Various reports indicate without a reasonable doubt that there is a strong relationship between diversity and profits, and that companies which prioritise diversity will see above-average profits. The confusing news is that, despite this certainty, the findings haven’t actually increased the number of women in leadership positions. With technology communities typically being a majority male, how can we increase the visibility of women in this sphere and ensure that they get the recognition and promotions they deserve?
Inclusivity and equality often must be brought about by disruption. Differentiation brings results and impact across all industries, and to act otherwise would be to waste half of the talent on the planet. So how do we build an enabling environment to encourage women to participate in the labour force? We need to change the concepts of stereotypes and what is an appropriate role for women in society, and social and work policies must be put in place to enable women to enter the workforce.
Women have known about (and spoken about) this problem for decades, but the numbers seem to be getting worse. Globally, we are moving backwards: In 2017, 25% of senior positions worldwide were held by women; in 2018, that has gone down to 24%. In essence, three-quarters of all companies in the world don’t have any women in leadership positions at all.
Attitudes within companies need to change to understand that diversity not only improves profits, but also builds a better work culture and benefits the societies in which companies operate. As we transition into a future where companies now understand their social responsibilities to the environments and communities in which they operate, these same companies also need to be reminded that providing inclusive, welcoming and safe spaces for their employees gives their workforce the ability to thrive.
There are an equal number of women getting business or STEM degrees and yet their progression within the workforce is not as equally balanced with the work progression of men. The companies that are getting it right are the ones which are open to people working in new ways. The tendency is to believe there is a set way for tasks to be completed, and in roles that are predominantly filled by men, there is an expectation that the person who fills that role will continue to do the job in the exact same way. If that happens, you continue to perpetuate the stereotype and attract similar, like-minded people, which can dull creativity and innovation, especially in an industry like technology. On the other hand, those who are open to accepting new ideas and accepting new ways of working are opening themselves to new ways of achieving success.
A study by McKinsey found that if society as a whole aims for more diversity, there is the potential to create 240 million jobs between now and 2025 with an added $12 million to the GDP. Calling for change is not only fair and right, but also beneficial through increased performance and increased profit.
So what can be done to improve the balance? In most cases it is as simple as having someone lead by example: If you put a woman into a position it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that then encourages others to do the same. Everyone must also keep encouraging women not to drop out of studying within male-dominated fields of expertise, as more balance in the workforce pool will make it easier for big companies such as Google, Microsoft and Cisco to hire in a diverse way. It’s the responsibility of parents, too, to encourage children to try all fields that interest them, and to actively work to keep gender stereotypes from discouraging children to pursue certain subjects. Governments also play a huge role in needing to lead by example. In Canada and France there are gender-balanced governments with women in senior positions across defense, justice and transportation, and this sends a strong message to companies that women are just as capable.
Role modelling is important, but it isn’t enough. Companies need to pledge to actively work towards a representative workforce, not just in terms of gender, but also heritage, race, ability, background, and all numbers of identifying factors. And it requires leadership commitment to assess where the gaps are: pay, management, career progression, flexi-work, unconscious bias.
It’s important to understand what the problems are, assess them and then decide on concrete strategies on how to overcome the challenges. Most of the time these are related to acquisition and retention. The talent is there, but you need to find strategies to pull them up, mentor and nurture them to stay within the company.
Here are concrete steps that can be taken in order to go beyond just making a commitment to diversity:
- Hiring practices need to be representative of the population. When looking for a candidate, ensure that the roster of candidates has an even gender split and comes from a variety of backgrounds.
- At the smallest level, find new ways to support employees with children, including expanding parental leave to both parents across a company. Senior executives bringing their young babies to the leadership summit should not be viewed as a distraction to the task at hand, but a commitment to the job.
- Laws can have a huge impact. In France, five years ago less than 7% of board members were women. Following legislation that states women must make up 40% of board members, that statistic now sits at 42%. Capable women were there and ready to fill the roles. Now we need to see the same commitment taken down to the executive committee level.
- Corporate culture requires an overhaul. Holistically look at corporate DNA, including internal communications, advertising, sexual harassment policies, work-life balance policies, and see how they can be extended across all areas of diversity.