Among the many tragedies that have materialized in 2020, we appear to have lost considerable ground in the pursuit of gender equality in the workplace. In October, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released new data showing that out of 1.1M workers who left the workforce in August and September, 865,000 were women — nearly 80%. As Rachel Schall Thomas from Lean In said, “If we had a panic button, we’d be hitting it.”
And we may not have hit bottom yet. According to research from McKinsey & Lean In, 25% of women with children under 10 are still considering leaving the workforce. And women of color, especially Latinx and Black women, are even more significantly impacted by the adverse events of the current environment.
With all of this at the forefront of workplace and recruitment conversations, this year’s virtual Galvanize summit, themed Leading Through Crisis, was more critical than ever.
Every year, Fairygodboss convenes leaders of corporate women’s employee resources groups (ERGs) and other executives to exchange actionable ideas with the goal of radically accelerating the rate of progress toward gender parity in the workplace.
For 2020, our virtual event featured an incredible lineup of speakers including: Gayle King, Co-Host of "CBS This Morning"; Ann Fairchild, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Siemens Corporation; Joe Ucuzoglu, CEO of Deloitte US; Kimberly Jones, People Experience Leader at PwC; Vicki Walia, Chief Talent & Capability Officer at Prudential; Mike McDermott, President Pfizer Global Supply at Pfizer; Elvie Gee, Global Diversity & Inclusion Lead at Johnson & Johnson; and Ellyn Shook, Chief HR and Leadership Officer at Accenture.
Throughout the day, speakers shared their experiences, their successes and their advice for building a more diverse workforce while simultaneously leading a company through crisis. So, what can corporations do to advance gender equality during a time where everything is actively working against the women in their companies? Here are my takeaways from Galvanize 2020:
1. Lead with empathy.
Our event started with powerful words from Gayle King who said, “There’s no such thing as hierarchy of pain. We’re all feeling some degree of pain and some degree of stress, and that’s hard.” Every employee is grappling with something. Whether it’s isolation, caring for family members, losing loved ones or missing out on important milestones, the individual pain we’re feeling can’t be measured against one another's.
When evaluating how you can help your employees through a difficult time, both now and in the future, use the “platinum rule,” as Vicki Walia of Prudential describes it: “We grow up believing in the golden rule, but that's actually not what works. It's the platinum rule that works. Being able to help people [and meet them] where they need to be met.”
Kimberly Jones of PwC states, “We spoke with our people to find out what it was that they really needed for support, rather than just assume what they needed. And they told us, ‘More control over our time, help with childcare expenses, mental health support and assistance with homeschooling.’ So we put together a package of options that address each of those things, [like] enhanced childcare benefits, more flexibility than we already had, [and] we introduced a leave of absence option where you can have a leave for up to six months and still get paid 20% of your pay.”
And finally, continue to check in on employees. Jones added, “It's not enough to put a package out there and think you're done. You have to stay in touch with your people and understand where they are, understand what challenges they're still facing and keep working to develop new ideas, activities, initiatives and benefits that can help.”
2. Write a new rulebook.
When faced with the depressing numbers showing so many individuals leaving the workforce at the height of unemployment, four senior HR executives came together to create something new that can help connect businesses who need talent to people who need jobs. They created the People + Work Connect platform, which now features over 402,000 open positions at 500+ companies engaged in 95 countries, helping individuals across a variety of industries.
One of the platform’s founders, Accenture’s Ellyn Shook commented, “We had an obligation to step up to the plate and to use our platform, to really push through boundaries and bring down barriers to really serve one very simple mission, which was to put these people back to work.” The People + Work Connect platform is the first of its kind, meaning that Ellyn Shook, Lisa Buckingham, Christy Pambianchi and Pat Wadors had to think outside the figurative box.
“There was no rule book for what we did. We wrote our own. And certainly we're not breaking any laws, but we weren't following any rules,” Shook added. In this new virtual world, a lot of the “rules” from our pre-COVID world no longer apply. So, as Pat Wadors from ServiceNow stated, it's time to “break borders, learn to think differently, and copy shamelessly what works.”
Innovation is at its peak in times of crisis. “If there were ever a time to be bold, it's now. The commitment and sense of imperative amongst the leadership of organizations...has never been higher. And the CEOs, the boards want to do things that are very impactful and substantive, and don't always know what that is,” said Deloitte’s Joe Ucuzoglu.
3. Get comfortable with uncomfortable conversations.
This year placed an intense focus on racial inequalities throughout society and specifically in the workplace. Many companies have stepped up and made new commitments to ensuring they create a workforce that is reflective of the communities they serve, but it’s clear that these initiatives will only be effective if they’re followed by action.
“We can bring in as much diverse talent as possible, but without the [supportive] culture we all discussed, you get zero benefit from that diverse workforce,” said Calandra Jarrell from Bank of America. Accenture’s Nellie Borrero added, “We have to create environments where people feel welcomed and safe to bring their value to the table."
If you want to diversify your workforce, you need to ensure you have a company culture that will be supportive of every employee. To do that, start having open conversations about topics like race and gender, which may feel uncomfortable at first. "Lean into discomfort. Growth is hard, and we are learning as a society how to be better — and this is one of those growing pains," said Rema Morgan-Aluko of Fandango.
Create a safe environment for employees to have respectful conversations. Remind everyone what you’re there to discuss and “give everyone a choice to participate...explain that this is something that is important to the organization and to the success of the company,” Morgan-Aluko continued. “And then when things come off the rails, I think it's important to address the feelings that people are feeling.”
But the responsibility to address and learn more about these topics can’t be on BIPOC employees. “If you are always looking to the Black employees in your company or the Black folks in your life to give you a step by step way to combat racism when they're already dealing with the impact of it, that is you saying, ‘Please spoon feed me because I'm a person of privilege,’” said Paradigm’s Evelyn Carter.
It comes back to leading with empathy and creating a space where individuals can speak up and feel heard. Leah McGowen-Hare of Salesforce said, “I am a human and I don't want to be pigeonholed based on your limited perspective on how Black people should operate. Do not project your own limited views on me because I might be the only Black person you know. When you see me in these meetings, don't always color my thoughts, my perspectives with, 'Oh, that must be a Black woman's perspective.' It's Leah's perspective.”
And on the flip side, Kimberly Jones’ advice to Black women, and to all women of color, is: “You don’t have to put on your thickest armor...and fight the toughest fight every single day. But it does mean that we have to stay in it and we have to do our best, even though sometimes we are very discouraged and downright angry. We have to find it within ourselves to assume best intent and to give others that opportunity to learn.”
4. ERGs are more important than ever, but we’re asking them for too much.
ERGs are critical for corporations looking to drive substantial and sustainable change as they provide safe spaces for employees and give members a sense of belonging. They help drive important conversations, and from these conversations, they can recommend strategies for corporate leaders to implement. As Sofia Bonnet from Github so succinctly put it: "ERGs are the core of the inclusive experience.”
Recently, Girish Ganesan noticed that ERGs at TD Bank “have galvanized themselves around two themes. One is around connectedness and belonging and truly providing that safe space to network…the other is ideation.” ERGs offer a direct connection to employees from various backgrounds and identities and are invaluable for providing feedback to corporate leaders looking to design policies or implement new structures with the intention of helping employees.
However, during this year of heightened focus on diversity in the workplace, the author, activist and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion consultant Lily Zheng points out: “Companies have been leaning harder and harder on ERGs to do work that they were never intended to do. ERGs are being called upon to do DEI work, to educate their colleagues, to train their executives. All of this work is work that should be well-compensated.”
Looking to your ERGs to help inform corporate decisions on certain topics is incredibly important, but it’s the difference between a company asking their Black Employees Resource Group to weigh in on the corporation’s new diversity initiatives versus asking them to create them.
The key is to “engage [ERGs] in a real dialogue and discussion...and make sure that they're not being overtaxed...We have to be open to that discussion and that dialogue and land together on the right approach and the right solution,” according to Susan Reid of Morgan Stanely. Clear communication between business and ERG leaders is necessary to ensure that these groups that are designed to provide safe spaces for employees or created with a certain purpose in mind, aren’t being tasked with work they didn’t set out to do.
Ultimately, our work is cut for us.
It’s clear that we need to be diligent and intentional if we want to continue making progress on gender equality in the workplace. But after a day full of incredible conversations, I’m left feeling similarly to a few of our panelists when asked how they feel about the future: optimistic, encouraged and hopeful.
Thank you to everyone who joined us at Galvanize 2020, and a special thanks to our sponsors: Accenture, Deloitte, NBCUniversal, Robert Half, Unilever, NSA, Capital Group, Grubhub, Siemens, Cisco, Intel, PwC, Spectrum, Sysco, Teradata, ConsenSys, and Verizon.