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Women's Equality Day: The Numbers Matter

Women's Equality Day: The Numbers Matter

August 26, 2019 marks the 99-year anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. It’s a milestone not only because voting is such an essential expression of individuality, but also because it was the first major rewrite of the rules to be inclusive of women.

And yet, here we are, 99 years later, and corporate America is still predominantly male at every step above entry-level. At the most senior levels, only 22% of C-suite executives, 23% of SVPs, and 29% of VPs are female. Less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.

If your organization doesn’t have many - or any - women in leadership roles, women are wholly dependent on male leaders to make gender equality a priority. If you put the issue back on the women to solve, it’s like giving them a toothpick to break apart an iceberg.

[Related: Empowering Men as Allies Part 1: Intersectional Allyship]

Consider what happens if we don’t act: It will take over 200 years to achieve gender equality in the United States.

We know too much not to do better than this. Increased sales, new business opportunities, greater innovation, and lower employee turnover are all proven benefits of gender-balanced and women-led leadership teams.

The benefits provide company leaders an opportunity to make a positive change, with the added bonus of a ripple effect. Companies are, after all, communities, up to hundreds of thousands of people in size. And they work with huge networks of suppliers, partners, and customers.

Take Salesforce, for example. CEO Marc Benioff conducted a pay parity review and discovered significant disparities in how women and men were paid. Not only did Salesforce close the gap, but it runs an audit every year to ensure equal pay as its grows and acquires new businesses. Its growth has continued at huge rates, it is consistently rated a best place to work, and it beat the last four quarters’ earnings per share estimates.

But let’s say your company is not as big as Salesforce at $12.65 billion. A pay parity effort can sound daunting and expensive. To put it in perspective, Salesforce spent $1.6 million last year to close its gap, the equivalent of .0126% of annual revenue. In simple math, that means if you are a $10 million company, you’d spend $1,260 to get your employees to equal pay - essentially a rounding error.

It’s a no-brainer, and proves a company can operationalize equality AND deliver superior business results at the same time. In standardizing equal pay, Salesforce sets the bar for itself and its competitors. And so begins the positive ripple effect.

[Related: The Lonely, Critical Role of Change Leaders]

To understand the flip side of the issue, just look at the United States Women’s National Soccer Team. By not paying them equally to their male counterparts, the U.S. Soccer Federation sends a deeply negative message about valuing women less than men.

How does a company get to such significant inequality? It’s built into the structure, policies, and practices inside the company. And a lot of it is unintentional, which makes it harder to prevent.

Here are some examples: Leaders do not discuss gender goals; company values don’t address diversity; flex time is manager-dependent; evaluations and promotions are largely single-input based; alternate career paths don’t lead to promotion; men get far less parental leave than women and rarely take it; men don’t participate in gender parity initiatives; and stretch assignments come through informal networks that often exclude women.

These actions compound to create an environment where women are held back, paid less, and stifled in their career growth. Hence the poor numbers at the top levels.

How do we solve this? Men and women must participate equally in the solution.

This is where company leaders can make a huge change. Set equality as a top priority, set the tone for partnership, articulate a clear business case, and hold teams accountable for delivering. Build trust by impacting the numbers that matter. Show that advancing women advances business.

Women don’t want a handout. Women want equal pay for equal work, equal leveling based on skills and experience, and equal opportunities for promotion. We want equal recognition for our contributions, equal numbers of seats for us at the table, and an equal chance to share our smarts and well-informed opinions once we’re there.

The right thing to do is the smart thing to do. Let’s harness the power and reach of the corporate realm to blow the 200+ year estimate out of the water.

[Related: Women’s Advancement in the Law: Small Actions by Male Allies Make a Big Difference]

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Throughout her twenty-five-year career, Michelle Bogan has mentored colleagues and clients, founded and led women's groups, and helped promote many women and men to leadership positions. In 2018, she founded Equity for Women to advance the mission of empowering women at work.


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