It is widely accepted that in order to be competitive in today’s global marketplace, companies must demonstrate a commitment to the advancement and success of women. As a result, many mid-sized and large companies and professional service firms have a gender diversity initiative. So, why is it that Women In the Workplace and Lean In’s recent joint study (the ‘Women in the Workplace Study’) of 118 U.S. companies and almost 30,000 employees revealed that women are still grossly unrepresented in positions of leadership and face real and actual barriers to advancement and success? If so many organizations have initiatives to help women succeed, why aren’t the numbers trending upward in a meaningful way? Perhaps the answer lies in a disconnect between what companies believe they are doing to effectuate change and what is actually needed.
One of the findings of the Women in the Workplace Study centered around the idea that gender diversity was not widely believed by employees to be a corporate priority. While 74% of the companies surveyed reported that gender diversity was a top priority for their CEO, that message was not reaching employees as less than half reported that they believed it to be a top priority. While no one would question that these companies believe gender diversity is essential, what the study’s findings on this issue seem to suggest is that the programs implemented throughout the organization are not communicating a message of corporate commitment. That whatever is being done is simply not enough to create change. And that is one missing piece of the diversity puzzle that thwarts progress.
The fact that almost three-quarters of the companies surveyed reported gender diversity to be a top priority for their CEO is great progress because commitment of senior management is absolutely critical to women’s career success. But, if less than half of the company’s employees believe that to be true, something is missing. It is not enough to say there is a commitment to gender diversity – to effectuate progress companies have to show it, and that starts by investing time, money and effort into gender diversity initiatives. Organizations need to understand, measure and benchmark hard and soft gender diversity and inclusion data. They have to integrate the gender diversity initiative into the company’s strategic plan and business goals. They need to set gender targets for recruitment and advancement. Offer substantive training to women and include men to build awareness. Build gender goals and incentives into compensation packages. Publicly sponsor and recognize high-performing and capable women.
Real change requires an overall shift in culture, perception and attitude, all of which takes time. But part of that process requires meaningful action. And that action starts with each company and service firm that is dedicated to gender diversity making that commitment truly count.