Brace yourself: a recent study found that women are 73% more likely to die in a car accident than men, according to the University of Virginia.
Why? It’s because crash test dummies are modeled based on men. This tragic — and seemingly easily correctable — problem caught my attention because it was emblematic of the challenges that impede the progress of women in Corporate America. These real challenges were the primary topics of discussion at the third annual Galvanize: Making Women’s Resource Groups Powerful event from Fairygodboss last week.
According to the World Economic Forum, at our current pace of progress, we are still more than 200 years away from achieving gender equality in the workplace. One reason for this unacceptable statistic is that women — as well as underrepresented minorities — go to work every day in an environment that was built to address the needs and behaviors of white straight men. Workplaces have not yet been adjusted to be made safe or effective for people who do not fit that mold.
Our annual Galvanize summit is designed to engage conversation among — and make connections between — women’s employee resource groups at large U.S. corporations. The objective each year is to exchange actionable ideas and drive collaboration so that we can help make resource groups more effective and radically accelerate the pace of progress toward gender equality.
This year’s event, which took place in New York City on October 29-30, featured some truly amazing speakers, which were particularly impressive due to their experience, knowledge and diversity in many ways: Bozoma Saint John, CMO of William Morris Endeavor, Anne Chow, CEO of AT&T Business, Joe Ucuzoglu, CEO of Deloitte, David Kenny, CEO and Chief Diversity Officer of Nielsen, Janeen Uzell, COO of Wikimedia, Ashley T Brundage, Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion at PNC Bank, plus other gender diversity thought leaders including Annie Jean-Baptiste, Head of Product Inclusion at Google, Will Post, Industry Manager of U.S. Marketing Solutions and Jacqui Canney, Global Chief People Officer at WPP.
The Galvanize 2019 event focused on the theme Engaging Men as Allies, with the understanding that men still dominate the upper ranks of U.S. corporations. According to research conducted by Fairygodboss, 88% of men in the workplace say they want to be male allies, but a full 56% of them say they don’t know what to do to be a male ally.
The business case for workplace gender equality has been decisively proven. According to McKinsey & Company, diverse workplaces can result in 35% better performance. Other experts including Morgan Stanley have connected gender diverse management teams with higher stock price performance over time.
Recently, Melinda Gates published an OpEd in Time committing $1 billion to promoting gender equality. She implores us to act now, while gender diversity is highly topical. “A window of opportunity has opened,” she said. “Even so, there is no reason to believe this moment will last forever — or that this window will stay open as long as we need it to. If we’re going to act, we have to act now.”
So, what actions can corporations take in 2020 to rapidly advance gender equality while this window is open? Here are my five biggest takeaways from the Galvanize 2019 event:
I was deeply impacted by words from Daisy Auger-Dominguez, who said, “We have employees who are walking into organizations that haven’t been created with them in mind.” As we think about building workplaces that enable people from all backgrounds and experiences — and yes, genders — to flourish, we have to be hyper-aware of the fact that most U.S. corporations were built to accommodate predominantly white men.
So what would change look like? Well, for one thing, we have to find a new neutral. Will Post, the Industry Manager of U.S. Marketing Solutions at Facebook, gave a show-stopping presentation about his own journey as a male ally. He completed his presentation with a quote from comedian Hannah Gadsby who said, “This is the first time that white straight cis-gender men have been forced to think of themselves as anything other than human neutral.” In order to radically advance diversity in the workplace, we must redefine “neutral” to consider us all.
David Kenny, CEO of Nielsen, has planted a firm stake in the ground to address this issue by also taking on the title of Chief Diversity Officer. Kenny said that understanding diversity and inclusion is essential to driving performance and innovation for his corporation, which is why he has made this a top priority. Kenny has taken radical action within his walls to ensure that all executive compensation considers how managers are working to advance diversity, and also requires all executives to serve as sponsors for employee resource groups.
“If we’re not thinking about processes, systemic institutional issues and the way we think about people, our inclusion efforts will fail,” said Shuchi Sharma, the Global Head and VP Gender Equality & Intelligence at SAP. The clear takeaway from Galvanize was that companies that successfully recalibrate “neutral” will be the ones to thrive and succeed in the future.
Sadly, the biggest challenge to the advancement of women and underrepresented minorities at work is likely a lack of understanding of the experiences of people who are not like us.
And yet, the more we open ourselves up and be willing to have authentic or maybe even awkward conversations, the more context we can gather about where others are coming from.
At Galvanize, Ashley T Brundage, VP of Diversity and Inclusion at PNC Bank, recounted her story of interviewing for a job after a recent gender transition to become a woman. “I was greeted with doors slammed in my face and people telling me that they would never hire anyone like me.” Hearing a story like hers firsthand can help hiring managers build empathy and a broader sense of understanding for candidates of all backgrounds.
With regard to hiring, Brigid McMahon from IBM reiterated how important it is for hiring managers to assess complete person. “If someone is qualified for a position, but not technically off the charts, they can often be better for your team because they bring a diversity of backgrounds and ideas,” says Brigid McMahon, the Global Talent Acquisition Director at IBM.
Similarly, Matthew Richards from Cognizant urges us to “challenge the norms” when we think about candidates, and ask hard questions like “why do we think that this person is the best fit?” or “why was this candidate excluded?”
The takeaway: Allyship depends on two-way conversations. As Celeste Warren, VP of HR and Global Diversity and Inclusion at Merck said, “If we don’t involve allies into the conversation, we don’t create a culture of inclusion where everyone can be heard.”
And Jimmy Etheredge, Accenture Chief Executive of North America reminded that “we all need to be seen, safe, connected and confident.” We all need to think about how to accomplish this for all of our colleagues at work each and every day.
A consistent themes throughout Galvanize was that we must all be deliberate and consistent in our advocacy of diversity and inclusion. Sharing her personal journey from an immigrant family to a corporate executive, CEO of AT&T Business Anne Chow implored us all to “be the change,” and when we achieve status, we must pay it forward.
Award-winning marketing executive Bozoma Saint John, who is CMO at William Morris Endeavor, spoke about her experience becoming the Chief Brand Officer of Uber shortly after the company faced a major scandal about its treatment of female employees. Saint John said that despite the fact that it had nothing to do with her job, she was constantly assumed to be head of diversity for the company -- simply because she was a black woman.
And yet, she reminds us - we all have to be in charge of diversity in every room, every day if we are ever to make meaningful structural changes.
Colleen Finnegan, Senior Manager of Employer Brand at Instacart and LGBTQ+ advocate, reminds us that we have to always ask the question, “whose voices are missing here?”
And, with all the endless talk and lack of progress on the diversity front, Janeen Uzell, COO of Wikimedia puts it bluntly, “Our Say:Do ratio has to go up.”
Bozoma Saint John poignantly reminded the audience at Galvanize that gender equality is not complete once white women have achieved it. “Latina Equal Pay Day is in November -- that’s almost a whole extra year!” she admonished the crowd.
“For every 100 men, only 72 women are promoted. For black women, it’s even worse. And for Latina women, it’s worse than that,” said Mekala Krishna a senior fellow at the McKinsey Global Institute when discussing their 2019 Women in the Workplace report.
As champions for equality, we have to always consider and represent the least equal among us. “We can’t just make this about checking a box,” said David Kenny of Nielsen. True equality must take the experience of all employees into account, and be led prominently from the top.
Lastly, speakers including Chow and Krishnan acknowledged that per Gates’ fears, some degree of fatigue with the topic of gender equality may be taking hold.
And yet, there is more data than ever available to help guide our advocacy of diversity. To start, data proves unequivocally the business case for gender equality, as shared by Krishnan. She emphasized that diversity is “not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.”
Ana Recio, EVP Global Recruiting for Salesforce, talked about the ways in which today’s data collection capabilities can support diversity efforts more than ever before. “To attract female talent, you have to start with the data,” she said. “Understand what your goals are around hiring and promoting women and then look at those metrics each month.”
“Diversity can’t come off the table when times get hard,” warned Annie Jean-Baptiste, Head of Product Inclusion at Google. We have to remember that diversity initiatives will set us up for success in the future, and are never a nice-to-have.
We must all emphatically and regularly assert the business case for diversity to drive ongoing buy-in and action from leadership.
Despite challenges, Jaqui Canney, the Chief Human Resources Officer at WPP is encouraged about where we’re headed. “I’m optimistic about the conversations that are happening,” she said. “CEOs are engaging and are holding themselves accountable in a way that didn’t happen 20 years ago.”
Melinda Gates has presented us with a burning platform. The window is open now and we have to act quickly if we are to make meaningful change. We have to consider context, open up the dialogue, and advocate for diversity in every room and under every circumstance. And we must all work together as human beings.
Only with the most collaborative, smart and deliberate efforts can we radically accelerate the 200-year timeline to achieving diversity.
Fairygodboss is the largest career community for women. Fairygodboss was founded in 2015 by Georgene Huang and Romy Newman, who had previously worked together as executives at Dow Jones. Over 7 million women used Fairygodboss this year to look for jobs and get career advice. Fairygodboss partners with companies like Apple, Microsoft and Bank of America to help them share their story about why they are great employers for women.