Q&A Exclusive Interview with Teri Hassell, Region VP of HR at Sysco

May 25, 2022 by Verified First

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In 2021, about one million women (almost two times more than the number of men!) joined the workforce. With so many women entering the workforce and striving for professional careers, companies today need to foster an inclusive workforce in order to attract and retain women. 

In Season 2, Episode 5 of our HR at the Table series, we were joined by Teri Hassell, Region VP of HR at Sysco, in our chat, Women in the Workplace: Building the Business Case. Teri helped our audience understand the importance of fostering a prosperous workplace for women. She answered four questions about how today’s workforce impacts women and what businesses can do to help support their female employees. 

  • What challenges do women face in today’s workplace?
  • How has the changing workforce affected women?
  • What can employers do to attract women to their teams?
  • What are companies doing successfully today to retain their women employees?

What challenges do women face in today’s workplace?

Women face many challenges in today’s workplace. Of all the challenges, Teri remarked that the perception of women in professional roles acts as a blanket issue that prohibits women from thriving in the workforce. “There’s a lasting perception that women aren’t tough enough to enter the workforce…It’s tough to catch up if you started behind,” Teri said. This perception has restricted women to lower authority roles such as clerical work or assistant positions. 

For those women in higher positions, the challenge of perception takes on another meaning. Teri described the double bind women struggle within work environments. Double bind refers to the catch-22 of what behavioral norms mean for men and women. In the workforce, powerful women leaders are more likely to be perceived as bossy or aggressive whereas relaxed women leaders are likely viewed as meek or indecisive. A double bind places men on a pedestal for acting in ways that coworkers or employees would deem unacceptable if performed by women. When workplace culture places impractical expectations on female professionals, it makes it hard for them to compete with male workers for higher positions. 

How has the changing workforce affected women?

The pandemic rocked the talent market two years ago, and we’re still feeling its effects. As a result of the shifting landscape for professional industries, many women left the workforce. This “she-session” led women to pursue other responsibilities in lieu of their professional lives like taking care of children or family members. 

Teri detailed that the “she-session” was partly caused by the types of professions held majorly by women being heavily affected by COVID-19. Women encompass about 55.5% of the workforce in hospitality industries like food and beverage and tourism. With hospitality as one of the hardest-hit industries by COVID-19, it left women with little choice but to leave the workforce. Additionally, COVID-19 changed the landscape of childcare options. With school and daycare no longer in-person, those roles shifted onto many professional women who then had to stay home. 

What can employers do to attract women to their teams?

Many companies are focusing on DE&I efforts and desire to bring in more female professionals. But in today’s candidate-focused talent market, companies have to compete with each other to attract women to open roles. 

Teri listed some examples of benefits companies can offer that could sway women to your team versus your competitors’.

  • Offer professional development opportunities - Learning opportunities such as mentorships would appeal to women with professional development goals.
  • Be flexible in scheduling - “Not everyone can do everything between 8am and 5pm,” Terri said. For certain roles, allow flexibility in an employee’s work schedule.
  • Develop childcare options - Many companies have adopted childcare initiatives such as allowing moms to bring their young children with them to work or have even reimbursed women for their childcare costs. 

What are companies doing successfully today to retain their women employees?

Attracting female professionals to your company doesn’t mean they’ll stay. Outdated perceptions or rigid requirements could send your female professionals to look for a better environment. Gartner reported that 91% of HR and TA leaders are concerned about employee turnover rates in today’s market, and nearly 50% of all those hired to new positions in the past twelve months received two additional job offers from competitors.

Teri emphasized the importance of a workplace culture that values its female employees. In order to foster a prosperous work environment, she shared some ways that current companies are investing in their workplace culture.

  • Associate Resource Groups (ARGs) - ARGs are company-promoted groups of employees that participate in specific educational opportunities within the company.
  • Equity Task Force - It isn’t enough to say you’re committed to DE&I efforts; you have to take action. Equity Task Forces check in with employees to see how the company is doing in pursuing its DE&I goals. 
  • Women Mentoring Programs - Many companies have mentorship programs, but some have programs specifically designed for women in higher positions to mentor women in their professional careers cross-departments. 

In conclusion: 

For more insight from Teri Hassell, watch Season 2 Episode 5 here! To be a part of HR at the Table, register for one of our upcoming episodes featuring top professionals within the HR and TA space. Next month, we’re hosting Chris Courneen, Global Head of HR at MSI, for a chat on Providing Value: How HR Wins Corporate Buy-In. 

About Verified First
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