As I prepare to talk about transforming equity in the workplace at next month’s Women4Tech Summit at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, I am struck by the importance of words. Words result in action. The wrong words could very well result in the wrong actions.
The first step in any transformation process is awareness. Awareness comes from the realization that change is on the horizon – change that is needed and that will shift the status quo, or generally accepted norms of “how we do things around here.” In order to solve the challenge of increasing representation of women and other under-represented populations, we must first understand the importance of, and the difference between, equity and equality.
Equity and equality are often used interchangeably, yet the two terms have very different meanings. For leaders who are responsible for harnessing all the best available talent, it’s important to understand that distinction. Equality is based on the belief that everyone is created equal and therefore should be treated the same. Equity considers various differences in barriers and strengths in demographic groups and aims to give members of those groups what they need to be successful.
Inequality and inequity in experience, opportunity, power, and influence plagues many under-represented groups across most, if not all, industries. Awareness provides a catalyst for change, leading a person to move to the next step, driven by a personal desire to take part in the transformation. Yet when it comes to transforming the dearth of qualified women in industry and leadership, leaders tend to see that personal desire manifest into activities that fall short of moving the needle. The impact isn’t there.
Rather than repeating inefficient and ineffective programs aimed at achieving equality for women, a shift in focus—one that requires equity for every member of the workforce—is required. Only then can we all get on the right track.
Gender inequity in the mobile industry
Women comprise half the world’s population, and in many geographies, half of the workforce. Considering that women are responsible for 80% to 90% of all consumer buying decisions, it is hard to argue against the fact that women hold significant economic buying power. Yet the dearth of women in technology-intensive industries remains a black eye on industry, although many act as if this lack of movement is somehow the fault of women themselves.
There is a lot at stake if women continue to experience inequity and inequality in the workplace. By now, many have seen McKinsey’s report, which states $12 billion dollars would be added to the economy today if the women in today’s workforce were paid on par with their male counterparts. That is more than the combined GDPs of Japan, France, and the UK.
Despite the number of women in the world and the potential for economic growth if women were fully engaged, the numbers that really matter remain low: With women comprising roughly 25% of the technology workforce and holding less than 11% of corporate board positions in the industry, the progress made is simply not enough.
In a study of low- and middle-income countries, GSMA found that women in emerging economies are 38% less likely to own a mobile phone than men. Without access to information and to a broader outside community, women are handicapped. Without women in key development, marketing, strategy, and sales positions, these numbers may never fully represent the potential of the mobile industry.
Looking at the problem through the wrong lens
Companies spend billions of dollars on programs designed to address gender inequity within their own workforce. The catalyst for many of these programs is legal, although some are more driven by philanthropy and desire to do the right thing. Some initiatives offer courses that help women learn to negotiate, lead, and network like men. Many events include only women, and men, along with women who are not invited, feel left out. The needle doesn’t move, and women continue to leave their jobs at twice the rate of men, costing companies 200% of each lost talent.
Shifting the focus improves outcomes
Where’s the discrepancy? Why are these thoughtfully designed, well-meaning, beautifully executed events not working?
Let’s go back to where we started in this article: Transformation starts with an awareness that catalyzes a shift in how a status quo is viewed—one that questions ineffective, inefficient, and irrelevant norms.
Research from Dr. Elisabeth Kelan of Cranfield University found that the glass ceiling is most prevalent and damning at the middle-manager level. Instead of “fixing” women, as many programs attempt to do, we must change how we address gender inequity and inequality in the workplace by shifting our focus from “this is a women’s problem” to “this is about harnessing all the best and available talent.” After all, who is responsible for the vast majority of attracting, recruiting, engaging, developing, and advancing that talent? You guessed it: middle managers.
I look forward to sharing ideas on how every leader and manager in the mobile technology industry can engage all the best talent by eradicating unconscious bias across the nine key decisions points that can either create or hinder equity and equality in the workplace.
Hope to see you in Barcelona!
For more on the importance of workplace diversity, see Diversity For The Greater Good And As A Smart Business Strategy.