As audiences around the globe tuned into the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer, much of the conversation on social media has — quite appropriately — focused on issues such as pay equity and gender equality. Many commentators have pointed out the nearly US$370 million pay gap that separates this summer’s tournament from the men’s counterpart last year, and it’s clear from the early matches alone that there’s no such disparity in the quality of play from some of the world’s greatest athletes.
But this global spotlight on gender inequity in international soccer is an example of what the Mercer | EDGE offering has set out to resolve across organizations – that women in the workplace face inequities related to career opportunities and pay. These issues go beyond recruitment and individual pay cycles, impacting women’s ability to reach financial security and command their real value to employers and society at large.
“Women typically bear most of the unpaid caregiving work in the household – often during the prime time of their career,” says Theo Lau, co-founder of Unconventional Ventures. “These ‘career choices’ are viewed as women deprioritizing their career ambitions – thus further penalizing their opportunity for advancement (otherwise known as motherhood penalty).”
From an organizational perspective, finding ways to bridge this gap is critical. Finding and empowering talent is an absolute necessity in the current talent crunch, and organizations that value and embrace diversity have been found to be more successful: companies on the Diversity Inc. Top 50 outperform the stock exchange by an average of 25%.
So what needs to change in order to achieve an unbiased, gender-equal workplace? Often, answers center around educating and training people with programs like bias training. I’d argue, however, that organizations will never get real traction on gender equality in the workplace with one-off tactical programs. Instead, it’s time to focus on our work cultures.
Workplace cultures reflect the values important to our organizations, leaders and ourselves. According to Mercer’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report, today’s workers, especially younger ones, exhibit strong loyalty to organizations that share and promote their values. Forward-thinking leaders will understand this for what it is: a call to action, an appeal for greater diversity and inclusion, and an opportunity to out-maneuver competitors for talent in the future of work.
In order to affect this type of organization-wide change, it is imperative that leadership is not only supportive of the change, but actively drives the transformation. Jola Burnett, Vice President of GfK, explains that there are “several core values or qualities that make business cultures friendly to gender equality. Open-mindedness and a commitment to transparency are related and essential traits – bringing things into the light, and being ready to learn from anyone at any time. Accountability is another pillar of a healthy work culture; employees can immediately see through empty promises, and deciding to do the hard work of equality is a major promise. Work culture should also be highly collaborative and de-emphasize hierarchies, with mentorship programs and career path strategies that ensure equal seats at the table.”
As the Global Social Media Leader for Mercer, I’ve seen this type of thoughtful, C-suite led evolution take place. Back in 2012, Mercer leadership set out to elevate its gender-equity initiatives by implementing a five-step framework for an effective gender diversity strategy and to drive cultural change
- Align on the business imperatives
- Diagnose by rooting any strategy around data and analytics
- Engage by creating passionate leaders and driving personal commitment
- Take Action by ensuring you have the right processes, programs and practices in place
- Measure and Refine to ensure you have accountability and infrastructure to persevere
None of these actions would be possible without the engagement of leadership and a top-down commitment to gender equality. Buy-in and advocacy from all levels of the organization can have a profound impact, but just one-third of organizations are actively analyzing key drivers of engagement in their organizations, according to Mercer’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report. That means that two-thirds of companies may be listening but are not aligning actions to their corporate values.
“Having a diverse board signals commitment,” says Antonio Vieira Santos, Senior Digital Expert at Atos SE. “But beyond that it is essential to extend that to other levels of the organisation across geographies. This holistic approach, implemented at global and local levels, provides an environment in which women can flourish and fulfil their career aspirations in a supportive environment.”
To truly move the needle on gender equality, therefore, it must become “part of the fabric of how the organization does business by expecting every part of the value chain it touches to build structures, processes, systems, leadership practices, reward systems and metrics that align with the gender equality vision,” as @MarvinChambers, Founder and CEO, Built to Last Solutions, LLC, so eloquently said in “14 Characteristics of a Gender Equal Business Culture” (Forbes, 2/11/19).
After all, when workplaces create cultures that support the advancement of women, men, too, thrive.
What do you think? How can companies—your own or others—modify their cultures to promote gender parity?