How a Longer Shortlist Helps Women's Careers

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Every higher-up says they want it: more diversity, more women, more of a workforce that reflects how society looks. Yet when it comes time for promotions and advancements, so often, those at the top keep looking the same. Businesses and organizations have a lot of tools available to lift up underrepresented voices, however, and many of them are actually simple, quick, and free — no consultants required.

Researchers at Cornell University have just published a paper on one such trick. The infamous glass ceiling has kept women from their full potential from time immemorial, and one of the most salient bottlenecks comes during the promotion process. When any management team starts looking internally for the right candidate to take on more responsibility, the decision almost always begins with some kind of list. In order to get more women in the mix, the researchers found a simple fix: Just make the list longer.

The shortlist doesn't need to bloat. The Cornell team found that even taking a shortlist from three names to six names got more diverse candidates into the consideration pool.

Other studies have shown that recognizing what women have to offer in the workplace benefits literally everybody. Start small if that's easiest, such as paying close attention to how you praise different employees. Unfortunately, one additional side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is extra pressure on women to actually drop out of the workplace altogether. But if leadership can recognize women as leaders themselves, we can finally do something about lopsided representation everywhere in a company.