Why wait 80 more years to reach gender parity?
The survey of leaders in 400 companies around the world was commissioned from Longitude Research by professional services organization EY in response to an October 2014 report from the World Economic Forum that predicted it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender equality in the workplace.
The report, Women. Fast forward: The time for gender parity is now, asks what are the biggest barriers and accelerators to women's career advancement. Interestingly, men and women both believe that more female leadership leads to stronger companies, suggesting closing the gender gap may be, at this point, less reliant upon education and more dependent upon men and women working together to create supportive working environments that allow all talent to flourish.
While 33% of women and 30% men agree that women must take a proactive approach to their own careers, this will not be enough to accelerate change. Men and women working together to demonstrate how women's careers can progress, eliminating conscious and unconscious bias and establishing progressive policies are also needed.
Mark Weinberger, EY Global Chairman and CEO, says: "As we think about the keys to growth, business, nations and economies cannot afford to wait another 80 years to fully engage the talent represented by the world's women. For EY, as for others, accelerating women's progress is essential not only to creating a better working world but also to our success as a business. As an organization, we are focused on making a difference both internally and externally – and believe it's time to accelerate our efforts."
Inspired by a large and growing body of research that supports the economic benefits of gender equality and women's advancement in the workplace, the survey asked men and women at management and C-suite levels for their personal experiences of factors that supported or blocked women's progression, with the aim of identifying what organizations can do to accelerate progress.
Tellingly, companies EY identified as "high performers" within the survey — those growing at more than 20% on an annualized basis over the past three years – appear to be doing more than others to encourage women's advancement.
The report identified three clear steps that organizations can take to help accelerate gender equality:
1. Illuminate the path to leadership. Good opportunities for progression are considered a top enabler by men (26%) and women (35%), suggesting that organizations must work harder to make the path ahead clearer to women, demonstrate what is possible and show them career opportunities that match their skills and ambition.
2. Speed up culture change with corporate policy change. The twin enablers of work/life balance and flexibility are high on the women's list of accelerators. From its own experience and what the high-performer responses suggest, EY says informal flexibility for both men and women is highly effective in helping all employees balance their personal and professional lives.
3. Establish a supportive environment and work to eliminate conscious and unconscious bias. Men cited unconscious bias as the number one barrier for women in the workplace. Twenty-seven percent of men said that in their own experiences having a supportive culture is the best way to support women's career advancement. To advance women, EY recommends that leaders must spread an organization-wide message that bias is unacceptable. ■