Gender diversity and inclusion is at a crisis point. The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the gaping divisions between men and women in the workplace. Globally more women have lost their jobs and income than men (women make up 39% of global employment but account for 54% of overall job losses).
In the UK, an estimated 133,000 more women than men were furloughed. The combination of working from home and school closures put an even greater burden of domestic responsibility on – you’ve guessed it – women.
In 2016 the Hampton Alexander Review was set up to increase the number of women on FTSE boards and improve the representation of women in senior leadership positions. This initiative concludes in 2021, yet last month’s Women on Boards report into the FTSE All-Share found that progress has been woeful outside the FTSE 350, with fewer than 50% meeting the target of 33% women on boards and more than 50% still with all-male leadership teams.
Bleak picture of gender diversity
Whilst this paints a bleak picture of gender diversity in the workplace, the pandemic has enforced a rethink by companies as to how they operate, opening up the potential for more flexible, hybrid working with the potential to benefit women who previously may have left the workplace as a direct result of the conflict between care and career.
With multiple research papers demonstrating the economic argument for diversity and inclusion in the workplace, seismic change is inevitable. According to Accenture’s Global Inclusion and Diversity Manager, Alana Stewart, the key to this is “setting goals related to purpose and priorities”.
Accenture’s commitment to everywomen
Accenture is a great example of a business that has made a public commitment to creating a culture of equality with specific goals for women. Says Alana, “we’ve made a public commitment to get to gender parity by 2025 and to have a greater number of women in senior positions. We want to reach 30% of Managing Directors by 2025 and achieve better representation of women across all levels of the business.
“A key part of our journey is to provide the right opportunities for women to grow their leadership capabilities; to help them acquire the skills that will better position them for senior positions. everywoman has helped us provide a programme of self-managed learning and development.”
everywoman has been Accenture’s diversity and inclusion partner since 2017. As a corporate member of the everywoman Network, Accenture empowers its female employees to take control of their own development within a vibrant community of 30,000 members in 104 countries.
Alana adds, “[everywoman enables] our people to access the learning platform at a time that suits them, taking ownership of their learning journey. The ease of access means they can navigate their own self-led pathway that doesn’t feel as if we, as an employer, are pushing or monitoring”.
It’s not just women at Accenture who benefit from the resources, “we want to spread the word to ensure that all our people have the opportunity to take advantage of the huge array of resources”, Alana says, “male employees benefit from the network’s resources too, helping them to understand better the challenges women face in an organisation and to recognise parallels with their own situations such as ‘impostor syndrome’.
Facebook up for the challenge
Facebook is another global brand that works with everywoman to promote diversity and inclusion across the tech industry. Its VP EMEA, Nicola Mendelsohn, says, “The technology sector should reflect the community it serves, yet for too long, women have been underrepresented in the tech workforce. The everywoman Tech Hub and Forum provide mentorship, networking, and training to support women as they build careers in STEM, and we’re delighted to support these important initiatives.”
Despite the vast awareness of Facebook’s brand, it faces many of the same challenges of employee diversity and inclusion as other technology companies worldwide. “For Facebook and the whole technology industry, it is still a challenge to show what a career in tech can look like for women and other underrepresented groups,” says Andrew Odong, Talent Attraction Programme Manager for Facebook in EMEA.
“I think that some sectors, such as law and finance, have well-defined and accessible career paths that people are familiar with, but I don’t think we’re there yet with tech. Many professionals from underrepresented backgrounds still don’t see it as a career option and, as a result, find it difficult to see the tech industry as a place where they can belong and develop their careers.”
For Facebook and other technology companies, both large and small, the challenge is to change perceptions and, as Andrew describes, “to break that cycle”.
The expectation on Facebook as one of the world’s best-known brands with 50,000 employees and annual revenues similar to the GDP of Luxemburg is for it to lead the way in diversity and inclusion. Collaborating with everywoman built a strategic model of training and personal development programmes that includes showcasing role models within Facebook through interviews, webinars, and thought-leadership content to inspire other women into the technology industries.
Andrew adds, “for Facebook, the opportunity to showcase role models within our organisation is very important. Seeing people doing the work and talking about their experiences is one of the best ways of inspiring others to do it”.
With investors increasingly applying ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) standards as part of their analysis to identify material risks and growth opportunities, diversity and inclusion has a new lens on gender with external pressures from institutional investors, employees and customers.
S&P Global Market Intelligence’s 2019 ground-breaking study found that businesses with female CFOs are more profitable and have produced better stock price performance. Similarly, firms with high gender diversity on their boards are more profitable than those with less.
The issue of Diversity = Profitability will continue to gain momentum, and businesses that fully utilise their female talent will see their global market valuations soar. Those who choose to ignore or pay lip service to gender diversity do so at their own expense.
By Karen Gill MBE, co-founder of everywoman.