Practical Ways To Ensure Your Business Enjoys The Benefits Of Gender Equality

Build an inclusive culture and make it clear that things like harassment, bullying and genderbased violence are not tolerated

Gender equality is not about being politically correct and keeping the peace – it’s proven to be a factor in whether or not societies thrive and has been identified as a business competitive advantage. Your business needs to ensure you’re enjoying the benefits of improved gender parity to give you the best chance at sustainable growth

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), ‘A variety of models and empirical studies have suggested that improving gender parity may result in significant economic dividends, which vary depending on the situation of different economies and the specific challenges they are facing. Notable recent estimates suggest that economic gender parity could add an additional US$240 billion to the GDP of the United Kingdom, US$1 201 billion to that of the United States, US$526 billion to Japan’s, and US$285 billion to the GDP of Germany.’

The WEF adds that making full use of women’s capabilities paves the way to optimising a nation’s human capital potential and says that female talent remains one of the most underutilized business resources. According to the 2016 WEF Global Gender Gap report, ‘When it comes to leadership positions, companies with top quartile representation of women in executive committees have been shown to perform better than companies with no women at the top − by some estimates with as much as a 47% premium on average return on equity.’

In South Africa, the Businesswomen’s Association SA (BWA) 2015 Women in Leadership Census found that at intake level, women make up just over 50% of new recruits. But at senior management level, the number of women decreases to approximately 29%, and at the most senior levels of leadership, the figures are very low – less than 9,2% of South Africa’s chairpersons are women.

Hopefully, most companies understand the need for improving gender parity. But it’s not an overnight fix. Sometimes, we (including women) are not even aware of the unconscious and systemic biases we’re up against. For example, in an article about unconscious bias, US journalist Nicholas Kristof cites a Yale study where researchers contacted science professors at major universities, asking them to evaluate the application of a (fictional) graduate for a laboratory position. In some versions, this graduate was referred to as John and in others Jennifer.

Aside from the names, the applications were identical, but on a scale of 1 to 7 (where 7 was the highest score), the professors rated John an average of 4 and Jennifer 3,3. On average, the suggested salary for Jennifer was $26 508, while for John it was $30 328. Professors were also more willing to mentor John than Jennifer. What was interesting to the researchers was that the professors’ assessments were unrelated to their own age or gender.

Other research has shown that people find it easier to pair leadership terms (like president or executive) with male names than female names, which suggests that despite our best intentions, systemic biases have made it more difficult to associate women with leadership than men.

So, if our biases are unconscious, what can we do? In their report for McKinsey, Unlocking the full potential of women in the US economy, Joanna Barsh and Lareina Yee promote organisational transformation as a solution. They advocate an approach that begins with a business case for change, communicates it broadly and emphasises successes.

To them the organizational process should be refined, and formal mechanisms developed to track performance and reinforce accountability. Next comes building capabilities to enable the desired changes. Finally, they suggest, leaders must model the change.

I’d like to root this next bit in the fact that this is not a theoretical discussion – I’m talking about real companies and real people. And to make tangible progress, we need to get real about what we’re doing.

First off, if your organisation hasn’t already mapped out how women are part of its plans, now’s the time. This might mean re-looking recruitment or career-planning policies and processes or identifying mentoring opportunities, or simply sitting with the women in your organisation and taking the time to listen to their suggestions (and then seeing which are implementable). One of the tough things you might need to do is auditing your payroll against gender pay gaps.

But many of the practical things you can do to improve gender parity are actually small and easy. Encourage women to speak in meetings. Allow a degree of flexibility. Women in senior positions are often forced to choose between motherhood and careers. Flexibility allows them to manage both better. For example, don’t schedule meetings at 8 am if you know it’s going to be impossible for parents to do the school drop-off run and get to work on time.

Encourage men to get involved with family responsibilities and offer them flexibility (and parental leave) too, and encourage them to use it.

Build an inclusive culture and make it clear that things like harassment, bullying and gender-based violence are not tolerated. If these things ever crop up, deal with them promptly and appropriately – don’t’ sweep them under the table.

Look for ways to fight unconscious bias. For example, circulate CVs with names and pronouns removed.

Finally, be intentional. Make equality part of your education and training. Keep checking in with your people on how you’re doing. Make sure it’s an ongoing drive to work towards gender equity and not just a once-off campaign every August in Women’s Month.

F.R. (Rhys) Robinson, PhD is Executive Director, Infinitus Reporting Solutions (Pty) Ltd, provider of enterprise-wide consolidation, planning and reporting solutions.

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