The issue of gender inequality in the workplace is a frequently discussed topic and one that is unfortunately entrenched in the corporate world. According to research by CNNMoney and Catalyst, women occupy only 14% of the top five executive positions in S&P 500 companies, fewer than 5% of CEOs are female and women hold only 19.2% of S&P board seats in the United States. McKinsey and LeanIn.org predict that “it will take more than 100 years for the upper reaches of US corporations to achieve gender parity.”
In December, a group of CEOs and business leaders announced Paradigm for Parity, a new initiative that seeks to achieve gender parity in the upper levels of American companies by 2030. The group has created a five-point roadmap to catalyze change in American companies. The roadmap calls for companies to commit to:
- train employees to detect and minimize unconscious biases;
- significantly increase the number of women in senior operating roles, with the short-term goal that men should not account for more than 70% of a leadership level and full parity as the ultimate goal;
- create measurable targets and regularly communicate the company’s progress;
- focus on employees’ business results and performance rather than face time; and
- identify women of potential and assign them sponsors and mentors.
In addition to the roadmap, Paradigm for Parity also created a toolkit to provide companies with concrete and practical action items to:
- understand where they are today;
- improve their “intake” through steps such as instituting blind resumes, creating gender-neutral job descriptions, utilizing a diverse set of interviewers, seeking a broader group of applicants and establishing a diversity recruiting office; and
- manage with a “diversity mindset” through steps, such as requiring unconscious bias training, creating clear and accountable diversity objectives for individual managers and requiring that no one group represent more than 70% of participants.
The idea for Paradigm for Parity stemmed from a group of female executives concerned with the slow pace of women’s advancement. A larger group of executive women then worked together to brainstorm and conduct research in order to formulate the roadmap. Their survey results revealed that the primary reason women failed to reach senior management was corporate culture, including conscious and unconscious biases. The group then reached out to both male and female corporate leaders, who signed on and committed to advance the five-step action plan within their companies. Current signatories include the CEOs of Coca-Cola, Nordstrom, Accenture, LinkedIn, Bank of America and Cargill. Corporate leadership may be seeking to implement these changes because they recognize that, in addition to being good for women, it is also imperative for their business as research has shown that diverse companies are generally more profitable than companies that are not.
As companies continue to sign on to the action plan, it will be interesting to see which companies join the current signatories and how signing on to the initiative will impact and improve these companies between now and 2030. Hopefully the tools provided by Paradigm for Parity’s roadmap and toolkit will enable companies to succeed in changing the composition of leadership both at the executive level and throughout U.S. corporations.
Lauren Dolecki is an associate in Debevoise’s New York office.
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