Why Workplace Equality Initiatives Aren't Helping Women
11:31 AM Friday February 5, 2010
by Orit Gadiesh and Julie Coffman | Comments (6)
Companies say they treat men and women equally — but in reality, they don't. Our recent gender-parity survey of more than 1,800 business people worldwide, conducted in association with HBR.org, shows that in fact, employees are disappointed with the way their company handles the issue of gender parity — the attempt to treat men and women equally in the workforce. Nearly 80 percent of women and men say they are convinced of the benefits of gender parity at all levels. But only about 20 percent believe their companies actually put meaningful resources behind it.
Most companies simply fall down in the follow-through. Almost three-quarters of respondents say their companies launched initiatives like flex work programs and mentorships, but fewer than 25 percent feel they are effective: employees just don't see enough women in leadership positions at their company. Fully 60 percent of survey respondents say they are not solicited for their opinions on gender parity by their companies. The dismal metrics get worse: Less than 20 percent report that their companies effectively utilize gender parity metrics to track progress. Only 14 percent say they had effective gender parity training or workshops. Just 8 percent believe their firms effectively tied incentives and compensation to gender parity.
Both men and women agree that women are still seen as better caregivers in their personal lives and tend to make more compromises in their career. The survey clearly shows that the time taken out for motherhood — and the resulting lost experience — is still a root cause of inequality in promotions, especially in "up-or-out" firms. Over time, working mothers disappear from higher management ranks in almost every industry. Result: Women constitute 50 percent of America's workforce, but in 2009 represented only 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.
The survey sends a strong message: if companies want to help more women climb the corporate ladder, they have to go beyond flex jobs or flex hours. Instead, they need to develop less rigid promotion processes and career paths — and actively promote and "de-stigmatize" flexible career arcs within the organization. For companies, the pay-off can be huge: not only will they double their talent pool of leaders as more women return to the workforce in senior positions; they will also retain more male and female employees in the long-run and slash retraining costs. That will require bringing down barriers — and breaking through the glass ceiling.
Orit Gadiesh is chairman, Bain & Company. Julie Coffman is a partner and chair of Bain's Global Women's Leadership Council.