New Recruits: Attract Them, Keep Them

If you’ve been reading my articles, you’ve perceived my strong feelings about having a fair number of women on your management and marketing teams if you want to reach female consumers. These days, women-focused recruitment and retention programs are crucial — as boring and “corporate” as those concerns may sound (to me, anyway).

Many of us are at least somewhat familiar with the college-level recruitment tactics of the Fortune 500. In days of yore, droves of my friends, men and women, donned blue suits and pinching shoes in preparation for the campus visits of the accounting-firm and consumer-products biggies. Most of my female friends who took jobs with those corporations moved quickly on, within a year or so, to greener pastures. (My male friends lingered much longer.)

What should companies be doing now to attract and retain such high-potential women?

Semper Fidelis?

Well, it’s not as easy as slapping the term “women’s initiative” on some lame breakfast series for which you’ve budgeted $3,000, hoping it’ll be covered by national press and noticed by a few college women. Your corporation’s recruitment measures need to be in synch with its everyday culture; your potential recruits will notice the disparity if it’s there. Young women are much more savvy about career opportunities and their own potential these days — so look out.

For example, if a prime female candidate reviewed the percentage of women at management level in your company, would she see a steady increase over time? Let’s hope so. A recently released MIT study hit on just this topic for the higher-learning “industry.” It cited an ever-so-minor increase in female professors given tenure over the past decade at nine top universities.

Women entering the workforce can easily study the facts of your corporation and use a rating process, such as that outlined in Working Woman magazine’s list of the Top 25 Companies for Executive Women, to more effectively evaluate your worthiness of her talents.

Finding the Few, the Proud, the In-Demand

Here are a few tips for marketing to female recruits:

  • Start at the beginning. Form a women’s initiative steering committee within your company and poll the committee for ideas on work environment and improvement.

  • Take a women’s overview of your benefits and culture. If beer on tap in the lunchroom does not appeal to them, maybe an in-house concierge will? Take safety into account, such as maintaining a well-lit parking lot. In my book, health club memberships sell well.
  • Encourage relationship building inside and outside of work. Encourage the formation of women’s networks within the company, stress networking opportunities with your industry’s women’s associations, and provide incentives for employee referrals. Get them talking about you at the grass-roots level, and watch the news of your women-friendly workplace spread.
  • Develop high-touch relationships throughout the hiring process. Follow up on interviews with emails or phone calls. Assign a mentor for applicants heading into second and third interviews. Have that relationship continue if the hire is successful. Give an exit interview to applicants who turn down job offers, and stay in touch with the ones that got away.

Organizations that already get high ratings for retaining the best female executives include Target, Scholastic Inc., and IBM. These companies all have a high, and increasing, percentage of women in senior management positions. IBM in particular — yes, the IBM known to recruit blue suits from college campuses — has developed an initiative that includes a few of the suggestions I listed above. As the result of exit interviews with women, it recently expanded the mentoring program for young female managers. And remember, recruiting and retaining the best women in business is not simply a U.S. issue. IBM is taking its comprehensive work/life benefits program global.

It’s Not Just a Job… It’s an Adventure

To grab the attention of the many exceptional women out there who are your potential employees, your company culture — and any special recruitment/retention initiatives you develop — needs to reflect the wealth of possibility available to those who join your ranks.

If your company is offering just a job, these valuable troops will choose to double-time it in another direction, believe me.

And the marketing bonus that ties it all together is that your female consumers will hear about (or discover through your Web site) your company’s benefits package, mentoring programs, concierge services, and other women’s initiatives and think kindly of you when they next go shopping. Or when their college-aged daughters are exploring career opportunities.

You’ve got your orders. Disssss-missed!

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