Workforce diversity and equality are gaining more and more momentum over the last decades. Significant gains have been made when it comes to achieving economic gender parity. Yet, in spite of all efforts, women in the workplace are still not treated equally compared to their male counterparts and most companies still have a long way to go when it comes to reaching true gender equality. The workplace gender gap is still very real, and at the current rate of progress, neither you nor I will be around to enjoy gender parity. It’s clear that more work needs to be done. But how can we fast forward? And why should employers want to anyway?
While women are in the strongest position they’ve ever been when it comes to career progression and opportunities, we’re far from being there yet and progress is currently even slowing down. In 2017, women continue to earn less than men in the same roles, are less likely to advance their careers and are still highly underrepresented in senior and executive positions. The World Economic Forum estimated that, at the current rate of progress, the economic gender gap will close in 170 years. 170 YEARS!! It’s about time to evaluate what can be done to speed up progress.
While achieving workplace gender equality is obviously the ‘fair’ and ‘right’ thing to do, it really is not just a ‘feel-good’ exercise. According to the World Economic Forum, gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but also an economic imperative. With equality being linked to improved productivity and performance, increased innovation and enhanced reputation, fully engaging women’s talents in the workplace is the obvious choice from an economic point of view. According to research (2016) by the McKinsey Global Institute, women could add as much as $28 trillion or 26 percent to annual global GDP in 2025 – if they were to participate in the economy identically to men. To put this into perspective, that is roughly the size of the European and Chinese economies combined. Wow!
The dividends of gender equality are significant, but what can we do to fast forward in building a truly equitable business landscape? Based on their 2016 Global Gender Gap Report, the World Economic Forum recently published a toolkit that highlights 3 steps that need to be taken to accelerate change and close the gender gap in companies across the globe: commit, embed and scale.
Start with building a case and create long-term commitment at the top. Management buy-in is crucial to create understanding and share the rationale within the wider business. Conduct research in order to understand the gender gap in your company and educate managers in the gender discrepancies in your business. Unconscious bias is embedded in all of us and can occur systematically across the entire talent management lifecycle. Identifying and recognizing this bias allows businesses to understand when discrimination is taking place, how to best deal with these situations and what can be done to prevent it from happening in the future. Once issues and challenges are acknowledged and localized, goals can be outlined and change can be accelerated.
Once goals have been set, strategies can be created. Have a critical look at all involved business processes to identify where change is needed. Create change programs and approaches that allow people to set concrete steps in supporting and promoting greater gender parity in the workplace. When creating your programs, make sure you address both the obvious and more subtle equality issues in the company. While pay gaps and motherhood penalties can often be pin-pointed and addressed relatively easy, issues like sexual harassment, biased recruiting and inequality in performance reviews, can be much harder to address as they are often happening unconsciously. Likewise, issues within the company culture can also be much less tangible and harder to identify. A supportive and bias-free environment is the top driver when it comes to women’s acceleration in the workplace. This not only means creating a supportive culture and awareness about conscious and unconscious bias throughout the organization, but also training managers to lead more diverse teams and making sure leadership is making business decisions with gender parity in mind.
Once you’ve successfully embedded your equality strategies in your organization and the first results of better parity are showing, why not further promote change in your industry, community, value chain or wider society? Embrace opportunities to shape the way others perceive the topic of gender by sharing your knowledge and inspiring others. Celebrate your success story and highlight your company’s efforts, best practices and achievements to set an example for the wider industry. You can even scale your initiatives further by promoting gender parity in education (shaping your future talent pool) or by targeting parity among suppliers and distributors. Scaling will also help you incorporate gender parity as part of your employer brand adding to the attractiveness for both female and male talent.
While gender diversity appears to be a hot topic, many employers still have a long way to go to reach a truly equitable business landscape. Waiting another 170 years to achieve gender parity and fully utilize those untapped talent pipelines is not an option. It’s time to follow through and commit to taking concrete action to close the workplace gender gap. It’s time to fast forward!