Tuesday March 8th is International Women’s Day and marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. This year’s theme is Pledge for Parity. I like this name because it highlights that this “women’s day” is not only about women. By definition, gender parity means men are treated equally too. Don’t we all simply want a level playing field? Equal access to information and opportunity?
Inspired by this global day of awareness, I’d like to use my voice to shine light on the slow progress on women’s attainment of leadership positions. More importantly, I’d like to share what we can do to create talent management processes that equalize leadership opportunities for all qualified employees.
If you want to learn how you can start a collaborative gender parity conversation at work, join me for a lunchtime webinar on March 23rd. Details are at the end of this blog.
Progress is slow
While there has been progress in the pursuit of women’s equal access to opportunity in the workplace, women continue to face a playing field that they believe is anything but level. Research from leading organizations has been telling us what needs to change. In their 2009 report, “Cascading Gender Biases, Compounding Effects: An Assessment of Talent Management Systems,” Catalyst described how talent management processes “are linked in ways that disadvantage women creating a vicious cycle in which men continually dominate executive positions.” Their research found that companies fall short in implementing the kinds of checks and balances that minimize gender bias.
The four equalizers
There are four techniques that have been shown to level the playing field for all qualified people. Review the list and reflect on your point of view. Examine your company’s internal practices to identify areas that should be improved.
- Skill-based gender bias training. Companies must train all management employees, especially senior leaders, with quality skill-based gender bias training that includes teaching and enforcing bias interrupters. We must teach managers how to prevent our unconscious biases from causing errors in judgment so we can institutionalize a culture where we identify and choose the best person for a job. You can read more about bias in a business-focused report from EY and RBC here.
- Transparent and objective talent management systems. To disrupt systemic bias, we must:
- Clearly define and communicate performance evaluation and candidate job selection criteria
- Create explicit decision rules about how evaluation criteria are weighted and applied for performance evaluations and candidate job selections
- Post and effectively communicate all jobs internally
- Implement diverse slate policies
- Utilize panels of diverse, bias-trained interviewers for candidate selection
- Publish career development programs and their qualifications
- Gender neutral approach to workplace flexibility. Today’s employees – men and women – need flexibility for balancing increasing demands outside of work. Companies can improve business agility by adapting the workplace to the new reality.
- Establish work practices that create business agility including flextime, job sharing, and telecommuting
- Use employee needs, interests and concerns about burnout as a catalyst for creatively designing work
- Establish alumni programs for women who need to step away from the workforce; tap their expertise to show that returning is possible
- Executive commitment and accountability. To improve business results, key performance indicators are measured and compensation is tied to performance. Unconscious gender bias needs this same kind of scrutiny. A level playing field where qualified women have equal opportunity to rise to the leadership ranks requires the CEO to be visible and vocal about it. Bain & Co. published a study, “Walk the talk,” here aimed to understand specifically what CEOs and other leaders can do to create positive and engaging environments for both genders. The study highlights critical behaviors and “conduct that counts.”
Elevate and escalate
With a tight labor market and a war for talent, it has never been more important for companies to tap into the talents of all their employees. Gender parity is a business issue not a woman’s issue. To help companies accelerate progress toward a level playing field, we can educate ourselves, form coalitions of like-minded advocates, and start influencing change to policies and practices.
If you want to learn how you can start a collaborative gender parity conversation at work, join me at noon on March 23rd for a free webinar hosted by TalentStream. I’ll be talking about 5 simple ways you can inspire a level playing field where everyone can achieve their potential. This webinar is for both men and women. Sign up here. In addition, use the ShowMe50 action toolkits to increase your knowledge and confidence for speaking up for a level playing field at work.