Other parts of this series:
Firms that fail to recognise the gender parity perception gap (the difference between men’s and women’s views on progress toward equality) put themselves at risk in a number of ways, including employee demoralisation, reduced productivity and performance, and the loss of valuable talent. However, there are steps firms can take to bridge the perception gap and make gender parity a reality.
A two-part approach to accelerating gender parity
As I shared in my previous blog post, there are two fundamental measures toward which HR professionals can guide their firms. This will go some way toward helping eliminate the perception gap:
- Driving greater organisational transparency around gender disparity issues.
- Creating a culture of parity that benefits all employees, regardless of gender.
The perception gap is based in large part on false assumptions, the origin of which is often poor insight into comprehensive data that reflects the current state of gender parity within an organisation. This includes information regarding salary, promotional, and leadership discrepancies between the genders.
Exposing these discrepancies through greater organisational transparency is a critical step toward establishing an accurate and consistent view of gender parity among all employees. Of course, once gender disparity is made public, there is a very strong case for the mandate to eliminate it.
One point of contention that has recently emerged in efforts to achieve gender parity is the continual initiative-based focus on women. Accenture’s report When She Rises, We All Rise takes a different approach and suggests that firms drive gender parity NOT by focusing on women but instead by being more generally inclusive and creating a culture that serves all employees equally. This approach involves moving beyond sessions and workshops to drive fundamental cultural change through:
- Bold leadership that makes gender diversity a management priority and broadly shares diversity targets as well as gender pay-gap goals.
- Comprehensive action toward attracting, retaining, and advancing women and creating an inclusive women’s network and benefit structure (including encouraging men to take parental leave).
- An empowering environment that encourages flexibility, nonconformity, innovation, and speaking up to expose incidents of discrimination.
Financial services, the perception gap, and cultural change
A joint CNBC and LinkedIn study indicates financial services firms are ripe for this type of cultural renovation. For example, study results indicate:
- One-third of financial services professionals believe a biased culture is holding women back (the lack of female leadership is a barrier to women).
- Less than half of financial services female workers believe they have the same opportunities as their male peers, yet three out of four males believe men and women are promoted at an equal rate.
- 75% of male employees think men and women are paid the same, yet only 40% percent of their female peers believe this.
Despite these results, there is general optimism among this population that if firms take the right steps to change the culture, gender disparity can be overcome (66% of women and 70% of men agree).
Leading the charge to transform the culture
There are a number of things HR professionals can do to help their organizations create a gender-equal workplace, including:
- Striving for a gender-neutral culture by making gender inclusion a foundational element rather than focusing on executing specific initiatives or singling women out.
- Creating a safe and integrated environment in which men and women together can have honest discussions around leadership.
- Empowering women to speak up for each other (and men to speak up for women too).
- Utilising technologies that eliminate bias and accurately measure and analyse HR functions to drive organisational transparency.
- Using data and being transparent around what that data tells us in relation to the gaps in pay and promotion.
Leadership must recognise the existence of the perception gap, be transparent about the current state of gender parity within their firms and avoid the tendency to mistake programmes and initiatives for actual results. HR plays a pivotal role in leading firms to transform the enterprise and reach their strategic goals.
For more information on creating a gender-equal culture, please see When She Rises, We All Rise.