It’s a difficult dichotomy to reconcile: There’s no doubt that progress for women in the workplace over the past decades has been significant and important. Yet, it will still take 100 years to reach gender parity in the workplace, according to a major study by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co. On February 2 at the MAKERS Conference in Ranch Palos Verdes, CA, Joanna Barsh — a Director Emerita of McKinsey & Co who is a Fairygodboss in every way to Fairygodboss, and to many, many other women across America, gave a new presentation that outlines the business case for gender equality and prescribes clear, actionable steps for employers to take.
The Business Case
Barsh highlights how now, more than ever, the business case for gender equality in the business world is clear. Recent estimates suggest that the US economy could see a $2.7 trillion improvement if women’s labor force participation reached the same level as men’s. And, so-called “feminine leadership” brings a different set of traits to the boardroom, which helps bolster the strength of an organization and the diversity of its decision-making.
The Stats: Accelerating the Advancement of Women at Work
According to data cited by Barsh, women are indeed advancing in the workplace — and yet, there seems to be a “frozen middle” past which women don’t seem to advance. Meanwhile, the pay gap persists — due to a variety of causes, including women taking on more part-time work, more career interruptions and self-selection into lower paying industries and roles. The bottom line is that the pipeline of talented women appears blocked in mid-career - and leaks great female talent. Why does this happen? According to Barsh, women struggle with managing care-taking responsibilities and perhaps just as importantly - most managers are men who mean well, but lack the training, empathy or courage to address the challenges their female reports face.
And yet Barsh reports, there is a lot of hope and promise in the efforts we see in the world today:
1. More countries are seeing the impact of transparency — for example, the UK’s voluntary (i.e. non-quota based) effort to double female participation on FTSE 100 boards.
2. Many companies are making real progress - for example, Accenture has pledged 40% new women hires by FY 2017; and
3. Millennials are vocal about what they want -- and they want equal opportunity and meaty responsibilities in the workplace.
The path to improvement: Barsh concludes there are clear steps to help solve the pipeline problem and create systematic change,including humanizing the work environment, enabling women to grow, and perhaps most importantly - activating leaders/management who can help create and support change. So many companies and their leaders want to help create gender equality within their companies but the challenge lies in the execution. Barsh’s insights provide both the incentives as well as the blueprint for companies to bring about the gender parity in the workplace we all hope to see. Joanna Barsh’s slides can be found here.
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