This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.
Women have made inspiring progress in the workplace. Last year, for example, the number (and diversity) of women in the C-suites of Fortune 500 companies reached an all-time high. And yet, despite this progress, women remain highly underrepresented in corporate leadership.
Improving this will bring important benefits. Women often excel in essential leadership capabilities such as professionalism (self-motivation, work ethic, resilience), networking, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking, outperforming men in all but one of 12 different emotional intelligence measures according to a study by the global consulting firm Korn Ferry . Other studies have found that innovative companies benefit from having women at high levels of leadership—and that female leaders are seen as honest and ethical more often than men are.
Building a more nurturing environment for women is part of creating a more inclusive workplace overall, and the subject of a recent Bain & Company study, The Fabric of Belonging: How to Weave an Inclusive Culture. Based on interviews and surveys of more than 10,000 people, of whom 4,500 were women—in seven different countries and across all levels of their organizations—the authors found that women who feel excluded at work are three times more likely to quit than those who feel included.
This is important information for managers battling the Great Resignation and women’s relatively higher level of burnout. Inclusive organizations have an easier time attracting talent across demographics. And a truly inclusive environment is critical for retention. The study found that employees experiencing low inclusion are up to six times more likely to actively pursue new jobs compared with those in similar demographics experiencing high inclusion. Those who feel “fully included” are also much more likely to promote their place of employment to others than those who feel “not at all included”: +71% vs. –83%.
Respondents in a more inclusive organization are much more likely to feel free to innovate and to feel comfortable challenging the status quo. The gains in creative thinking are much higher as inclusion increases in an organization, compared with the gains from increasing diversity alone, the study found. Respondents who viewed their organizations as both diverse and inclusive were the most likely to feel comfortable bringing new ideas to the table.
What makes an employee feel included varies, the report explains, but there are some steps any company can take to begin to build a more inclusive organization:
- Fostering inclusion and gender equity begins at the top, with CEO commitment. They must spearhead change.
- Understanding the precise texture of inclusion for different people in an organization requires considering different aspects of their identities. An intersectional lens that looks, for example, not only at gender but at factors such as geography and race or ethnicity helps identify the best ways to increase inclusion for particular groups of people.
- What people think will make them feel more included does not necessarily match what really improves their experiences. It is therefore important for organizations to gather data, listen to the stories, and incorporate the nuances to make sure they have a deep understanding of their organization’s women and the particular textures of inclusion for them.
- Recognize opportunities to enhance women’s inclusion. For example, daily interactions that employees have with their supervisors (“everyday moments of truth”) during the key period of their careers when they are crystallizing their aspirations can either build or erode their confidence, and offer a critical chance to support their development.
Gender balance in the workplace is not only the right thing to do but is good business as well. Building an inclusive company culture should be among the top strategic priorities for any organization looking to increase retention of high-quality talent, unleash greater levels of innovation, and tap into the special talents and skills that women employees and leaders contribute to an organization.