This article focuses on gender balance. We acknowledge that gender diversity is a broad term and no one phrase will capture everyone's experience. For the purposes of these articles, when we say "women", we are talking about people who identify as women. We also want to acknowledge that experiences described below may also be familiar to people of other identities. Every day we are provided with opportunities to learn and grow. This is one of those times. We welcome your input and suggestions for sustained and future learning.
For further context, read Monica's previous article Building gender balance - An integrated approach for individuals and organizations.
Simon Sinek's powerful 2013 TED talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action has been viewed over 59 million times. It starts with the question "Why?". His most famous quote from this talk states, "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it, and what you do proves simply what you believe." As leaders, the power of asking “Why gender balance?” is important to the world and then acting on that belief is a driver that can make change at every level.
Change begins at the top
Working towards gender equality is not a new topic. In fact, a lot of people will ask why we are still talking about it. The 2022 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report (measured in terms of economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment) says it will take 132 years to achieve gender parity (59 years for North America). After all these years, why is it still taking so long? Among many reasons, one is the lack of leadership involvement.
So who is best to lead these initiatives?
It doesn't matter if the leader is male or female. The tone at the top drives behaviours and decisions throughout an organization. If an issue is not included for consideration with top leaders, then it will never be a part of the strategy. In other words, gender equality may be seen as important for the organization but just not enough to be a priority for the organization. Help make it a priority.
Here are ways that as a leader you can help your organization build gender balance.
Become gender bilingual
Women drive 89% of all consumer purchasing, through a combination of their buying power and influence. A decade ago, Harvard Business Review reported that women represent a bigger opportunity than China and India combined. To be able to successfully work with or sell to women, an organization that learns the language and culture of women will create an ecosystem of opportunity. More organizations are taking notice and tailoring their business practices to speak to both men and women without alienating either gender. Gender bilingualism is a competency that will differentiate your organization.
Assess your executive team - who is truly on board
Before launching aggressive gender initiative targets and leadership goals, check in with your leadership team. Do they understand the initiative and why it's important and a priority? Do this by interviewing executive team members to assess their alignment to company values. Does your leadership team know the current organizational gender status and is there consensus of the gaps and how to address them?
If there is misalignment within the executive group, they will find it difficult to convince the rest of the organization of its priority. This is no different from any strategic initiative. When the entire leadership team have buy-in and are skilled at communicating the plan—it's an easier task to get everyone on board.
Add gender equality as a measure of performance
What gets measured matters. If gender balance is truly a priority for a leader and the organization, then measuring the behaviours should be added to the performance management scorecard to be used in consideration for promotions, salary adjustments, and bonus. Are people thoughtfully reviewing and changing process to remove systemic bias? Do they actively work with each other to help raise awareness of behaviours that are not inclusive? Is there an advocacy program and is it being followed?
Every organization is unique, so the takeaway is this: there is no 'one size fits all' approach. Nor is there one solution that will move the dial for gender balance. This is a collaborative approach that requires leadership, strategy, buy-in, process, measurement, and time. A ship with a distracted captain and crew will slow its progress. Keep your eye on the sails and help continue the momentum to move in the right direction.
Monica Murray is a CPA, CA and Certified Executive Coach. She supports organizations to transform managers into leaders. Global demographic data reports, social behavioural psychology TED talks, and Caribbean catamaran sailing videos is what you will typically find on her web browser.