How to Promote Female Talent in Your Practice

Richard Gawel
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To help companies recruit, retain, and promote female talent — and to help these women crack the glass ceiling themselves — founder Jennifer Owens of the Working Mother Research Institute revealed key trends of successful companies uncovered by the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE) at the Greater New York Dental Meeting (GNYDM).

“There’s no single recipe for what works,” said Owens. “If there were, we wouldn’t be here.”

Each year, NAFE’s Top 50 Companies for Executive Women report asks businesses to complete a 250-question survey asking them about female representation at all levels, particularly among corporate officers and profit-and-loss leadership. It also tracks access to programs and policies that encourage female advancement, as well as manager training and accountability for that progress.

According to Owens, the companies that offer the best environments for working women share 4 characteristics: career development programs, manager training, CEO engagement, and a focus on health and wellness. For example, CEOs need to support efforts to encourage career growth among their female employees, conducting meetings to assess progress towards these goals, and even tying pay to achieving them.

“We believe what gets measured gets done,” said Owens.

Health and wellness benefits also are vital, as they can affect employee productivity, absenteeism, and turnover, all of which have an effect on the business’ bottom line, too. With this in mind, NAFE reports that a third of the companies it surveyed offer nap rooms for women who, for instance, have just returned from maternity leave.

“Can you have an onsite nap room? Probably not,” Owens said. “But it’s important to know what the big companies are doing and then picking up what you can use in your own small business.”

Dentists who have their own practices can apply many of these traits and techniques to their offices, Owens said. Dentists can begin by communicating to their employees that they have careers, not just jobs. They also should back that up by investing in developing the skills of those employees. Dentists then should mind how they present themselves as the leader of the team, which impacts job satisfaction too.

“That satisfaction is what will keep them there,” Owens said. “And if you’ve invested in them, because we all invest in our employees, you want to keep them because you don’t want that investment to walk out the door.”

Still, many businesses still present obstacles for female employees to overcome. Owens noted that workplaces in general are built on a model where one spouse stays home to take care of the family, while the other can be an ideal employee elsewhere. As a result, workplaces aren’t set up for complicated lives with dual careers, child care, elder care, chronic illnesses, or more.

Also, there are fewer women at the top, so many women simply don’t see themselves as potential leaders. Bias continues as well, Owens said, via micro-inequalities, mommy tracks, and other less overt practices. So for women, opportunities are lagging. While women represented 51% of the employees at the companies surveyed, Owens said, they only received 45% of the promotions.

“It’s clicking up one percentage point, 2 percentage points,” Owens said. “But when it comes to representation or participation, it’s always slow.”

Yet women aren’t powerless. NAFE also examined 5 traits that successful women share: a prowess for persuasiveness, a focus to set and reach goals, a talent for team building, a strong sense of self, and the courage to break the rules. And while companies may not have a specific checklist of these qualities to use during interviews, they do value them.

“I think that companies innately look for them,” Owens said. “I think the women who have them are doing well.”

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