The biggest opportunity for sustained economic growth and community vitality lies in the fair representation of all demographics in a society. Yet, according to the World Economic Forum, the time it will take to close the global gender gap increased, from 83 to 100 years between 2016 and 2017. Think about that. In the age of the most diverse and seemingly open-minded generation in world history, women were pushed back 17 years in just twelve months! Something needs to be done, and it starts with all business leaders making it their mission to have their workforce look more like the real world. So where are we getting it wrong?
1. There is no quick fix
There has been some progress with regard to female representation in senior roles, however, Mercer studies have revealed that this is not a result of improved hiring practices, as much as it is a result of companies placing women (usually from outside the company) in high-level positions so as to appear to be solving the problem, and avoid negative media attention. This disingenuous approach to increasing female representation is not trickling down to lower grades, and thus, is having very little effect on the rates of female hiring in the overall workforce. Without career advancement opportunities, there can be no upward talent mobility; and so the only way for these women to move up the ladder would be to leave your company.
Solution: Have a female talent pipeline. Hiring a female CEO is fantastic, but it does not solve the real problem. Business leaders need to have a female talent pipeline at all levels within the organisation; a clear career path for these females to follow; and policies in place to ensure as few gender-based obstructions as possible. The goal must be to increase female participation throughout the organisation, not just at the top. Otherwise, who will replace the CEO?
2. It’s not just a woman’s problem
Women make up 35% of the average company’s workforce; a number which declines as the job level rises. Even if these women all made Diversity & Inclusion their top priority, without the involvement of the men in their communities, they would still be in the minority. Only 38% of organisations say their male employees are engaged in Diversity & Inclusion activities. Plainly put, there are not enough men advocating for gender diversity in the workplace to make it a priority.
Solution: Educate on the importance of gender-equity in the workplace. One is more likely to align with a cause they can identify with. Educate everyone in your organisation on the impact that increasing opportunities for women will have, not only on the organisation, but on their communities and personal lives. Bringing the subject home will create a personal connection that sparks action.
3. Do our policies support our women?
Talking about having a gender diverse workforce without creating policies and practices to support it is futile. For example, training managers on how to effectively support employees transitioning back from maternity leave increases female employee retention while diminishing the unconscious bias that can put women at a disadvantage in promotion deliberations. Only 29% of organisations offer such support. Worse still, only 10% of companies design their retirement packages with gender-specific needs in mind.
Solution: Make your policies meet your employees’ different needs. Painting everyone with the same brush leaves some at a disadvantage. We have different needs, drivers and detractors, and it is important to cater to them at all stages of employment. Adopting a data-backed pay equity process, or reviewing performance by gender may shed light on some oversights that are translating to differences in opportunities.
Closing the gender gap will require an immense amount of work, but we can get there faster together.