In 51 BC Cleopatra became queen of the Egyptians. In 1429 Joan of Arc successfully defended the city of Orleans from siege. In 1920 Susan B. Anthony’s suffragette movement earned women the right to vote in the US. And in 2221 women will (hopefully) earn equal pay for equal work as men. If you’ve noticed the backwards trend, you’re not alone.
Boardrooms and water coolers around the world are abuzz with talk of gender parity and workplace equality, but the world of work still has relatively little to show for it. The gender pay gap will take up to 202 years to close (according to the World Economic Forum), less than one-third of global corporate boards feature at least three women, and the number of women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies declined by 25% in 2018. How can HR and business leaders convert conference-room conversations about gender parity into real-world workplace gender equality?
Just like with math and art, the devil is in the details. This is something we appreciate at Mercer, and it’s why we’re focusing on hard data and objective tracking for gender equality with our new Mercer | EDGE solution. For those looking for actionable direction and tangible steps to help advance gender equality in the workplace, here are a few areas of focus for the year ahead.
Measurement is not just for carpenters and upholstery. A problem the size of gender inequality requires careful study and work, and that means we need to understand what causes women’s careers to become derailed, diverted, or stagnant over the course of their working lives. For all the headline-worthy stats about women in the C-suite, there are dozens of others that point to the positive impact that maternity policies, returnships, and mentorship programs can have on women’s careers. These programs (or their absence) may have just as much of an impact on overall gender equality in an organization as who’s sitting in the boardroom, but first we need to understand the where, when, and why women are falling behind.
We’re looking to solve for gender equality in the future of work, not in the past. That’s why it’s so important that we stay future-focused as we explore and deploy solutions for the modern office, where AI, automation, and computer learning are set to play an increasingly important role in our day-to-day lives. Organizations must explore new technologies that can to eliminate or reduce bias when it comes to hiring, promotions, bonus pay-outs, and all the other decisions – large and small – that can eventually define our careers. Doing so could go a long way toward empowering women in the workplaces of tomorrow.
Old dogs can learn new tricks, but we don’t need to rely on retraining. Organizations can change from within by being selective and mindful during the hiring process. This means not falling prey to our own biases as we screen applicants, avoiding decision-making short cuts like the affinity bias – hiring people like our selves – or the inter-group bias – hiring people who would fit into the culture as it’s currently constituted. We all can make our organizations better one step at a time, but it begins with a mindful approach to bringing in new talent.
We didn’t inherit a 202 year gender pay gap without major systemic problems to diversity and equality at work, but it doesn’t do any good to wallow in the insurmountability of our obstacle. While Mercer and our partners work to decode and reprogram the world around us to support women in the workplace, each of us can do our part to break down barriers, open doors and break glass ceilings. It may not deliver a level playing field overnight, but it might make Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, and Susan B. Anthony proud.
Who will join me?