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These Cultural Drivers Advance Women at Work

On International Women's Day, see what you can do in your workforce to foster equality

A group of colored paper with the words women's day written on it.

Company leaders can close the gender gap in pay and advancement opportunities by adopting certain cultural practices, a new global report finds. 

Accenture released its findings in time for International Women's Day. The worldwide event has been observed since the early 1900s and is recognized each year on March 8. Governments, women's organizations, corporations and charities celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political contributions of women.

The report, "Getting to Equal 2018: When She Rises, We All Rise," identified 40 factors that are statistically shown to influence women's advancement at work, including 14 cultural drivers that are most likely to effect workplace change. The findings are based on a survey conducted in November and December 2017 of more than 22,000 university-educated working men and women in 34 countries.

Everyone benefits in organizations where the factors are most common; women gain even more when the wage and advancement gap narrows, the report found. In the U.S., for example, women could earn as much as $92 for every $100 a man earns if these factors are implemented; that's up from $73 a woman currently earns, on average, for every $100 a man earns.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Pay Equity]

"Workplace culture cannot be quantified but it is possible—and essential—to measure the factors that can contribute to a more diverse and equitable work environment. Businesses leaders can accelerate the pace of change by pinpointing the factors that are most relevant to the workplace culture of their organizations," the report said."

Here are some of the cultural drivers Accenture identified for making positive cultural change: 

  • Making gender diversity a management priority. Workplaces where leadership teams are held accountable for improving gender diversity were 63 percent more likely to have an increase in women in senior leadership roles over the past five years.
  • Clearly stating gender pay-gap goals and ambitions. Be transparent, for example, about the number of women are in your organization and in what roles. Define your workforce diversity goals. Consider taking the Paradigm for Parity pledge, a five-point plan to help companies speed up gender parity. 
  • Creating a women's network that is open to men. This is a way to foster understanding, create allies and share in problem solving. 
  • Encouraging men to take parental leave. Offering maternity leave has been found to inadvertently hold some women back from career progression—in some cases creating a "mommy" career track—but when men also can take parental leave the negative impact on women's advancement is eliminated, the report found.
  • Ensuring employees are comfortable reporting sex discrimination/sexual harassment incidents to the organization. 
  • Making virtual/remote work widely available. Technology that helps employees work remotely enables greater career progression for women. The survey found 83 percent of women on a career "fast track" work a flexible schedule versus 73 percent of all women. 

Look in the Mirror

Creating a culture of equality starts with a clear-eyed vision of what culture you currently have. HR leaders can use the data available to them to understand that starting point, said Ellyn Shook, Accenture's chief leadership and human resources officer in New York City and co-author of the report.

HR professionals can determine if there are gender wage disparities at their organizations, for example, by looking at their hiring practices and other policies. Armed with that knowledge, organizations can resolve gaps, as SHRM Online has reported. Much of the information employers need for a pay audit is already housed in their human resource information system or other electronic systems.

"The wage gap does exist. It is real ... and we should be making more progress in a much faster pace than we are," said Adnan Mahmud, founder and CEO of LiveStories.

The Seattle-based technology software company uses data to provide insights about health care, poverty, crime and education in U.S. communities and last fall released gender-pay-gap data for Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.

The findings were surprising, Mahmud said. Seattle, for example, touts itself as a progressive city but, when compared to other cities of similar size such as Baltimore, Boston, Denver and Nashville, it has the biggest wage gap for women. And that gap is largest among highly educated women, widening as they move up the career ladder, he added. LiveStories' data is pulled from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2011-2015 American Community Survey, the most recent available.

"As an employer, you owe it to yourself to figure out what the [wage] conditions are in your market," he said. "If you are an employer in an industry where there is a wage gap, the onus is on you to be aware of that so you can try to address it," either because of implicit bias that reflects stereotypical thinking, or unconscious bias, he said.

Transform the Culture

Cultural transformation must begin and be fostered at the top of the organization. HR professionals should ensure there is a shared commitment from senior leadership to create a culture of equality, Accenture's Shook said.

"That bold leadership is essential for beginning a cultural transformation," she said. Be transparent when setting goals and establishing hiring processes that eliminate bias. "Start looking at culture as a business accelerator" with equality an essential part of your culture, she said.

She advised empowering employees by asking for their insight into their organization's culture. While surveys have their place, "it's about talking to people and having the courage to have honest dialogue," Shook said. That can take a variety of forms, including employee listening tours and focus groups.

Nancy Mellard, national leader of CBIZ Women's Advantage, advised company leaders to focus on what is preventing gender equality and pay parity at the organization. The Cleveland, Ohio-based company provides professional development to women.

"Looking into the negative is the only way to get to the positive; this may be the mindset we are missing," she said in an e-mail to SHRM Online.

Up-and-coming female employees need to be targeted for training. She encouraged employers to turn their attention to "the thin pipeline of women at their companies."

"This pipeline needs to become and remain robust if we ever want to see a significant movement of the needle and more balanced numbers" of female leaders.

"We have been talking about the issue of women and workplace equality for decades and still have not witnessed a truly equal setting," Mellard said. She thinks one reason is that the emphasis has been on having more women in senior positions. "However, a lot of times we tend to forget the middle managers, who ultimately are the future of the C-suite."  

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