Companies have been trying to advance women in the workplace for years. The only problem is the solutions tend to be focused on “fixing women”. We see this everywhere. In mentoring, coaching, development and sponsorship programs. In books suggesting women just need to network, negotiate and speak up more to get ahead. These solutions have not worked. Leadership positions in organizations are still dominated by men. The Lean In 2017 Women In The Workplace Report revealed that women continue to remain underrepresented at every level in corporate America. Women did what was asked. We got the mentors. We got the sponsors. We attended the development programs. At some point, we need to give up and accept that these solutions will not solve the issue of gender inequality in the workplace.
Why does advancing gender equality matter? The consulting firm Accenture recently released the report When She Rises, We All Rise. The report identifies key factors that increase gender equality in the workplace. Broadly these include three things. Leaders who are committed to gender equality and willing to take action. Solutions that include men. And workplace practices that support employees to be themselves. When these three factors are present women are four times more likely to reach senior manager and director roles. These factors also help to close the pay gap because women are likely to earn more. Up to 51 percent more. Globally, that equates to a lift in women’s earnings of US$2.9 trillion. Equal workplaces do not just improve the career prospects for women. Men are twice as likely to rise to senior management positions in cultures that support equality. “It is not that women rise when cultures are strong, but rather all people rise. This is why it is important to look at equality holistically. It is not just about creating things that help women. It is about leveling the playing field for men and women so they are both included in the dialogue around equality,” says Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership and Human Resources Officer, Accenture. Advancing gender equality matters because it benefits all of us.
This starts at the top. Gender equality must be a strategic priority for the senior leadership team. Organizations that do this are 60 percent more likely to have women in executive leadership roles. “The true accelerators are when gender diversity is a priority for management. When diversity targets are set and shared. And when the organization clearly states its intention to close the gender pay gap,” says Shook. This means setting gender equality targets and holding leaders accountable for delivering them.
Setting gender equality targets is the first step. The second is to examine the organization’s policies and programs to ensure they create equality for everyone. Policies that just target women can be counterproductive. For example, implementing a maternity leave policy, without including paternity leave provisions can hold women back from career progression. Organizations need to consider parental leave for both women and men. We also need cultures that support men and women to take time off. Not only is this fair, but it eliminates the negative impact on women’s career advancement associated with maternity leave. Advancing women at work is really about getting the balance right between women focused initiatives and broader policies that support both men and women to succeed.
The third step is to ensure the work environment allows and encourages employees to be themselves. This includes giving employees the freedom to innovate and create, and express themselves. We need to ditch the dress code and put safeguards in place to prevent harassment and discrimination. Without these elements in place, women are nine times more likely to experience sexual discrimination or harassment. If we want employees to create, innovate and produce we need work environments that support this.
Taking these three steps will advance gender equality in the workplace. Most importantly though it will make your workplace better – for everyone. “While women are certainly advantaged by a culture of equality, men are 23 percent more likely to advance to executive level or above when there is a culture of equality. Cultures of equality are not there to just support women, they help all people to be successful,” says Shook. Solving the issue of gender inequality in the workplace starts with understanding what needs to be fixed – and it is not women.
Michelle King is a leading global gender equality expert, with a focus on advancing women in the changing world of work. She is a Forbes contributor and the host of the She Innovates podcast. To stay up to date follow Michelle on LinkedIn @michpking #sheinnovates