Who am I to beat the drum for building a more gender-balanced world – I’m the CEO of a technology company employing 41 men and just 14 women. In my early days as a high school teacher, I taught boys. I have three brothers and only one sister; I have two sons and three nephews, with five nieces nudging the scales a bit. Who knows, perhaps all the men in my life is sufficient qualification to publish opinions on matters of gender.
Governments across the world have implemented a range of programmes to advance gender equality, but significant gaps remain. We can wave the flag down here in New Zealand, with our third female prime minister at the helm, never mind our status as the first country to allow women to vote. And yet there are more than 100 countries that have never had a woman leader.
Research shows that societies with balanced gender representation record faster economic growth and better outcomes for children. Further analysis shows more females in public leadership positions leads to higher living standards; better health, education, and infrastructure; and improved long-term growth. Even private sector organisations benefit, shaping up as more competitive, productive, and attracting a stronger talent pool. Still, there’s work to do, with current rates of gender rebalancing likely to close the gap in another 202 years.
And though it’s more often females who are on the wrong side of gender inequality, in certain fields, such as nursing, teaching, and social work, it is males who are underrepresented. So it cuts both ways.
Changing the game
There are five levers to pull to form a workplace that is diverse, inclusive, and competitive.
1. Commitment: Lead the change in your organisation, or your community, you want to make. Use training and education to help people understand what gender balance looks like and actions likely to close the gap.
2. Policies and programmes: Review policies for their likely impact on changing gender inequality. Consider Korea, where in 2013 the government used a gender impact assessment to increase the participation of women in the Information and Communications Technology Committee. Recruiters simply reduced the qualifying standard of 10 years of experience to five, immediately expanding the pool of eligible women. Stepping things up a notch, the UK Government now requires organisations with 250 or more employees to report their gender pay gap each year. And just last year Iceland introduced a new law enforcing equal pay between genders, asking companies with more than 25 employees to obtain a certificate of compliance demonstrating pay equality.
3. Employee engagement: Nominate champions to promote gender balance initiatives. Create family-friendly policies, including onsite childcare, school holiday programs, and additional leave for staff supporting elderly or disabled family members. Offer flexible working hours, focusing on individual productivity rather than time spent in the office. Just ask NZ legal services company Perpetual Guardian, whose landmark trial of a four-day working week increased productivity, improved profits and staff retention, and reduced stress. Create a flexible workplace. Pyrios’ recent relocation to the B:Hive in Smales Farm, Takapuna, has opened our eyes to the power of workplace flexibility. The move considers the needs of three distinctive groups, including resident employees (dedicated workspace required); internally mobile (workspace required, but most spots will do); and externally mobile (work from anywhere). And let’s not forget work-life balance – almost a throwaway term in light of our obsession with always-on technology. But France has put a modern twist on the aspiration, in 2017 passing a ‘right to disconnect’ law, effectively banning work emails, texts and messages outside of working hours.
4. Leadership: Men and women must have equal opportunities to apply for top positions. Consider how roles are advertised, knowing that women possessing 80% of the skills aren’t sufficiently confident to apply and yet men with 30% of the skills believe they’ll be great at the job. Be aware of unconscious bias during interviews. Ensure males and females are equally represented on the interview panel. Pay close attention to the composition of your board. A landmark report from Credit Suisse Research Institute found that companies with women directors outperformed those without women directors in average growth, and return on equity.
5. Communication: People at all levels need to know what’s happening – how gender imbalances hinder progress, and how closing the gaps can power up an entire organisation.
Promoting gender balance is everyone’s business. It’s about women standing tall and men accepting responsibility and standing beside women to help create a gender balanced world.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #BalanceForBetter. Flicking through some of the online posts and discussions this week shows how people are embracing the sentiment and what they’re doing to change things for the better.
What does Balance for Better mean for you in 2019?
For me it’s about recognising people for their qualities and capabilities regardless of gender, ethnicity, or age. It’s about building partnerships with customers and other tech companies to drive inclusion. And it’s about trying new things to spread the benefits wider. Because if you stick to a homogenous team you’re only ever going to build a product that serves the team, whereas a diverse team is likely to build a product that appeals to the masses.
Pyrios’ Innovation Hub embraces this ethos by partnering clients in a shared-risk approach to new product and service development. The hub itself also serves as an opportunity for people across the business to collaborate on projects that typically aren’t part of their day job, exposing them to new ideas and ways of working.
A diverse world means catering to the expectations of many different groups, and to do this successfully we need to employ people with at least an affinity with each of these groups. The job only gets tougher when new tools and technology accelerate changes and expectations.
So how should we achieve a more gender-balanced world? It’s about one step at a time, being a role model, finding gender balance champions, and education and training.
Taking a hard look at Pyrios, we have a female CEO and CFO, but only one woman in our engineering team. There’s no fast fix, but we’re working with younger generations to support initiatives that encourage girls to study STEM subjects and take a closer look at a career in technology.
This blog is based on a presentation O’Reilly delivered at an international partner event to recognise International Women’s Day 2019.
Author: Robyn O’Reilly
CEO at Pyrios