The World Economic Forum has pushed back its projection of gender parity by over 50 years, from 2133 to 2186. Today’s economic gender gap, a measure of wage equality and female leadership in business and technology, looks more like it did in 2008 than at its high point in 2013. These are damning statistics. As a global society, we are regressing at a rate where we will not realise the potential of half the human population not only in our lifetimes but also in our daughters’.

Today is International Women’s Day, and this year’s theme #BeBoldForChange is critical given the backslide. We need radical, brave solutions to accelerate the achievement of gender parity in our workplaces.

At Post*Shift, our mission is to build 21st Century organisations for the betterment of business and society. We believe that change is not only individual but also structural — and we have identified a set of bold actions that companies should take to close the gap.

This post contains the contributions from several team members, both women and men. After all, the gender gap is not a woman’s problem. It’s a work problem.

Christine Overby: Reinvest your leadership development budget

Today’s development programmes do little to nurture a diverse mix of leaders. Succession plans mostly identify leaders in the mould of incumbents. Offsites and 1:1 executive coaching are both expensive and resource-intensive. As a result, they are typically only lavished on the few who are earmarked for senior positions. In practice, since fewer women lead FTSE firms than men named John, these programmes perpetuate the machismo and unconscious biases of boardrooms and the C-Suite.

We need to reinvest the money.

The uncertainty of the 21st Century demands inclusive leaders. These are the people who assemble diverse teams to combat group-think and increase customer empathy. They are not only talented women, but also, as a group, more reflective of cultural, religious, and even neurological diversity. While they may be underrepresented in succession plans, you can find them on your company’s social networks. They navigate the small teams and external ecosystems that are the organisation’s vital fabric, not its shadow structures.

Companies like Bosch and Daimler empower these voluntary change agents to involve the entire firm in transformation. These ‘digital guides’ not only enable a more inclusive change process, but also learn how to exercise leadership within connected companies.

We will get better returns – both commercial and societal – by spending our programme budgets on diverse guide networks of employees, who go on to enact change in their parts of the business and blossom as leaders in the process.

Caroline Boyd: Reject ‘bro culture’

The extent of Silicon Valley’s problems with ‘bro culture’ have been recently highlighted in Uber’s latest PR crisis, however, this issue doesn’t reside exclusively in the hills of California. As women, we know this well. We have all come across this juvenile expression of masculinity, whether it be at work or in our personal lives. These attitudes, which seem harmless at the outset, can have insidious effects, as we saw in Susan Fowler’s reflections on her strange year at Uber.

If men harbour these attitudes, there’s little women alone can do to overcome them. The responsibility of combating bro culture in the workplace lies predominantly with other men who are privy to the its worst aspects. Bro to bro, calling your workmate on out on his moronic joke or sexist comment, is likely to at least make him stop and question the appropriateness of what he’s saying.

If you’re a man who thinks chauvinism has no place in the workplace, don’t be complicit just because it’s easier than ‘causing a fuss’. Stand up for your female co-workers and reject the hostility ‘bro culture’ creates.

Joshua Talbot: Use tech to level the playing field

In a world where tech is critical to the success of both businesses and individuals, it is imperative that we start encouraging more women to join the industry. 56% of the professional work force in the US is female, where as in the tech industry, that statistic is only 28%.

Proactively including women is not only beneficial for culture, it is actually been proven to help increase innovation. Tools such as Slack provide a level playing field for conversations and connections, as well as giving everyone a chance to participate.

As Caroline mentions, men should be standing up for their female co-workers by rejecting the ‘bro culture’ that is ever so common in tech companies. As a developer, I will take this stand. I will continue to stand side-by-side with my fellow co-workers fighting for an equal and inclusive workplace.

We strongly believe that having an open and diverse culture is important for business. Tech is a great asset to any business if used correctly, and I firmly believe that the tech industry can be a leader for other industries.

Laura-Jane Parker: Boycott events that lack diverse lineups

Too many industry events fail to strike the right gender balance in their speaker and panel lineups – just search #ManelAlert for daily examples. This must stop, and everyone has a role to play. Organisers often complain that they cannot find enough female speakers to redress the balance. This can be symptomatic of women not promoting themselves as proactively or aggressively as men, leading to fewer speaker applications from women.
 
If you’re organising an event and you run up against this issue, start an open industry database for female experts in your field. Socialise this on your networks and encourage your contacts to nominate. A group of our industry colleagues did this for Future of Work experts – the list is at over 145 and growing. I’m willing to bet there will be enough recommendations on your crowd-sourced list for your event, allowing you to achieve 50:50 representation.
 
If you are invited to participate in an event, whether male or female, you can enquire and refuse to take part if it is not an equal stage. If you are evaluating an event, do not buy a ticket if you do not see diversity. And if you come face-to-face with a “manel”, call the event out on social media.
 
At Post*Shift, we are making conscious decisions on the events we hold, and the events in which we take part, to ensure they are representative and in line with our values. We do not speak at any event that does not include women. We will challenge those events that invite one of us to attend, but do not live up to these principles. And ultimately, we will be prepared to walk away to maintain our integrity.

Laura Thomas: Work out loud to root out unconscious bias

Often, even unintentionally, corporate cultures can emerge with pockets of unconscious bias that perpetuate the gender gap. For example, the use masculine language, slang phrases and references may seem harmless in the moment, but cumulatively grow to support a less inclusive culture over time. By educating all employees to become more aware of this subtle culture creep, more individuals are likely to intervene early. At the same time, more transparent communication practices – like ‘working out loud‘ – surface instances of unconscious bias and prevents pockets of discrimination from developing.

Closing the gender gap puts more weight behind developing an open, collaborative and transparent workplace. Here at Post*Shift, everyone works out loud on our company wiki, including our clients. Where we have our more casual and friendly online channels – the ‘social corridors’ of the company – we aim for language, practices (and even giphys!) that champion gender equality. We commit to teaching and practising inclusivity as we help our clients with digital collaboration and transparency. 

Sam Thomas: Publish salary ratios

Wage gaps in corporate environments can be hard to identify, let alone resolve.

The standard set up of don’t ask, don’t get means your chances of receiving a pay rise tend to be influenced more by how inflated your sense of entitlement is, instead of the merit of your work. And, due to a number of embedded social and cultural factors women are less likely than men to adopt this persona of entitlement and confidence in the workplace. 

In the very long-term I hope that this issue will gradually become moot. As there becomes less of a gender-based difference in how we, as a society, raise our children, gender will start to become less of a factor in one’s feelings of entitlement. In the short-term however, there needs to be a change in mindset around how we report on salaries both as individuals and as organisations.

Companies like SumAll and Buffer have made the radical shift to open salaries. But if making payroll information totally transparent is not a viable action for your companies, disclosing the statistics surrounding salary structure, such as the gender pay ratios, will still help shift culture and mindset.

Cerys Hearsey: Create a culture of psychological safety so all flourish

When Google researched what made a successful team, they uncovered two characteristics that many find surprising:

  • taking turns in conversation was the norm, whether practiced face-to-face or virtually
  • all team members practice social sensitivity

Teams that have high levels of psychological safety outperform those ruled by a more aggressive culture focused on hitting profits, targets and goals. Creating a culture of high trust and mutual respect allows not only women, but other groups who lack representation in the workforce to share without fear of rejection or humiliation. Practicing inclusivity is a key way in which leaders and team members can make an active contribution to closing the gap everyday. A team who puts people first, focusing on what they need to perform at their best, how to play to their strengths and provide coaching to improve their areas of weakness, is a team that wins. Regardless of gender.

Which means this is not an issue women can tackle alone. It is only with the support of male colleagues that women can achieve parity in the workplace. Years of work on corporate diversity projects and women’s leadership initiatives have only nudged the needle a tiny amount. Our next move must be bold and connected. Organisatinoal silos and formal hierarchy keep all of us in our place. Connectedness is a woman’s secret superpower to create a circle of safety. Through our networks we must commit to widening our personal and organisational circles, to include those who cannot or will not see the problem. To those who fear giving women parity in the workforce somehow detracts from them, know this: when you share power to help someone else to advance, you don’t get less yourself. After all, it isn’t cake.

The Challenge Ahead

Our current ways of working are artefacts of an outdated industrial era. They breed conformity and exclusion in their very structure –  pre-set hours, linear processes, communal offices that support, paradoxically, individual output. #BeBoldForChange requires not only our commitment to changing our personal behaviour, but also to re-examining our corporate structures and practices. In doing so, we will open up our companies to higher business performance and the broader spectrum of human capacity.