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Creating An Equitable Workforce To Inspire Future Generations We must educate our employees and shareholders to not only be aware of the gender inequalities which exist, but also to be responsible and take action.

By Claire Carter

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Diversity in the workplace is a phrase which we hear often, but rarely pause to consider what it means beyond representation, and more so, what it can empower businesses and society to achieve.

In the Middle East and Africa alone, PWC estimated that US$575 billion are lost due to legal and social barriers than exist in women's access to jobs. One of the biggest roadblocks comes down to people's mindset, and how they perceive women in roles of leadership. It is therefore no surprise that women feel their seniority is questioned frequently, are asked about family planning at interviews, or that women are twice as likely to be interrupted when speaking up in meetings.

This in turn leads to talented female employees understandably losing confidence and becoming frustrated with their workplace environment, and losing confidence means we are not speaking up. Women are four times less likely to request a raise. Even when doing so, women who climb up the corporate ladder can end up earning less than their male counterparts.

The World Economic Forum's 2020 Global Gender Report has outlined a bleak reality– gender parity is not expected to be attained for another 99.5 years. As not only a working woman, but also as a mother, I just cannot accept this- we should not accept this.

Related: Making It Count: How Entrepreneur Middle East's Achieving Women Forum Served Me Well In Business

We have seen local governments increase their efforts to tackle the subject of equality and workplace diversity head on, even making the subject a core pillar within their national agendas. The missing link, and where I personally feel the greatest work needs to be done, is by businesses operating in the region.

We must educate our employees and shareholders to not only be aware of the gender inequalities which exist, but also to be responsible and take action. Beyond moral obligations, diversity also makes business sense. A McKinsey research report has shown that companies with more diverse teams are also top financial performers. A diverse workforce therefore makes better decisions smarter and faster– providing a competitive advantage.

In the technology industry, diversity is empowering companies to think beyond conventions, reimaging the research and development process to create new opportunities for increasingly varied audiences. It ensures we are never complacent and constantly challenge ourselves to evolve, along with the wants and needs of our consumer and customers– who too are constantly changing.

Related: A Progressive Perspective: Areije Al Shakar, Fund Manager, Al Waha Fund of Funds

Diversity should never just be a "ticking the box" exercise. Diversity must work in parallel with inclusion– each person must know they have a voice, that their contributions are acknowledged and valued, just as much as that of their peers. Without this culture, it is evident why many women and underrepresented groups are missing from key industries and senior leadership positions.

I'm proud to be working for a company like Lenovo, which is taking an active role in bridging the divide and increasing the participation of women in the workplace. When you walk into any of our offices around the world, you'll notice that our talent pool is extremely diverse. In EMEA, 37% of our staff are women, and globally, 27.4% hold technical roles. In the UAE, women represent 25% of our workforce which is already higher than the global average of 16% of women in IT roles, and we are working on increasing this. I believe it is our duty to show the next generation that what you study and choose to do as a career should not be decided by your gender, but simply your level of ambition and skillset.

In 2007, we established the Women in Lenovo Leadership (WILL) initiative– designed to address career development needs which can support women's growth and contribution in our company. This global effort enables us to consider best how to not only attract but also retain female talent in the technology sector. In the UAE, we host several networking events, workshops and mentoring programs specifically for our female employees each year. We also work with external partners such as Women in Technology International, local chamber organizations and local women's groups to provide personal development activities for women inside and outside of our company.

Related: Boss Ladies: Three Successful Women Whose Stories (And Words) Will Inspire You

We truly believe that technology has the power to change behaviors and positively impact our lives, which is why our vision is to create "Smarter Technology for All." Considering the awareness needed to drive diversity and inclusion forward in our region, we're taking our commitment to diversity and inclusion a step further, by embarking on a new project ahead of International Women's Day.

Our research has shown that in the workplace, some words conjure starkly different connotations for men and women. For example, seniority to most men may equate to authority, while for a number of women, the first though that comes to mind is having their abilities questioned.

To highlight these challenges, we've created a plug-in for Microsoft Word which uses hard-hitting facts, data and programming to illustrate the different ways in which words can be perceived by men and women. Called "The Equality Spell Check' our detection plug-in highlights specific words (even when spelt correctly), to reveal how they mean something completely different for women.

For example, if you type the word "plans," the plug-in recognizes this as a keyword and marks it as incorrect. When the user right clicks to correct the spelling, the plug-in shares a statistic from our research, related to this word. In the case of "plans," it informs the user that 51% of women are asked about their plans of becoming a mother, during their job interviews. Our hope is that this would strike a chord with managers and HR professionals as they take candidates through the hiring process. There are many more examples which will resonate with audiences for different reasons.

The purpose here is two-fold. We're helping people understand the prejudices they may have and raising awareness of the challenges that women face in the workplace daily. To inspire a wider movement, we're challenging brands to take part, by having their employees download the #equalityspellcheck. In the UAE, we have already received positive responses and confirmations from the likes of Intel, Nvidia and Gamers Hub Middle East.

As more industry players embrace change and realize the benefits of diversity from both a company and wider social standpoint, I believe we will see these statistics continue to change, for the better. Knowing that there are companies such as Lenovo and our fellow brands and companies taking a stand in this space, I am hopeful for a future in which individuals are offered equal opportunities and valued fairly, based on merit.

Related: Embracing Gender Diversity In Entrepreneurship Across The Middle East

Claire Carter

Marketing Director, Lenovo – Middle East, Turkey and Africa

Claire Carter is the Marketing Director, Lenovo – Middle East, Turkey and Africa, and a Women in Lenovo Leadership Ambassador. 

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