Women’s March on Washington Broadcasts Message of Parity, Equity

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek January 20, 2017
Women’s March on Washington Broadcasts Message of Parity, Equity

The Women's March on Washington (WMW) on Saturday, and the sister marches occurring around the country and the world, will be sending a message to businesses as well as to President Donald Trump and others in government, according to a gender strategy expert.

Approximately 200,000 people are expected to participate in a national rally and the march in Washington, D.C.—open to anyone, regardless of gender or gender identity—taking place the day after Trump is sworn in as president of the United States.

In the event's mission statement, the WMW organizers say they want to deliver "a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world, that women's rights are human rights. ... We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society."

Organizations focused on immigration rights, the Muslim Women's Alliance, Girls Who Code and Black Girls Rock are among groups partnering with the WMW, according to The New York Times.

The rally and march are the flashpoints that have been missing in the fight for workplace equality, noted corporate gender strategist Jeffery Tobias Halter. He is the author of Why Women: The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men (Fushian, 2015) and is president and founder of YWomen in Roswell, Ga., which focuses on corporate gender strategy.  

"There are really two tenets of the march that are important to organizations" and that impact HR, he said. They are:

  • The marchers' belief that the economy is powered by transparency, accountability and performance management.
  • Equal pay for equal work.
[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Pay Equity]

"This flashpoint that's being kicked off by the women's march is just going to be the start of a conversation in organizations regarding women that [organizations] can no longer ignore," Halter said. 

One of the main obstacles, though, is that many companies aren't ready to have the conversation about women's pay equity even as women and minorities continue to make up a larger number of organizations' employees, Halter said.  

Female, African-American, Hispanic and Asian workers all reportedly occupy a greater share of total domestic jobs than they did 14 years ago, according to a 2015 CareerBuilder report.

"Men are scared to death to talk about gender differences in the workplace," Halter said. "We are scared we will say or do the wrong thing and [women] will call HR."

Because most senior leaders are not ready for this conversation, he noted, by default middle management is not ready, either. Organizations should have a cohesive strategy around developing women as leaders, he said.

"Most [organizations] have some efforts around women, but they tend to be disjointed," Halter said, such as trying to have more diversity among suppliers or creating a women's employee resource group (ERG). Organizations instead need to develop holistic HR programs and processes that support equity in the workplace.

He recommended the following steps for senior leaders:

  • Prepare to demonstrate transparency. CEOs need to ask HR to create a report on the organization's workforce composition by gender, race and job grade. Legal departments most likely will balk at this, Halter warned, because if such a report exists and shows disparity, it could be used as the basis for a lawsuit or as evidence in a lawsuit. However, "senior leaders need to demand to see the numbers," and if they discover any problems, "they have to choose to take action."

He noted that out of all Fortune 500 companies, as of Dec. 7, 2016, only a little more than 100 had signed the White House Pay Equity Pledge. The pledge is a public commitment to research and move toward paying men and women equally, Halter said.

  • Actively recruit, develop and promote women. "Companies have done a pretty good job in building a talent pool of women, but we know [women] are very much stagnated below senior leadership" levels, he told SHRM Online. Only 21 companies in the Fortune 500, for example, had women CEOs, according to a June 6, 2016, Fortune article.
  • Be prepared to have a conversation with women (and minorities) about pay equity and unconscious bias and commit to training employees on unconscious bias. 
  • Cascade the commitment throughout the organization so middle management understands why it is important.

HR's Role

Successful organizations are taking these steps as part of an annual planning process, according to Halter. But while senior leadership drives the changes, it's up to HR to articulate the business case to senior leaders, he noted. 

"We do not like to raise issues to senior leadership," observed Halter, who worked as an HR professional for 15 years. "We've talked about the need for strategic HR leadership. Is HR ready to train senior leaders to have this discussion?"  Do HR professionals "have the competency" to do this?

He also noted what he called an "evolution" of ERGs into business resource groups (BRGs). 

"ERGs basically are more about networking and connecting. BRGs are about tackling business issues or challenges of the organization," he explained. "Progressive companies are asking their [BRGs] to be a voice of the employee and bring to them the real issues and concerns people are talking about in the hallways" of the company.

"At the end of all of this, what do we have to do to get men truly engaged" around parity for women? It comes down, he said, to a personal connection.

He pointed to the Father of a Daughter Initiative that he created, which asks men to post a pledge to advocate on behalf of women in the workplace by taking at least one of 10 actions, such as setting an example to correct bias, encouraging qualified women to apply for positions at the organization or supporting gender pay equity.

When a daughter asks her father what he is doing to advance women at his organization, Halter thinks it would be nice to have a good answer.

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