The Report’s findings confirm that targeting female talent is a strategy that is particularly characteristic of those companies that prioritize future workforce planning and change management and that are confident that they are on the right track in their approach to preparing for impending disruptive change. In order to leverage the benefits of gender diversity, companies need to take a holistic approach, starting at the top. Actively managing talent rather than passive commitment has been shown to lead to better returns. While some of the transformations in corporate practices and public policies will entail adaptation in the short term by families, companies and the public sector, in the long term, the subsequent expansion of opportunities for women has the potential to transform the economies, societies and demographics of countries as a whole. It is important to emphasize that these interventions do not work as a checklist of actions that will each independently produce results. Flexibility in the workplace is, alone, not enough to guarantee improving gender equality. It must be accompanied by a holistic set of priorities and long-term commitments, and by a deep understanding of the corporate, industry, and cultural context, as well as the organizational culture and local policy environment. The World Economic Forum’s online Repository of Successful Practices for Gender Parity pools information on the practices that have been successfully used in leading companies worldwide to close gender gaps at the company level, as well as along the companies’ supply chain and surrounding communities.34 The repository suggests six dimensions around which to focus an organization’s gender parity efforts.
Measurement and target setting:
Achievable, relevant recruitment and retention targets at all levels, with 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.
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 the human resources function 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.
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. Accountability 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-based discrimination, as well as enhancing the understanding of unconscious biases can, also make inclusive leadership more tangible.
Work environment and work-life balance:
Women are often the primary caregiver for both children and the elderly in most countries. Ensuring smooth on- and off-ramping and appropriate childcare options, and developing guidelines on implementation of worklife 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 .
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.
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 in the organization’s value chain. 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. Beyond individual company practices and challenges, it is clear that there are specific and common gender gap challenges within industries. This is thus an area ripe for intra-industry collaboration and for improved public-private collaboration, to balance both public and business interest. Such collaborations and partnerships are currently relatively rare but there are emerging experiments that indicate the greater efficiency for business and improved societal outcomes are possible through such approaches. The moral case for gender equality has, in the most part, been won. The business and economic case is also increasingly understood. The Fourth Industrial Revolution now presents an unprecedented opportunity to place women’s equal participation in the workplace at the heart of preparations for the shifts to come.