Appendix F: Business Best Practices
For companies to put in place and leverage the benefits of gender parity, their leaders need to take a holistic approach that often leads to fundamental reforms on: how to recruit and retain employees; how to mentor and sponsor high-potential women; how to sensitize managers to different leadership styles; how to manage work-life balance policies so that they don’t disadvantage women; how to empower women across supply chains; and how to manage efficient corporate responsibility initiatives so that they support women and girls. The World Economic Forum has historically tracked the practices that have been successfully used in leading companies worldwide to close gender gaps at the corporate level, as well as along the companies’ supply chains and in the communities where companies are embedded. Six dimensions should enliven an organization’s gender parity efforts:
Leadership and company commitment
Visible leadership by the chief executive and top management on supporting women in management has proven to be one of the most important levers for progress in achieving gender diversity in a corporate context. This includes concrete and symbolic actions by top management and, in many cases, establishment of a position or department to lead diversity efforts. Regular communications by senior management on gender equality have been found to be critical.
Measurement and target setting
Achievable, relevant recruitment and retention targets at all levels, underpinned by an embedded accountability mechanism, are critical. Developing a disaggregated database can help to evaluate the causes of gender imbalances and track progress. Transparent salary bands to track and address male and female salary gaps are additional useful tools to understand the status quo in organizations.
Awareness and accountability
The focus of many companies on building awareness indicates that the case for change still needs to be built to make progress. Accountably of the senior management and transparency of career paths and opportunities have proven to be effective practices. Ensuring that management policies, processes, systems and tools do not harbour gender-biased discrimination and enhancing the understanding of unconscious biases can also make inclusive leadership more tangible.
Work environment and work-life balance
In most countries, women are often the primary caregiver for both children and the elderly. Ensuring smooth on- and off-ramping and appropriate childcare options, and developing guidelines on implementation of work-life balance policies and mentoring for women going through a transition are important levers to ensure a sustained career progression towards management. For those companies that already offer parental leave, flexible working hours and other work-life balance programmes, the next steps lie in accelerating their use and acceptance by female and male employees alike.
Mentorship and training
Companies have benefitted from programmes that promote guidelines on the value of diversity as an underlying culture of the organization, and impart knowledge on how to manage a more diverse workforce and how to attract, retain and promote female talent. These training programmes, for both men and women, can be relevant for shaping an environment within the broader employee base for women to successfully lead. In addition, many companies have formal mentoring schemes for women seeking leadership positions, although they also find that high-potential women lack the sponsorship and tailored training needed to move into the executive ranks. A repositioning of human resources directors beyond a focus on systems and administration to talent development and training can help address specific roadblocks for women, in addition to better overall talent management.
Responsibility beyond the office
Many companies have leveraged the opportunity to exercise external influence along the value chain, including diversity training for suppliers, distributors and partners and training to support women-owned businesses. External influence can also be exercised by ensuring gender neutrality in advertising, engaging girls and young women to display possible career paths and developing partnerships with gender parity-focused civil society and public sector initiatives.
It is important to emphasize that these interventions do not work as a checklist of actions that will each independently produce results. The right leadership context is critical. It must be accompanied by a holistic set of priorities and a long-term commitment, with a deep understanding of the corporate, industry, and cultural context, as well as the organizational culture and local policy environment. While some of these corporate practices may entail demanding adaptation in the short-term, in the long-term the subsequent expansion of opportunities for women has the potential to positively transform company performance. In fact, investing in such practices is even more critical in light of the current technological transformations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and other demographic, geopolitical and socio-economic changes impacting business models, as diversity will become essential to fostering innovation and managing change.