It’s International Women’s Day (IWD) 2021, and I #ChooseToChallenge the persisting gender inequalities in the corporate world. The good news is that I see that we start to take the topic seriously. The bad news is that there is a long way to go and gender equality will only happen if we also push for cultural change.
For over two decades, I have worked in a male-dominated environment. During this time, there have been many discussions about improving women’s opportunities in the working world. And it’s not only talking that was done, also a lot of great reports came out and policies and initiatives were put into place, like trainings, flexible work, mentoring programs, company day care services, and so on.
The results over the past decade, however, paint a disappointing picture: despite all these efforts, progress towards gender parity has been slow. This leaves me wondering whether we, as managers, truly prioritized gender equality.
Regardless of this, today on IWD 2021, I feel optimistic. Why? Because I see that slowly but surely a momentum for gender equality is building up.
Gender Equality in the Workplace: A Momentum for Change
Last year, Goldman Sachs made board diversity a requirement for its clients: they are not underwriting IPOs for companies with all-white, all-male boards. Others are following suit. The same should be done for other aspects of diversity as well as sustainability, as this is a powerful way to initiate a shift in management priorities and drive change.
In Germany, prominent women from politics, society, and business pushed together for the German government to pass a law on a quota for women in boardrooms as a part of the ‘#ichwill’ [#Iwant] campaign. Soon after, the German Federal Government passed the second executive positions law for a quota for women on executive boards. It states that listed companies with equal co-determination and three board members or more, must have at least one woman representative.
And these are just a few of the examples I am observing. This gives me confidence that change is happening. More and more companies are finally challenging their bottom-line and starting to treat diversity the same way as other business priorities. Here we go. This will give gender equality an enormous push – the right push into the right direction!
How do we, as business leaders, tap into this momentum for change?
Closing the Gender Gap: Two Impulses for Business Leaders
Reaching financial goals, such as EBIT, cash flow, and high customer satisfaction is no longer enough to be a successful manager. Investors want to see diverse teams across the organization. What do we have to do in order to get there?
1. Setting the Right Targets
Over the years, my opinion on setting targets or quotas has changed. This is because I have seen that without dedicated, measurable, and incentivized objectives, little has happened. Therefore, I believe that we need to set diversity and gender targets. Such targets can take different shapes and forms. Here are a few examples:
- Setting a clear percentage for female candidates to enter the recruiting pipeline
- Shortlisting at least one woman for an open position
- Measuring female attrition
- Tracking diversity of hiring teams
However, as said in the beginning, female placement targets for management teams with the aim to close the gender gap year by year, are of utmost importance. We should not walk into the trap of measuring activity only; we need to keep our focus on results. It leads us nowhere, when we have at least one woman on every shortlist, but in the end chose male candidates only. These targets do not need to and should not focus exclusively on board roles; the same can be applied for all management roles in the organization.
There targets need to be integrated into the set of targets we evaluate our managers against, and should therefore have financial implications if they are not achieved. Unfortunately, we have to go this far to drive change.
Besides setting targets and measuring achievements, I want to set another impulse for cultural change.
2. Growing the Right Culture
Covid-19 challenged the way we work and lead. This should be seen as a chance to rethink corporate culture to become inclusive and diverse. Aspects such as flexibility, trust and empathy are central in this. A conducive culture is a prerequisite to provide equal opportunities for women and shape an environment that allows women (and men) to thrive and truly enjoy what they do.
Cultural change begins with challenging the things we have gotten used to. We need to bust some of the assumptions we make unconsciously – our biases – and make room for new thinking. We should, for example, stop reiterating the belief that there are no women in certain functions, such as IT or real estate. This is simply not true. Moreover, we should broaden our understanding of what it takes to grow further in a job, because lots of the assumptions that are there actually instill gender biases in the promotion track.
Finally, I think it is important to rethink whom we celebrate as role models in the organization. Is a manager who achieves great financial results and high customer satisfaction really worth celebrating if he maintains an all-male management team?
It takes courage to fundamentally challenge and reinvent organizational processes and culture, but this is needed to drive a diversity agenda towards real results and successes.
Are you ready to #ChooseToChallenge?
Investors, customers, and the public are demanding for corporations to commit to diversity, sustainability, and social responsibility. This requires us, as business leaders, to take responsibility and challenge our bottom-line to include these priorities and treat them the same way as financial targets.
“We need to break old leadership patterns and beliefs.
This takes courage, but it is worth it!”
While we are not where we need to be in terms of gender equality, we need to already think beyond this and drive a broad diversity and inclusion agenda going forward. So let’s take on the current momentum for change with optimism and give that right push in the right direction together for lasting results.
How are you driving your diversity agenda? I am looking forward to hearing your reflections on the topic here on my blog or on LinkedIn.