I read a startling statistic when writing this article.
“Female leadership is an imperative in organizations that want to perform at the highest levels. Yet, based on the slow rate of progress over the last three years, it will take twenty-five years to reach gender parity at the senior-VP level and more than one hundred years in the C-suite.”
One hundred years.
In my lifetime (and I’m only 26), women are still expected to not represent even half of all C-level positions in business. In fact, in the current state, only 24 women hold CEO positions out of all S&P 500 companies. That’s less than 5 percent.
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Do you know what we’re supposed to be capable of in 100 years? We’ll be able to 3D print food, furniture, and body parts. We’ll have colonized Mars and take vacations on the Moon. Man and man’s technology will blur the line between what’s human and what’s not. We could live under the sea or underground.
With all that great progress for mankind in 100 years, statistics say that in that amount of time, women will only have just begun to be on a level playing field with men in the workplace. And by that time, employees might not even be coming into work.
As Katharine St. George – a major proponent of the Equal Pay Act – put it, “I think women are quite capable of holding their own if they’re given the opportunity. What I wanted them to have was the opportunity.”
So, what are the opportunities for having more women at the table?
Research has indicated for a long time that the link between gender-diverse leadership and financial success is a positive one. According to a 2011 Catalyst study, companies with a “sustained higher representation of women board directors, significantly outperformed those with sustained low representation [of women] by 84 percent in return on sales, by 60 percent in return on invested capital, and by 46 percent on return on equity.”
Similarly, a higher percentage of women board directors was positively associated with high company performance in the community, environment, with customers, and in the supply chain. Yet, in 2013, women only held about 17 percent of board seats in Fortune 500 companies.
Without being overly pessimistic, it does seem like progress is being made. As of August 2015, only two percent of S&P 500 companies had all male boards of directors. This is a great improvement from a decade ago when only 12 percent of those same companies had at least one female director on their board.
It’s clear the storyline should no longer focus on why more women should hold leadership positions, rather what can women – and men – do to rapidly advance these opportunities?
According to a Catalyst study, “governments around the world have addressed the challenge using a variety of approaches with efforts falling in or around three models: legislative; regulatory administered by securities regulators; and voluntary business-led approaches.”
At Gravity, we believe that if government steps in, that’s a sign of failure on our part. We should all be motivated to make progressive changes in our business for the betterment of our company, and for the world. We should all take steps to make society a more inclusive and diverse place. That’s why we’re on board for the third solution – voluntary business-led approaches.
Here’s some ways leaders (and employees) can take charge.
Be conscious of your own subconscious bias.
Did you know when you type in “CEO”, “CTO”, or “CFO” on your iPhone’s keyboard, an emoji of a man in a suit pops up? You might think biases are for those with radical opinions, but if you have a brain, you’re biased. To combat this, the best thing we can do is to acknowledge the biases we have and find ways to fix it.
As Sally Hasler put it, “We need to reframe the way we think about women and working and stop placing limitations on their desires and abilities to pursue ambitious, successful careers.”
Though you might think men are the only ones who need to reframe their mindset, women actually create bigger barriers themselves. When women cited the challenges they faced on the path to leadership, they were twice as likely as men to think their gender will make it harder to advance and four times more likely to think they have fewer opportunities to advance.
To break biases like this, it’s important to focus on similarities, mutual goals, and values you share with someone.
Educate those at the top.
Companies should provide training on gender inequality that happens in the workplace. The training should revolve around how to identify discrimination, how to deal with situations if they arise, but most importantly, how to prevent situations from happening in the first place.
Other than the obvious ways, we also need to educate leaders at the top about the positive impact gender equality has on business. Research has shown gender equality increases company performance and has a higher return on sales, investments, and equity. Also, according to the IMF, “the global economy misses 27 percent of GDP growth per capita due to the gender gap in the labor market.”
Increasing the number of women in leadership positions is not only good for business, but it also ends up benefitting the world.
Equality in the workplace cannot happen without men.
In a speech addressing the HeForShe campaign at the United Nations, Emma Watson said, “It is time we all perceive gender on a spectrum, not as an opposing set of ideals.”
We will never achieve equality if only one gender is putting in the effort. We need to get men in the same room as women to address how gender equality benefits all of us. Men and women must work together to create real change.
There are a few specific ways men can help in the workplace.
- Encourage women to take on projects, roles, or positions that will challenge them and stretch their professional abilities.
- Give women the credit they deserve. As illustrated by President Obama’s female staffers, often men’s ideas are celebrated more than women’s. At your next meeting, create an open environment and atmosphere where women can speak up and are acknowledged for their ideas.
- If you’re a man in a leadership role, consider mentoring more women. Not only will this help build a pipeline of more women leaders, but it will also be a great learning experience. The best thing about mentor-mentee relationships is the ability to learn from each other. If more men understand the struggles, diverse thoughts, and opinions of women, it’ll help create a more understanding and empathetic environment with improved problem solving and great benefits to the business.
Measure inequalities in your workplace and then share your results with the rest of the world.
One simple step to take today is to ask the question, “How are we supporting women at our company?”
On a continual basis, review things like salary, recruitment pipelines, retention, and promotion rates to make sure they aren’t heavily leaning one way or the other. More than that, make sure your company and leadership is transparent internally and externally.
Share what inequalities you’ve found in your workplace, the solutions or policies you’ve implemented to ensure a level playing field, and the impact of the changes made. We won’t get better as a society if we can’t learn from each other.
Sponsor female talent.
A key finding in a “Women in the Workplace” study found that women and men have very different networks. The study stated that “men predominately have male networks, while women have mostly female or mixed networks.” Given that men are more likely to hold senior leadership positions, women may end with less access to senior-level sponsorship.
As Rita McGrath, a professor at Columbia Business School, put it, “If you don’t have women in the pipeline, they are not going to get the top jobs.”
Companies need to be more cognizant of creating an environment that recognizes this disadvantage and accelerate the career growth for women in the workplace. However, don’t hire a woman just to hire a woman. No one wants to be the token female just to fill a quota.
Finally, don’t get in the way of yourself.
As Mindy Kaling put it:
People’s reaction to me is sometimes “Ugh, I just don’t like her. I hate how she thinks she is so great.” But it’s not that I think I’m so great. I just don’t hate myself. I do idiotic things all the time and I say crazy stuff I regret, but I don’t let everything traumatize me. And the scary thing I have noticed is that some people really feel uncomfortable around women who don’t hate themselves. So that’s why you need to be a little bit brave.
And if all else fails, change your mindset from, “Why me?” to “Why NOT me?”
All of us – men and women – need to do all we can to change that startling statistic at the beginning of this article. For a long time, the evidence has shown when we all work together – when we’re all on a level playing field – everyone wins.
Hayley is on the Marketing team at Gravity Payments. For more stories from women in leadership at Gravity, check out our “Women in Leadership” series.