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Ready For Anything

CEOs and the Importance of Talking About Gender Equity

Here is a starter list for CEOs to discuss (or employees to ask).
CEOs and the Importance of Talking About Gender Equity
Image credit: Cavan Images | Getty Images
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5 min read
This story originally appeared on Ellevate

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) launched the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion in June 2017 with 175 CEOs signing on (the list included marquee companies such as Cisco, HP, Morgan Stanley and Walmart). A key tenet of the pledge is that CEOs must sign up and commit to diversity and follow up with additional activities and collaboration. Today, that number has expanded to more than 500 CEOs of the world’s leading companies. On Dec. 7, CEO Action is asking CEOs to hold a discussion of understanding on the same day.

Related: How to Motivate Leaders to Champion Gender Equity

When that discussion turns to gender equity, what might they discuss?

Let’s look at the current state of workplace gender diversity and where we go from here.

The current status of gender equity in the workplace

It will be 217 years to reach gender equity, 168 years in North America alone (U.S. and Canada). Couple that with the fact that women represent only 26 of the CEOs in the Fortune 500 (and that number is down from 32 in 2017) and we clearly have an issue with gender equity in the workplace.

The lack of women at the CEO level (and at the C-suite level in general) is representative of a gap further down the pipeline: the gap at the first promotion. Men are promoted at a rate of 21 percent higher than women from the very first promotion. The pipeline leaks early. So, why don’t women speak up? They do; however, the research shows that women are penalized for it. It’s not quite as easy “just speaking up”.

Of the 279 companies who participated in the 2018 Women in the Workplace study, only 38 percent set targets for gender representation. It would be hard to imagine these companies not setting targets for financial performance, so it’s not surprising that 20 percent of employees feel their company’s commitment to gender equity is mere lip service.

The focus on pay, while important, is not enough. Based on Pipeline’s own findings, pay is the symptom, not the disease. Pay is the quantitative representation of the value you’ve placed on your talent after upstream value decisions such as performance and promotion.

Related: Men: Be the Hero

Talking about gender diversity in the workplace

If we want to have a candid discussion about gender equity, let’s start with the fact that if you have only one woman in your candidate pool, she has statistically no chance of getting the job.

Given our current state, and that men hold the majority of all leadership positions -- 95 percent of the Fortune 500 CEOs and 62 percent of manager positions -- we have to spearhead a conversation that both includes men and seeks to understand the different experiences of women in the workforce.

Let’s start with commitment: the pledge. That is the first step. The second is living the pledge: putting commitment into action.

Let’s go beyond simple representation numbers to understand deeper statistics around functions. That information will teach us about how we really can live our pledge. For instance, on Dec. 7, here is a starter list for CEOs to discuss (or employees to ask):

  • Who is really in line for CEO roles?
  • How do women fall out of that pipeline (which may be why they only talk 8 percent of the time on corporate earnings calls)?
  • How can women employ the strategy of amplifying each other if they are the only woman in the room (which is more likely the higher up the corporate ladder you climb)?
  • When women break the glass ceiling, why are they often pushed off the glass cliff?
  • Why do women face a penalty when they become mothers, regardless of the fact that women are the breadwinners in 40 percent of households with children (and the most productive employees over the course of their careers)?

Related: How to Address Gender Inequity at Work

Let’s also ensure that the questions are not solely based on the experience of women in the workplace; gender equity is not a synonym for women’s rights. We must include men and talk about how gender inequity impacts them throughout their lives. The internal dialog of gender norms begins at an early age and limits future paths men may choose for themselves, from pursuing non-traditional roles as stay-at-home fathers to identity covering at work. 

Uncovering and discussing gender bias is a critical step in the move toward gender equity. The conversations on Dec. 7 should be about how lack of diversity holds everyone back, from showing up as your authentic self to constricting the economic footprint of your company.

Gender equity is an opportunity for all.

The data shows that converting talk into concrete action is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. From Pipeline’s own research across over 4,000 companies in 29 countries, we found that for every 10 percent increase in gender equity, there is a 1-2 percent increase in revenue.

So, on Dec. 7, let’s have a candid, honest discussion about diversity in the workplace and how lack of it is impeding everyone. Then, let’s commit to action and transparency in pursuit of equity for all.

(By Katica Roy. Roy is the CEO and founder of Denver-based Pipeline.)

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