Guest Post: How Companies Are Addressing Gender Equality in the Workplace

By: Elle Martin

“New research provides compelling evidence that diversity unlocks innovation and drives market growth,” writes Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Melinda Marshall, and Laura Sherbin for Harvard Business Review, “a finding that should intensify efforts to ensure that executives ranks both embody and embrace the power of differences.” Indeed, more than 75% of CEOs rate gender equality as a top ten business priority, according to The Wall Street Journal, yet companies are still struggling to make the dream of a more innovative and competitive company culture, one that treats men and women equally, into action.

For the last three decades, American colleges have graduated more women than men, yet their pay and their participation is not reflective of this fact. Women are still underrepresented in nearly every field, and post miniscule numbers in the C-suite: the percentage of female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies has dropped to 4%.

At the present moment, women are less likely to receive promotions, have less access to mentorship and input, and are more likely to miss out on opportunities that accelerate their careers. According to a recent study conducted by McKinsey & Company, even when women “lean in” and negotiate for increases in compensation, they are 30% more likely to receive negative feedback than their male counterparts. “Companies’ commitment to gender diversity is at an all time high,” reads the McKinsey & Company study, “but they are struggling to put their commitment into practice… To level the playing field, companies need to treat gender diversity like the business imperative it is, and that starts with better communication, more training, and a clearer focus on results”

While many CEOs are answering the call to foster a more inclusive company culture, reshaping employee attitudes and reducing explicit and implicit biases has proven to be astronomically difficult, with some companies finding more success than others.

Companies like Moss Adams are tackling the challenges of creating a more diverse workplace by enacting initiatives like Forum W, which hosts mentoring and networking events for women. “Forum W’s mission is to help the firm attract, develop, retain and advance talented women,” Moss Adams asserts. “Women have been historically underrepresented at the top levels of the accounting profession. Since Forum W launched in 2008, women are increasingly making their way to top spots across our firm.”

Target and PepsiCo CEOs, Brian Cornell and Indra Nooyi, partnered up to co-chair the Network of Executive Women’s Future Fund a campaign focused on achieving 50/50 gender parity in the retail, consumer good and services industries. The fund is a $5 million capital campaign that aims to provide insights on the hurdles female leaders face by conducting research, performing analytics, and providing leadership development programs. “Technology will amplify our reach, expand our capabilities and accelerate women into leadership roles,” proclaims a NEW Future Fund’s pamphlet.

Toptal, in partnership with General Assembly, developed the Global Mentors initiative to bring valuable mentorship to minorities in tech, an industry dominated by men. “Technology has opened doors for many people around the world,” reads the initiative’s website, “but the opportunity hasn’t been equal for everyone.” Utilizing the company’s network of freelance software engineers and designers, they allowed opportunities for talent to increase their hireability through volunteering and provided underrepresented individuals with access with direct mentorship from experienced professionals. “By mentoring graduates of the Opportunity Fund preparing to enter the industry as junior developers,” the company states in their appeal to potential mentors, “you’ll be able to have a maximum impact on their successes in the industry. As a Global Mentor, you will be able to change lives for the better and take a leading role in promoting diversity in technology.”

While many companies show some form of support for gender equality, strong leadership has emerged out of only a small percentage. Reformatting company culture to accommodate for several different perspective takes a rather large investment of time and resources and many are hesitant to move forward in a concrete way. Currently, the companies that are effectively addressing the problem of the gender gap are doing so by providing women with mentorship, and by hosting professional development and networking events. Connecting women with senior leadership, encouraging them to speak up, and helping their managers reduce bias will ease the growing pains as these companies accelerate diversity and innovation within their organizations.

Ellie Martin is a founding trainer for Startup Change Work. Her works on entrepreneurship and remote work have been published on The Huffington Post, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, among others. 





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