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Want to attract women to leadership positions in your organization? Consider implementing a “returnship” program for women who may have left the workforce during the pandemic.

That’s one of five suggestions in a report released earlier this year by the Society for Human Resource Management.

“Returnships provide valuable opportunities for organizations to access untapped female talent that may have previously been overlooked due to resume gaps,” the report authors write. “Rather than settling for jobs that are not commensurate with their expertise, programs like these can help women re-enter roles that are better aligned with their experience and knowledge and engage them in meaningful ways consistent with their career goals.”

The report, titled “Women in Leadership: Unequal Access on the Journey to the Top,” is the result of surveys and online interviews of workers, managers and HR professionals.

Organizations can use returnship programs to attract and support male leaders as well, SHRM says. The organization’s chief of staff and head of government affairs, Emily M. Dickens, notes, however, that “women are still underrepresented in the C-suite.”

Key findings of the research noted in the report provide food for thought:

  • Female managers (55%) are more likely than their male counterparts (42%) to aspire to a higher-level role because they think they would be good at it.
  • 61% of women, compared with 71% of men, say that their manager encourages them to grow in their career.
  • Female managers are less likely than male managers (78% versus 86%) to say that employees in their organization are made aware of internal job openings.
  • Female managers are less likely than their male counterparts (40% versus 48%) to have reached their current roles by being promoted internally.
  • As women move from individual contributors to managers, they become more likely to believe that women in their organization are given fewer opportunities for upward career growth than men (24% versus 37%).
  • White female managers (65%), and especially female managers of color (57%), are less likely to feel included in key networks at their organization than do male managers of color (68%) and white male managers (73%).
  • Female managers of color (56%) are much less likely to believe that they can talk about their personal lives with others at work without feeling judged than white female managers (70%), male managers of color (72%) and white male managers (79%).
  • Female managers with caregiving responsibilities outside of work (35%) are more likely to have experienced a pandemic-related career setback than their male counterparts (26%).
  • Only half (52%) of human resources professionals believe that senior leaders in their organizations are held accountable for ensuring that male and female employees have equitable access to career paths or opportunities that lead to leadership roles.

In addition to returnship programs, the society has four other suggestions that organizations can use to act on this information and better support all workers along their way to becoming leaders:

  1. Develop a realistic, meaningful diversity, equity and inclusion strategy for the leadership pipeline that is aligned with your organization’s mission, vision and values.
  2. Track and examine key DEI metrics to identify gaps in your leadership pipeline and gauge progress toward your goals. “Organizations also shouldn’t overlook pay equity and retention rates as key measures of an equitable pipeline,” the authors state.
  3. Identify hidden biases that may exist along the leadership pipeline and that create unequal access to important resources or advancement opportunities. Periodic audits and training for people managers can help ensure equal support for men and women, according to the report.
  4. Create more inclusive workplace cultures that foster a sense of belonging for all staff members at all levels. Employees who believe their workplaces are excellent at being inclusive are less likely to actively look for other work and more likely to recommend their employer to others as a great place to work, according to SHRM.

“In a climate where it’s harder than ever to source and retain talent, it’s imperative that business leaders take a closer look at the gender gaps that exist across their organizations to see that every employee has the opportunity to realize their full potential,” Dickens said.

These insights can help you take a step in the right direction.

An executive summary of the report is online.

Lois A. Bowers is the editor of McKnight’s Senior Living. Read her other columns here.