Bridging the Gender Gap That Never Seems to End

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May 9, 2017 | Ankita Poddar | HCI

With every news announcement of a woman’s entry into the executive board somewhere in world, you will hear people say ‘three cheers for womankind,” and with good reason, too.

Events like these are more common now than they were a decade ago, but the ratio of women in the boardroom is still highly skewed. Why it is that 78 percent of large organizations around the world are actively seeking to hire more women, especially for experienced and senior level positions?

A McKinsey study looked at 366 public companies across different industries and found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Yet another study showed that women’s equality in the workplace can push global business growth by $12 trillion. Healthy gender diversity also leads to increased creativity, innovation and growth. Need I say more?

Organizations have pumped millions of dollars into sensitization and training. However, if you draw an analogy to sensitizing a smoker to the harmful effects of smoking, you would understand why these sessions fail to have lasting impacts. We need to do more. Here are a few things to begin with:

  • Neutral job posts: Did you know that business managers might create job vacancy profiles so they can be perceived as a vacancy for male candidates? Research shows that job advertisements for male-dominated jobs use more masculine words like competition and dominance, which are found less appealing by women. Maybe it’s time to replace them with gender agnostic language. 
  • Mentoring: I am not going to advocate women mentoring other women. There is no conclusive evidence that this form has greater benefits than cross-gender mentoring. I advocate assigning women mentors for men. There is a high likelihood of men being mentored by women to be more aware of gender bias as compared to men who don’t. The other way around works too. Get some of your senior male leaders to help high potential women climb the ladder.
  • Hiring: Focus on creating a strong slate representation. Onboarding targets may create unease but slate targets are essential. However, a healthy slate may not necessarily solve the problem if the interviewers are biased. This is where sensitization and trainings help.
  • Talk about it: Encourage and facilitate open, honest conversations and create an environment of trust within the leadership team. A healthy discussion on gender diversity and its benefits doesn’t take place as often as it should.

The picture looks grim. As per the ‘Getting to Equal 2017’ report by Accenture, globally, a woman earns an average $100 dollars for every $140 a man earns. Add to this the fact that women are much less likely to find paid work (50 percent and 76 percent respectively). However, things are getting better.

Like any change management initiative, strong gender diversity is a long, strenuous journey. An organization cannot focus on gender diversity in 2017 and forget about it next year.  It takes constant effort over a reasonable period of time, and in the end, the journey will be worth it.