Sometimes we all find ourselves in the minority. The World Economic Forum meeting in Davos earlier this year was one of those times for me – just 18% of the delegation were women. Despite being surrounded by men in suits, gender parity was high on the agenda. As co-chair of the WEF Global Agenda Council for Gender Parity, I was pleased we had the issue finally taking center stage. But I couldn’t help feel frustrated that so many in our audience were women or the WEF “Global Shapers.” Why is this still a women’s issue or a topic for millennial optimists? Why, when you look around at so many of these sessions, are many of those men in suits nowhere to be seen?
For some, it’s a belief that it is a mission accomplished. There are more women in the workforce today, and we’ve been talking about this for so long, surely it’s solved? But that’s not the case. For others, it’s just not a priority. Won’t it fix itself? Why do we need to do something different? Why bother actively managing the balance of women and men on your board or in your team? Because it’s good business. That’s not just my opinion, it’s a fact. Yet, according to recent ManpowerGroup research, it will take around 18 years for women to even get equality of opportunity, let alone true gender parity. Imagine telling a CEO or shareholder it’s going to take 18 years to turn a profit from a new business venture? I don’t think so. This laissez-faire approach to talent management is not driving the right outcomes.
Back at Davos, I’m pleased that some of those men in suits were beginning to take the lead, helping us reach the tipping point. Jürgen Zeltner of UBS Wealth Management acknowledged what our research told us – male leaders know they are part of the problem and need to be part of the solution. He said he could write a book about the excuses that have been made in the boardrooms about why women are not better represented. So why the excuses? In many cases, it’s not bad luck, it’s bad management.
Business has been dining out for years on the abundance of talent in the market. Those days are over. ManpowerGroup’s Talent Shortage Survey found 38% of employers are struggling to fill open positions, the highest figure reported in almost 10 years. When women are not only graduating at a higher rate, but with higher grades, it is negligent if we don’t look to women to find the best talent.
One male leader talking practical solutions is Jonas Prising, ManpowerGroup’s chairman & CEO, who sat on a panel alongside Melinda Gates, Sheryl Sandberg, and Justin Trudeau. Onstage, this panel of feminists agreed that too often people don’t know how to fix the problem. That’s why we published research that provided seven practical solutions to help organizations reach the tipping point and move closer to conscious inclusion. When you’re one of the dominant groups, those with power, it takes a conscious effort to invite people in, to include women or other groups in the minority. That’s just good management.
The first of the seven steps is the most crucial: change yourself. Believe it or don’t bother. Change must be authentic or people see it as a fad. CEOs and managers need to lead from the top, and delegation is simply not an option. Some CEOs are already setting great examples. EBay’s Devin Wenig made a strong business case at Davos. With half of eBay’s 170 million active users female, he acknowledged that hiring all men in Silicon Valley is not going to deliver for their customers. And he emphasized that if you don’t bring in a diverse slate of candidates at eBay, you don’t get paid.
It’s not just a numbers game though; another step is to be explicit about where and when women are working. Increasing representation by putting women in support roles like communications and HR is just not going to shift the needle, in fact it creates “pink ghettos.” This point is particularly important in male-dominated industries. One of my fellow Davos panelists, Teresa Whitmore, executive director of the Washington State Investment Board (WSIB), has seen the value of putting women in visibly powerful positions in the investment world. Having senior women in P&L roles not only builds a pipeline of potential CEO candidates, it also helps other women visualize themselves in a position and to strive for it.
It’s not easy and there is no quick fix, but if we’re serious about getting more women into leadership, we must put words into action. Change can come from individuals. We can all start by doing something different now. International Women’s Day this week brings this issue to the top of the agenda. Let’s act on it – not just talk about it. Ask yourself, how will you create an environment of conscious inclusion? Who will you invite in? What will you #PledgeforParity?
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