As much as we’d love to believe Beyonce when she sings “Who run the world? Girls!” the truth is the exact opposite, especially when it comes to the corporate sector. Most companies would have no problem stating they are all for promoting gender equality, but if you looked at the people who make up their staff, you may see a different story.
The collective “Lean In” moment is still yet to happen, but the awareness of the gender gap is at the very least a start. So how do you move the needle to ensure greater representation of women in positions of leadership? One organization has come up with a list of 5 specific action steps that companies can take in order to put their money where their mouth it.
Paradigm for Parity is made up of a coalition of business leaders dedicated to addressing the corporate leadership gender gap. The coalition is made up of CEOs, senior executives, founders, board members, and business academics who have one common goal, to ensure women have equal status, power and opportunity by the year 2030. They want to see women holding at least 30% of top leadership roles in the corporate sector.
The women who make up the Paradigm for Parity coalition are current and former CEOs of corporations such as Linkedin, Bank of America, Huffington Post, DuPont, Silicor, and many more.
“Powerful evidence links gender-balanced leadership with financial and stock market outperformance. Simply put, companies with both women and men in senior leadership positions have superior financial results,” says a description on the website.
The five action steps are designed to help workplaces accelerate the percentage of gender diversity, and were developed by looking at key research that can be found on the website. There is a toolkit that you can download from the site and find ways to incorporate into your workplace. The main areas they have identified that can help increase the presence of women are as follows:
- Minimize of eliminate unconscious bias.
- Significantly increase the number of women in senior operating roles.
- Measure targets at every level and communicate progress and results regularly.
- Base career progress on business results and performance, not presence.
- Identify women of potential and give them sponsors, as well as mentors.
“While many organizations support gender equality and call for enhanced diversity in the workplace, the Paradigm for Parity℠ coalition is unique in that it outlines a specific set of concurrent actions a company can take to achieve gender parity. We have spent the last 18 months developing the Paradigm for Parity℠ 5-Point Action Plan, a comprehensive roadmap for increasing the number of women in leadership positions, and we look forward to working with corporate executives to implement it across their organizations,” said Jewelle Bickford, Co-Chair of the Paradigm for Parity℠ coalition, in a press release.
According to research shared on the group’s website, women make up just over 50% of the US population, and 47% of the workforce. And although women are outpacing men in college enrollments, when it comes to career trajectory, it is a different story. In S&P 500 companies, women make up only 14.2% of top executive positions and only 24 CEOs.
Yet, when a company does have more women present in key leadership and decision-making roles, it can expect to see greater financial returns. Companies with 50% women in senior operating roles show 19% higher return on equity on average. For profitable companies, a move from 0% to 30% female leaders is associated with a 15% increased net revenue margin. The 2016 Fortune 500 list showed only 4.2% of CEOs of the country’s 500 largest companies are women.
If it’s a matter of the bottom dollar, why is there still so much bias toward women in the workforce? This is where the Paradigm for Parity action steps come into play, especially dismantling unconscious bias. Coupled with the fact that women earn 79 cents for every $1 a man makes on average for doing the same job, the gap will not close any time soon unless action is taken.
Ellen Kullman, former chairman and chief executive officer of Dupont Inc, said they purposely don’t address the gender pay gap in their initiative.
“We felt that others were dealing with that. If you get even close to parity, you will see these other problems go away. It’s powerful,” she told Bloomberg in an interview.
There are a number of initiatives addressing the gender gap, and Paradigm for Parity believes their action steps can help ensure closing that gap (and more) is possible on a long-term basis. Sandra Beach Lin, Co-Chair of the Paradigm for Parity coalition and board member of American Electric Power, PolyOne Corporation, WESCO International, and Interface Biologics, told Bustle what has largely been missing from the corporate conversation to address the gender gap is an actionable roadmap that companies can use to implement within their ranks.
“Change is hard and big change is even harder. We know that in order to achieve a new norm in corporate leadership where women and men have equal power, status, and opportunity, we need male and female CEOs at the Fortune 500 companies to commit to make a difference inside their own companies,” she said.
However, along with the importance of recognizing and addressing the gender gap is the knowledge that discrimination affects different types of women. An interesting thing we noticed right away when looking at the coalition of women who started Paradigm for Parity, is that there are no women of color. There are a number of stereotypes and barriers faced by women of color and other minorities that white women do not face.
Forbes.com shared research from the Center for Women Policy Studies which found 21% of women of color surveyed did not feel they were free to be “themselves at work.” The same study found more than one third of women of color — ranging from 28 percent to 44 percent — believed that they must “play down” their race or ethnicity to succeed. This must be addressed in any initiative looking to help women climb the corporate ladder.
Another study from Catalyst found that unlike the glass ceiling which is a common phrase among women in the corporate world, women of color are facing the “concrete ceiling”.
“The metaphor of a ‘concrete ceiling’ stands in sharp contrast to that of the ‘glass ceiling.’ Not only is the ‘concrete ceiling’ reported to be more difficult to penetrate, women of color say they cannot see through it to glimpse the corner office,” Catalyst President Sheila Wellington said.
“Despite well-publicized research on gender in corporate America, there’s a conspicuous lack of data that focuses on challenges faced by women of color,” writes Forbes’ Ruchika Tulshyan.
Gender parity initiatives like Paradigm for Parity must be inclusive and intersection in order to more fully help all women realize their greatest potential in the workforce. Sandra Beach Lin tells Bustle that each of us has a role to play in ensuring our work places become an environment where gender equality is the focus.
“You can always look to make your workplace a more inclusive and supportive atmosphere. It is important that we all work together to change the corporate norms for the better,” she said.
So far, 31 corporations have committed to taking the parity pledge, and we hope to see many more. If you are the CEO of a major corporation and want to take on board the 5 action steps outlined by Paradigm for Parity and read up on some of the key research they have used along the way to identify their goals, you can visit their website.