What a 12-months it has been for women, who have seen their jobs lost at twice the rate of men, whilst reading the seemingly never-ending stories told by women of being treated poorly whilst working within the halls of power and inside the most senior echelons of the corporate world.
As someone who has dedicated my life to helping senior women navigate their careers through the hurdles and glass ceilings that are endlessly in their way, what is giving me grave concern amid the COVID pandemic is that we are seeing a regressive return to a conservative world.
In Australia, only 10 women sit in the CEO chair of the top 200 businesses in the country, whilst 12% make up line management, all while our politicians and their senior staff lurch from one crisis to the next when it comes to respecting women in their workplaces.
Globally things are no better, with only 167 of the top 3000 companies in the world having a female in the top chair, leaving men to dominate the seats of power, both politically and in corporate settings.
If we are ever to shift the issue of gender equality and make real inroads into the gender pay gap, then with our politicians too distracted to implement effective policies, it is going to be up to business leaders that will need to implement real change within their organisations.
For any business leader seeking to enact such change, here are the 5 keys that you will need at the centre of your gender equity policy for it to be successful.
- Bias is bad for business
In a nutshell, by not having an equal number of women at the leadership table, then you and your are likely making poor decisions based on some or all of the following: ego, ideology, experience, fear, or consultation with like-minded advisers. When this happens, you run the risk of missing out on growth opportunities into new markets, flagging productivity, poor risk management, low levels of staff and customer engagement.
Which is why it is critical that you root out bias before it undermines your business sustainability.
- Hope is not a strategy
Unless you set a target and then complement this with a strategy to meet it, your gender equity efforts simply will fail, which is why you must ensure that your strategy includes:
– Year on year plans with clear KPIs and tracking
– Policies and procedures in support of the strategy
– Cultural change programs that support both men and women through this transition
– Salary transparency, along with regular recalibration and measurement
You may also want to try the ‘carrot and stick’ approach until such time as your gender equity plans have succeeded, with rewards for managers who meet gender equity KPIs and a sting in the tail for those who don’t comply, either by accident or design.
- All things are not equal
It is exhausting being a woman in a man’s world, fighting all day every day for your fair share of voice, influence and visibility, simply because of your gender.
Research tells us that for a woman to win a seat at the table she needs to be seen as equal to, if not more intelligent, than the most intelligent man in the room.
Whilst the detractors might say. “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen” the reality is that the burden of overproof still resides with women, leaving them to jump through more hoops to prove their worth than a man would be asked to do at the same level. No wonder leading women are worn out and taking their skills, intelligence and human capital elsewhere.
- Root out the layer of permafrost that resists change
Sit in and chat with women at large corporates and you will hear them joke about the crusty layer of “permafrost” that resists change. This is the upper middle management and lower senior management ‘pale male stale brigade’, who have one foot firmly entrenched in the old ways and are actively resisting change by ignoring, undermining or flat out not abiding by company policies and getting away with it.
They are half hoping that by the time you as the CEO move on, things will go back to the way they were, after all they get on better with other blokes anyway, so it will all die down when you retire.
If you want to make long-lasting legacy style change, then it’s in your interests to make sure that everyone is on board with your gender equity efforts and if they’re not, then it might be time to bring their retirement plans forward.
- Do not be afraid of quotas
All this talk about how quotas won’t work, that they dumb down the workforce is not proven. In fact, to quote Felicity Menzies “Quotas do not lower the bar, they raise it.”
When you hear the cries of “forget quotas, simply hire or promote the best qualified candidate” keep in mind that given it is men who dominate the selection process, this will mean that it is likely that the “best man for the job is hired or promoted” as men find it easier to work with men.
Remember that we are in this together. That it is not a zero-sum game when it comes to gender equity, as a diverse workforce is not only good for your business, it is good for men, women and in the future, your children too.
Written by Amanda Blesing.