From ambition to effective results: The 7 sins of corporate gender equality

It is more and more accepted that better inclusion drives better business results. When companies focus on having the very best talent – and a gender balanced workforce – it is good for everyone. Yet many companies have struggled to make significant progress toward creating inclusive workplaces and closing the gender gap. So what are the common sins committed by the business world that prevent more rapid and convincing results?*

IGNORANCE

A general lack of understanding is widespread. Hardly a meeting goes by without one of these companies saying something like: “But is this what women really want?” or “The emphasis is on promoting the best. It’s out of the question to use positive discrimination!” The reality is, of course, more complex, and touches at the very heart of the organisation’s corporate culture, the model of leadership that’s in place, HR processes, talent management, conscious and unconscious stereotypes with regard to women as well as men, … With more than 60% of graduates being women, if there was real meritocracy without bias, companies wouldn’t lose their talented females en mass at every defining moment in their careers!

SUPERFICIALITY

Talent Management is a real concern, and should be a strategic priority backed up with analysis, a plan of action, targets and resources. “What gets measured gets done.”

SHORT TERM APPROACH

We can’t change the mentality or the culture and processes of company in a few months. It’s a long process that requires patience and perseverance. It is also the only means to convince the most reluctant because they see that the “strategic priority” of a company where all talent is valued does not disappear when the CEO changes or after disappointing results.

INCONSISTENCY

Equality (gender balance) and diversity (balanced representation of minorities) have become fashionable and “politically correct”. But very few organisations practice what they preach. Often those people tasked with the responsibility to enforce these policies are doing so in addition to their usual functions and lack the budget or visibility at executive level. However, the majority of them are enthusiastic and motivated. But if the resources aren’t there, all they can do is “window dressing”.

EQUALITY versus DIVERSITY

Gender equality policies are often merged with those of “diversity”. We are all men or women. So we all have a gender with all that that entails in terms of culture, social norms and therefore behaviour. Our society is built on a patriarchal model and therefore, on the domination of men over women. Even if profound changes have occurred for the first time in the history of humanity, it is only in the last 50 years that women have started to push through into the labour market without someone somewhere asking them to do so. Women are currently the part of humankind with the most university graduates. Diversity is more about insuring equal access to the labour market. Equality is about sharing power! Without wishing to undermine the importance of diversity policies for a more inclusive society, gender equality is completely different to all other aspects of diversity.

FEAR OF FEMINISM

Feminism is nothing more than an ideal that strives for equal rights between men and women and which wants all humans to be able to make lifestyle choices that suit them regardless of the expectations that society links with their gender. The concept of autonomy and freedom of the individual is at the centre of this ideal. Feminism is the biggest revolution of the last century and it is the greatest gift to the women and men of this planet.  However … many companies are afraid to implement equality programmes for fear of being labelled “feminist”. It’s about equality, liberty but especially about managing talent and performance, nothing more than that!

POSITIVE DISCRIMINATION

It will never be a question of promoting those who are incapable (ah if all leaders merit the positions that they have!). It will never be about a power struggle between men and women. It’s about how we manage all the talents in a company correctly by putting in place conditions so that everyone can give their maximum, meet their full potential and really feel respected and valued for who they are. It’s a process that involves all leaders but also the leading majority of the company: men!

* The JUMP Gender Equality Hub on the 22 November in Brussels will focus on this precise topic: “Strategic planning & accountability: how to make your gender equality plan a success”

Isabella Lenarduzzi, JUMP “Promoting Gender Equality, Advancing the Economy”

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