Balancing gender diversity and inclusion

In balancing gender diversity and inclusion (D&I) practices, employers have long signalled the equal opportunity tag line. One does not require science to show that we are still a long way from balance.

According to a 2020 study conducted by BCG and the UN Women, Covid-19 intensifies the pressure on this subject. Given the economic burden that will follow in the next few years, we are at risk of reversing any progress made in closing the gender or pay gap.

Using the sustainable development goal (SDGs) lens, we expose business vulnerabilities

According to Premal Ranchod, ESG champion and senior manager research analyst at Alexander Forbes, the framework and implementation of the sustainable development goals are complex. They require companies to be introspective and to align SDGs to the corporate strategy in order to be effective. The SDGs do, however, provide targets & indicators which are supportive in addressing D&I:

SDG 5: Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life.

SDG 8: By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value.

SDG 17: Enhance capacity-building support to developing countries, including for least developed countries and small-island developing states, to increase significantly the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts.

Women in business leadership, the facts

“There exists a growing body of evidence that suggests greater diversity on boards and corporate C-suite leadership contribute meaningfully to sustainable businesses,” comments Ranchod. The IFC study, Women in Business Leadership Boost ESG Performance, looked at 184 published research papers on gender diversity in global corporates, of which 70 make a compelling case for gender diversity.

Ranchod states that the findings revealed two sets of connections:

  1. Having more women in business leadership positions leads to higher ESG standards, with a particularly clear connection when women comprise a critical mass of about 30% on company boards.
  2. Companies with enhanced ESG metrics perform better on stronger internal controls and management oversight, reduced risk of fraud or other ethical violations, positive workplace environment, greater stakeholder engagement, and improved reputation and brand.

We are not inferring that ESG leads to share outperformance in the immediate short term, but there is little room to disagree on the imperative of improved business performance. The profit or purpose argument does not need to consume oxygen in the boardroom.

Hiring, retention and promotion of women are on the up

A report titled When Women Thrive global 2020 report by Mercer, Alexander Forbes’s strategic partner, considered 1 157 organisations in 54 countries across continents, including Africa. It highlights that brightspots exists in that the hiring, retention and promotion of women are on the up. There’s a 3% increase in executive and senior management levels, and 66% of executives and 57% of boards are active in D&I practices. There is also strong trend in pay progress. Learning curves include pushing past parity, inclusive cultures, and aligning criteria to address imbalances and further advancements.

Mercer suggests:

  • A game plan is required: Ability to track and analyse data affects the accurate root cause, trouble spots and progress
  • Care beyond career: Financial well-being and caregiving should be examined holistically for women to thrive both in the workplace and outside
  • Tech support is needed: Technology can be the disruptor for structural biases (intentional or not). Scalable, consistent implementation of practices, processes and programmes can support D&I

“The digital age and instant gratification era can falsely create the expectation that every social issue has a quick fix. There is no app for rectifying job satisfaction, gender parity or the temperament of management. These require strategy to define its D&I plan with goals to be set. Accountability and transparency are critical in measuring progress. Progress is achieved by milestone management. Implementers could not be needed sooner,” concludes Ranchod.