The latest study by IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) highlights that in spite of all the campaigns on women empowerment, a significant number of global businesses still lag behind gender equality. Titled “Women, leadership, and missed opportunities,” the study saw 70% of companies worldwide are not prioritizing advancing women in the workplace.
As if to assert the findings, the study, which follows similar research published in 2019, also saw that the number of women leaders is declining. Compared to the survey conducted two years ago, there are fewer women holding decision-making positions this year.
“The data show that many women leaders are experiencing challenges at this moment. If these issues are not addressed more deeply than in prior years, there is a risk of progress backsliding further,” said Bridget van Kralingen, SVP, global markets, IBM and senior executive sponsor of the IBM Women’s Community. “We should seize creative solutions now and redouble our efforts to make meaningful, lasting change that can help all women reach their full potential.”
The global study, conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value in cooperation with Oxford Economics, surveyed more than 2,600 executives, middle managers, and professionals — an equal number of women and men — across 10 industries and nine geographic regions. It follows a 2019 study that surveyed 2,300 respondents representing the same range of roles, industries, and regions to allow for longitudinal analysis.
Program initiatives on women empowerment do not translate to “better outcomes in part because mindsets and cultures have not changed enough alongside the programs.”
It is interesting to note, though, organizations that have already in the first survey in 2019, a fewer number agreed that senior executives openly challenge gender-biased behaviors and language.
Formal business priority
The study identified a group (11%) of survey respondents referred to as “First Movers” who designate the advancement of women as a formal business priority, view gender-inclusivity as a driver of financial performance, and are highly motivated to take action. First Movers self-reported stronger financial performance — as much as a 61% higher mean rate of revenue growth compared to the mean reported by other organizations in our study — as well as stronger innovation and stronger customer and employee satisfaction.
If organizations are serious about making gender equality a priority, the study said it has to be a “formal business” priority. Women who had to take leave from work for one reason or another should have an option to return to work.
For its part, IBM offers a six-month paid “returnship” for technical professionals who have been out of the workforce for 12 months, which provides training, access to tools and technology, mentorship, and work assignments on technical projects that are matched to their expertise.
Also, creating a culture of intention and inclusion may help bridge this gender-equality gap. People leaders can intentionally champion inclusive team cultures, with flexibility aligned to individuals’ personal and professional needs, and set accountability into business and individual goals to sponsor the future pipeline of women leaders.
And then there’s technology. Some organizations have started using technologies such as artificial intelligence “to help reduce bias in the candidate screening process.” Companies can provide cloud-based digital tools for communication and feedback to surface what’s working and what’s not in supporting women in the workplace.
More importantly, organizations should invest in collaborative tools and teaming practices that allow women and men to engage effectively in physical and remote environments even after the pandemic abates.