit bias research that people hire and promote people like themselves. When 80% of women report to a male superior, Joe is going to advance more than Josephine.
3. Build a networking structure for women. According to new research from Harvard Business Review, men and women require different networks to achieve the executive positions with the highest levels of authority and pay. While men and women both benefit from diverse networks of contacts, women also need an inner circle of female contacts, despite having similar qualifications to men including education and work experience.
For companies, the confirmation that women with stronger female networks are more likely to achieve better job placement, higher pay and more leadership opportunities offers an exciting opportunity to help women engage one another as role models, mentors and collaborators.
Can you share with our readers what your work is doing to help close the gender wage gap?
reacHIRE delivers solutions that strengthen and replenish the talent pipeline so future women leaders are equally represented at all levels. We see the systems and structures holding women back and are committed to being a part of the change that needs to happen.
reacHIRE’s Aurora digital platform is designed to help Fortune 500 companies engage, retain and advance professional women early in their careers. Aurora lets companies meet women where they are and provide immediate access to a larger community. Women connect virtually with peers and experienced guides to help them successfully navigate work challenges, celebrate successes and reach new heights personally and professionally. Setting goals, achieving wins, and sharing real-life stories are all part of the Aurora experience to help women succeed.
We also know that in order to close the gender wage gap, we need more experienced women in middle management roles today. One of the best ways to bring more women into the talent pipeline is to tap into the more than 1.6 million women with advanced degrees and years of experience currently on the sidelines. reacHIRE offers the most comprehensive, successful, return-to-work programs in the country, working with industry-leading partners like Fidelity, Wayfair, Deloitte & T-Mobile.
We hand select returner candidates based on the unique needs of client partners who are deeply committed to gender diversity. These experienced women work together in cohorts through custom training that updates their knowledge, enhances their skills & builds a community of peers. 100% of companies that choose reacHIRE’s programs sign on for repeat, expanded engagements.
Filling the pipeline with women returners helps balance the decision makers and create a more fair and inclusive advancement system for men and women.
Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the gender wage gap. Please share a story or example for each.
- Flex the Flexibility. The more flexibility we offer women, the less they will opt out of the workforce. We practice what we preach at reacHIRE and have many different flavors of what work looks like. We are always meeting women where they are which often means different things to different people at different times.
- Put more focus on young girls and confidence. Research shows that women struggle with confidence including the infamous imposter syndrome, especially in the beginning of their career. While confidence grows with experience, we need to support girls earlier as a society so they can learn the mindsets and methods that promote action and resilience from Day One of their professional journey.
- Embrace the Coaching Culture. Kids have coaches for everything today but when they step into the workforce, they are often left to their own devices, with no roadmap to go from point A to point B. That’s a shock to the system for a lot of young professionals, who are used to support every step of the way. As a society, we need to create structures that mirror how young men and women receive support and encouragement today.
- Reshape Antiquated Gender Responsibilities. There is a lot of caregiving work that has to be done everywhere — home, family, work, extended families, etc. and women assume the lion’s share of the work. Even at the office, a study by Hive showed that women are more likely than men to do “non-promotable tasks,” or tasks that are beneficial to the organization but that do not result in career advancement.
- Better childcare options. Quality child care is expensive and requires a lot of time, attention and coordination. The more companies can support parents and offer them creative solutions for child care, the easier it will be for working mothers and fathers to bring their best selves to work.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I believe potential is all around us. In business, we are conditioned to look at resumes to fill roles based on specific job requirements and similar experiences. But what if we put more focus on potential and create corporate systems to cultivate and achieve it?
I’ve started three companies committed to helping women realize their potential. BrightIdeas, my first, set the stage for the return-to-work movement in 1992 by providing tech-savvy women the chance to work flexibly from home while introducing their communities & schools to educational software that enhanced learning in and outside of the classroom. The Beacon Street Girls featured a positive world for girls via fictional stories and a virtual junior high, creating a positive role model-based brand, to help young women navigate their teenage issues — providing them confidence & community.
At reacHIRE, we are inspiring a movement for women age 22 to “whatever and two“ to go after their potential. We want companies to recognize that potential is more than just what’s listed on a resume, or a similar role at a different company. Every day, we are working to replace the boxes that limit potential with the bridges that carry women anywhere and everywhere they want to go.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’ve always loved Oscar Wilde’s quote “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
For me, it speaks to embracing individuality and recognizing all the potential you have in yourself and others. We need to see each other’s unique gifts, and harness the pure energy of potential for our families, our work and our communities.
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.