by Norman Dreger
Five years ago at the World Economic Forum Annual meeting in Davos, Mercer's When Women Thrive hosted its first breakfast event—focused on issues of gender equity and participation in the global workplace. Participation was a relatively light and majority female. This past year, that same event was one of the largest breakfast events in Davos, gaining a rough parity in male and female participation and a high degree of representation from C-suite leaders of both genders.
What has made the difference, and why are leaders now taking gender equity seriously in a new and different way? Arguably, some of the problems associated with global gender inequality are intensifying, and many leaders are responding to pressures such as talent crunches and the #metoo movement. But in part, there has also been a fundamental shift in how we look at the data—and our ability to action it—in the years since our When Women Thrive research kicked off in 2014.
Given my training as an actuary, it is perhaps not surprising that I am a fan of mathematical modelling. But it seems to me that the use of predictive modeling to identify barriers for the advancement of women or other groups in the workplace has provided some real momentum for change over the past few years.
Companies that are leading this movement are not simply wringing their hands about equity anymore. They're using the findings and the methodology developed from that initial study and combining it with their own company-specific data, internal labor market and analytics—and charting a course to improve the issues that are impacting their own organizations most profoundly.
In the past, you’d often you'd have companies looking at various KPIs and realizing they needed to make some improvements—but with no real analytics or methodology, they'd just start striking out blindly. They’d roll out unconscious bias training or introduce some mentoring and hoped that it worked. But without fully understanding the problem or defining the outcomes, those hopes didn’t have much chance.
With predictive analytics, an understanding of global issues and a nuanced look at their own data, these companies can now construct mathematical analysis that identifies the levers that are actually impacting their advancement negatively—and allows them to work specifically on those levers in a way that actually makes a difference.
The idea behind it is elegantly simple: 1) Look at the drivers mathematically. 2) Mine your data to understand what's causing real issues. 3) Work on actual problems rather than just taking shots in the dark. 4) Thrive.
This is something we actually understand fairly well, because at Mercer, we’ve practiced what we preach. As a firm, we’ve used these methodologies as we’ve pursued our own EDGE Certification, and I believe this experience is really what’s enabled us to work so successfully with our clients.
And make no mistake; taking action on equity goes beyond consulting. It has the power to impact us personally. As a man working in this field, for instance, I understand better how critical it is that men have a part in this discussion—and not just as allies or champions. In the past, we have made the mistake of framing men’s role in equity as that of a helper, but everyone is impacted by and can gain from gender equality. Men have suffered just as much from the limits of societal expectations placed on them because of their gender—often feeling the sole burden of providing for the family, expectations of strength, and suppression of feelings—to the point where studies show us men often suffer more from things like drug abuse and suicide. When we break down the societal expectations on both men and women, everyone is free to lean in to their strengths and thrive.
I am personally excited about the potential of this new research, which will feature a deep dive into some important aspects of equity, including impacts on race and age. We will also be capturing data from new regions, such as the Middle East—where we will have an opportunity to explore some stereotypes about gender equality and hopefully map some of the positive momentum that I’ve personally experienced there.
As we embark on the next generation of our signature When Women Thrive survey based research, you may be wondering if your company should participate. The answer there is a resounding yes!
The benefits to your company are clear. Not only will you be joining a global conversation—participating in the research will be a jump start for your own gender equity efforts. Looking at your own data and seeing it in context of industry, regional and global benchmarks will help you to apply the methodology and modeling you need to move the needle.
That needle will likely move significantly. In addition to simply doing the right thing, increased diversity in your organization will drive your economic success—impacting things like innovation, customer intimacy and culture. Equity will also set your organization up to succeed when it comes to attracting and keeping new talent— something that is sure to become a major employer differentiator over the next five years.
Will you take part in the When Women Thrive survey?