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Where Are All The Women?

According to the United States Department of Labor, the most common paying job for women is secretary (not of State) and/or administrative assistant. The fifth most common job, after teachers, registered nurses and nursing/home health aides, is first-line supervisors of retail sales workers. Meanwhile, 2014 statistics from the Department of Labor show there are 1.2 million female retail managers in the United States. Where are they? Why aren’t these women working in consumer electronics or appliance stores?

The primary reason people leave a job is because they don’t like their boss. The second reason people leave is because they don’t have friends at work. Do we make this crazy business accommodating to women? Not so much.

Being a woman in this business is challenging. We have to show up twice as prepared as men; we have to be mindful of appearing bossy, and we can’t wear the same suit for a week. (I get constant grief for the size and weight of my suitcase.)

There is a fascinating video (available on YouTube) featuring two Australian TV news anchors, one male and one female. The female anchor, Lisa Wilkinson, was invited to give a lecture, and from the dais she remarked, “Even in preparing for tonight’s lecture, the most common question I was asked was not ‘What are you going to say?’ but ‘What are you going to wear?’” This prompted her partner, Karl Stefanovic, who was in the audience, to conduct a little experiment of his own. Stefanovic wore the same suit, not for a week, not for a month, but for a year — and nobody noticed. (He did change his shirt and tie.) Stefanovic’s motivation was to expose the sexism women endure regarding even their wardrobes in the workplace.

How can this male-dominated culture undergo a major value shift? The only way to change the locker room mentality is to start hiring women — lots of women. When you are at restaurants or stores, look for women who provide great customer service, sincerely appear to care, are outgoing and will cheerfully go the extra mile. You can’t teach people — men or women — these innate qualities.

Why do you need to hire lots of women? If you only hire one woman, it is likely she will leave. She needs to be able to make friends at work. It is a special woman who can endure this industry without a few female friends and there aren’t many of us.

I was recently talking with a store owner who complained that he struggled to hire women. In the course of our conversation, he revealed that his sales floor was pure commission. You don’t sell anything — you don’t make any money. Everyone needs a base pay, men included. Generally, people who have to worry about their rent, car payment and internet bill are not going to become productive, happy salespeople. Women are more likely to refuse an all-commission position than men. Most women need the stability of a regular paycheck, even if it is a small base. Installations get delayed, equipment gets backordered — all kinds of things can happen that prevent a project from closing. The insecurity of no regular base pay is a lose/lose for everyone.

If you would like more women working in your company, ask yourself, “How female friendly is our environment?” If you insist on uniforms, do they look great on a woman or are they a man’s uniform that a woman is forced to wear? (Been there, done that!) If you have incentives or perks, are they female friendly? (Cash is a great neutralizer; personal time off is another winner.) Are you absolutely prepared to hire more than one woman? According to Bloomberg, women account for 85 percent of all purchases, and they buy from people they know, like and trust. Who in your company is listening to and selling to these powerful purchasers?

Jeannette Howe is membership director at BrandSource and a member of TWICE’s Women Of Tech advisory board.