Building a Corporate Culture for Women

What do women want from a corporate culture? Surprisingly much the same as their male counterparts.

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There are 10 million female entrepreneurs in the U.S. As women continue to join—and lead—the workforce in increasing numbers, it’s more important than ever to consider the creation of company culture that is supportive of women. This means a culture that helps women to realize their ambitions and find success.

But is there such a thing as a corporate culture tailored for women? Or is good company culture just good company culture?

Andrea Simon is an entrepreneur and the founder of Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC). SAMC helps companies to identify changing business environments and implement the best way forward to address them. As part of her advising work, Simon teamed up with researchers in the Netherlands to see what women and men want from their workplace. The results were surprising—both genders want the same.

When it comes down to it, corporate culture ends up being about shared human values. “Of the 3,000 men and 3,000 women interviewed, almost all had the same desires,” says Andrea. “They want to work in a collaborative culture—one that is innovative and allows employees the autonomy to be creative—and one that offers them the ability to make a difference.”

Patricia Moore, president of Moore Design Associates, says she has found the same in her work: that ultimately both men and women have similar goals in the workplace. “They want to feel respected, supported, and that they have the opportunity to create a livelihood,” she says.

The Entrepreneurial Edge

While these values may sound obvious, they aren’t traditionally considered at many large corporations. It’s these values—and subtle, life-affirming ones like it—that therefore offer entrepreneurs an edge when building a business from scratch. For example, says Andrea, “larger mature companies tend to be hierarchical, with decisions being made by senior management, and collaboration considered as time-consuming.”

Andrea says entrepreneurs have the luxury of creating a different culture more aligned to employees’ desires—regardless of gender. And that female entrepreneurs are particularly positioned to capitalize on this important process as collaboration tends to be a more natural skill.

Corporate culture ends up being about shared human values. – Andrea Simon

That’s not to say that all established businesses are off the hook when it comes to creating a healthy corporate culture for women, however. There are specific initiatives businesses can adopt to ensure women that do feel welcome. Being supportive of families is an obvious one. Gay Gaddis, founder of advertising agency T-3, for example, adapted her company’s work environment after three of her most valued staff became pregnant. Speaking to the National Women’s Business Council, she said she asked them to come back to the office with their babies—not just in a nursery, but in the boardroom.

Offering maternity leave or flex-time for mothers can help set a tone that women are highly valued in the workplace. Similarly, providing paternity leave and flex-time for fathers can signal a culture of greater acknowledgement that women shouldn’t be the only ones juggling work with parenting.

Understanding Nuances

Pay equity and diversity within the organization at the highest echelons of company hierarchy are definitely two major ways that business-owners can make clear the culture is as much female-oriented as male-oriented. Yet there are quieter ways as well in which companies can specifically reach out to women. Studies show that in a business setting, when women speak for only 30 percent of a meeting, men tend to feel that women have “dominated” the conversation. Both men and women are also more likely to interrupt a woman than another man. That will impact a woman’s voice as part of any collaborative experience—not solely in a business setting.

Patricia Moore says that if you want to really build a culture that supports both men and women on equal footing, you almost have to become like a psychologist. That is, you should try to get to know not just how genders react differently, but also individuals and their specific personality traits. Patricia’s degree in psychology and counseling has helped her understand the best ways to communicate with people professionally. “For example, women tend to listen more in meetings than talk, but can then be perceived as ‘not having much to add’,” she says. “If you are keen to nurture collaboration, then that may require a different management style to ensure that the thoughtful female voices are heard.”

Andrea Simon calls it “corporate anthropology”: Building a culture that works requires studying the behavior of employees and understanding how they can thrive. She says culture is often the most important part of any business. “Sometimes we tend to think about the results,” says Andrea, “but actually it is by focusing on ‘how to get the results’ that will determine success.”

How to get the best results? Build a company culture that’s good for all of your employees—even if (and especially if) it means shaking up what’s traditionally been considered enough.