How to Move Workplace Gender Equality from Conversation to Action

There’s a lot of talk about workplace gender equality, or the lack of it.  There is a lot of talk about the benefits of making workplaces work (much better) for women. Increasingly,  CEOs are including gender diversity in their strategic business priorities. I would forgive you if you were thinking “blah, blah, blah” right now. Because guess what? Many leaders are thinking  blah blah blah. Alarmingly, there are many women in the corporate world who think (and say) the same thing. There is a LOT of talk and, when you consider the current statistics, not enough concrete action.  

‘This is a well polished problem.”

A woman once told me at a workshop I hosted “this (gender inequality) is a very well polished problem!” So true. So this blog is not another set of words moaning about workplace gender (in)equality. It is a blueprint for leaders to take action, that will lead to enduring and sustainable outcomes for women at work.

Three Types of People

When I was appointed to my first senior leadership role, I received some advice from the executive I reported to. He said “Michelle, there are three types of people in the world. Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and then there are those who wonder what happened. You are in the first category, always strive to remain there.”  

I do strive to make things happen. Get Shit Done is my tagline and now I advise CEOs, Boards, Executives and leaders across the sport and business sectors about how they too can be get shit done people when it comes to workplace gender equality.   

More Action for Workplace Gender Equality

Like many other people, I am frustrated that workplace gender equality remains stubbornly, belligerently out of reach, despite some progress. I am even more frustrated that I am not seeing more diverse boards and executive teams. However,  I am convinced that the advice I received to be a ‘make it happen’ leader, is what is sorely needed in this space.  Flawless, relentless execution on the plan to create gender equality in organisations.

“Execution is a specific set of behaviors and techniques that companies need to master in order to have competitive advantage. It’s a discipline of its own.”  

 –Ram Charan and Larry Bossidy, Execution

The Business Case Stacks Up

There is little doubt that the business case for gender diversity stacks up. Whilst organisations like Catalyst encourage organisations to look more broadly than the bottom line, leaders should be relentlessly pursuing the superior financial returns achieved by gender balanced organisations. McKinsey tell us that organisations are 15% more likely to outperform industry peers when they are gender balanced at the top table. Also;

  • Companies in which women hold 25% of decision-making roles generate 4% higher cash flow returns on investment (Credit Suisse)
  • When women represent half of senior managers, these companies produce 10% higher cash flow returns on investment (Credit Suisse)
  • When companies added women to their boards over the five-year period, their median gains for Earnings Per Share were double those of companies that lost women (22% compared with 11%). (MSCI)
  • There is much greater opportunity to attract the best and brightest talent from all genders;
  • Investors are increasingly looking at D&I ratings to ensure that they are investing in companies that can innovate and grow.
  • Just a 6% increase in the female participation rate in Australia would boost the level of GDP by 11%;

In summary, failing to drive aggressively towards gender parity at all levels in your organisation means your organisation is introducing risk across a number of parameters.

Workplace Gender Equality Global Best Practice

I’m not going to quote any more statistics about gender inequality in the Australian sports and business sectors. (If you’d like more stats about sport workplaces, click HERE). 

The Top 5 companies globally for gender equality as measured by Equileap are:

  1. General Motors (USA),
  2. L’Oreal (FR),
  3. Kering (FR),
  4. Merck and Co (USA)
  5. StarHub (SING)

Israel, Norway and Belgium are the best performing countries for gender equality.  These are the organisations and countries that have moved the dial by ceasing conversation and relentlessly starting to take action, which will reap the rewards that the well documented business case for diversity delivers.

Whats the Blueprint for Workplace Gender Equality?

If you are developing your gender equality action plan (heavy emphasis on action), then there are some key steps.

Step 1: Diagnose & Define

  • Where are you now?
  • What are your organisations numbers?
  • What are the facts?

Key Questions: Using these questions as a guide will help you to confront the  ‘brutal facts‘ about your organisations performance. 

  • Do we have gender balance at the non-executive, executive, senior management and across our workforce? If not, where are the gender gaps?
  • How do women feel about working here?
  • Why do women leave our company?
  • How many women have been promoted versus men?
  • What is our parental leave policy for primary and secondary carers?
  • What is our policy (and what really happens) on flexible work? 
  • Do we have a gender pay gap? If so where, why?
  • Do we have a strong culture about combatting sexual harassment in the workplace?
  • How diverse are our suppliers and are our procurement policies up to scratch?
  • What problem(s) do we want to solve? (your diagnostic will identify several)
  • What will be our priorities, and why?
  • What does success look like?

Step 2: Design
The Workplace Gender Equality Action Plan

Consider: Who are the people we need to deliver? Do we have the capability AND the capacity? What policies, processes and tools need to be developed, optimised or discarded?

Step 3: Implement and Review 
Flawless, relentless execution is often the downfall of any program, project or change initiative. Again, consider:

  • How will we deliver flawlessly, relentlessly and sustainably?
  • What will it take? (people, processes, tools, resources)
  • How will we measure and celebrate success along the way.
  • Remember that this is a journey that doesn’t end.

What Leaders Must Do

 Here is what leaders must do, now:

  • Do make a visible, verbal, ongoing commitment to a gender balanced organisation;
  • Do be cognizant of your own mindsets and those of your leaders about women and leadership;
  • Do confront the brutal facts about your organisations gender balance performance;
  • Do assign resources (money, people, time) to solving the problem;
  • Do hold your executives accountable to deliver against organisational gender targets.

What Leaders Must Not Do

  • Do not assume you understand the lived experience of women;
  • Do not assume that a women’s mentoring or confidence building program is the answer (it is not);
  • Do not give this job to woman as a ‘pet project’ on top of her day job;
  • Do not assume that your organisations professional women’s group will ‘sort it out’;
  • Do not assume that your organisations overall performance is not being affected by a lack of gender balance, at all levels.

The journey to workplace gender equality is an ongoing one. Organisational leaders begin this journey in many different ways, and that’s OK. The important thing is to begin to move workplace gender equality from conversation to action!

If you are ready to move your workplace culture to one where every human can reach their full potential, then contact me, because I can help!

About Michelle