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Moving The Needle On 'Gender' Diversity

Posted on November 25, 2014 at 2:30 PM

“It is clear that incremental change does not significantly move the needle. Disruptive change does” says Aniela Unguresan, Co-founder of EDGE Certified Foundation.

It says it has established the only global business certification in workplace gender equality.


Imagine my delight at reading her thoughts.


Ms Unguresan’s comments were made around a collaboration by EDGE with Mercer on global research to assess the impact of organisational practices and policies on the representation and advancement of women in the workforce.


And guess what it found? “Among survey participants, if current approaches remain unchanged, only one-third of executive positions will be held by women over the next 10 years. In the mature economies of US and Canada, however, just one-fourth of women will gold executive positions by 2024, while female representation in developing countries is expected to grow more rapidly.” (my emphasis)


Despite making up 41% of the workforce globally, women’s highest representation among all career levels is in support staff roles. They make up 40% of the workforce at the professional level and 36% at managerial level – but only 26% of senior managers and 19% of executives.


So what works for the accelerated representation of a larger number of women ? The active involvement of senior leaders in gender diversity. In other words – mine, not Mercer’s – leadership.


Depressing statistic: 56% of organisations indicate that their senior executives are actively involved in diversity and inclusion programmes. And who knows how many are truly committed out of that number….or whether the programmes are worth it.


Unsuprisingly, “a dedicated team responsible for pay equity leads to more women in senior roles while common policies – those intended to ensure equity through flexible work schedules and leave programs – are, in the absence of management, associated with slower improvement in the number of women in leadership positions.”


It isn’t rocket science. But Mercer’s global research When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive, demonstrates once again the need for fresh thinking in every organisation. “More diverse retirement programs, including monitoring savings by gender, providing investment training customised to different gender realities and gender-specific health education campaigns correlate with greater representation of women at senior levels” says the report.


Yet “fewer than 15% of organisations monitor savings and offer retirement programs customised to different gender behaviours” says the report.


It seems clear to me that the last few years of debate ‘about women’ has resulted in a lot of talk and some great initiatives, all of which rely on incremental change. In order to move beyond that, we need corporate leadership.


So far, it has been a debate about the sharing of power disguised as a debate about so many other things – gender differences, families, childcare, aspirations…education and cultural norms.


We need to start thinking of it in a gender neutral way: who are these individuals in every business, what can they offer and how are they progressing ?


That should weed out a few ineffectual but entrenched male managers…


And both strategic direction and innovation should be subjects discussed in the boardroom of every listed business. How often does ‘gender equality’ make it there, I wonder ?


As soon as you say ‘disruptive’ there is doubtless a frisson in the boardroom: because these are often both conservative and cautious places. But they are also meant to be acutely aware of risk. It’s all about how best to utilise resources : in this case, human capital.





Categories: Corporate, Behaviour, Leadership