According to the recently published Women in the Workplace Study conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, 78% of corporations say that commitment to gender diversity is a top priority for CEOs, an increase from 2012, when only 56% of companies put this initiative at the forefront. However, fewer than half of employees think their company is doing what it takes to improve gender diversity.
With all of the attention, and with such a high percentage of companies committed to the topic, why the gap? More important, what can we do to promote change that employees can believe in?
While it's easy to say you are committed to gender diversity, it's a completely different animal putting words into actions. Like myself, many women in middle-to-senior management hold much of the control in shaping company culture. We spend time balancing internal and external client needs, driving the direction of the day-to-day work, mentoring young talent, solving complex problems, facing the music when we need to deliver bad news, hiring, firing, making sure we meet KPIs and winning new business. How can we use our current positions to push forward, to implement these imperative, gender diversity commitments now?
As a first step toward creating the change we want to see, we need to band together and forge our own paths, taking advantage of the positions we currently hold. This may seem difficult to do if CEOs just want to check a box, but in solidarity, we can help shape what the companies of tomorrow will look like.
So, how can we accomplish this together in 2017?
Communicate value and self-worth
Let's cultivate environments where everyone feels that their voice matters. By listening and opening the lines of communication, we will not only understand every employee's strengths and passions, but build up their confidence -- allowing them to be perceived just as they are.
Let your team know they matter to you and the company, and that their contribution matters. By communicating value and self-worth, we can build more vibrant corporate cultures.
Mentor/mentee relationships go both ways
Create mentoring programs where the senior staff advises the younger staff (and vice versa) on a variety of topics that can impact people professionally and personally. Senior staff can learn just as much from younger staff -- whether it's about the next big pop culture trend or how to navigate a tough client situation. If we spend more time with our coworkers than with our families (we do), we have to help each other navigate things both inside and outside of the office.
Flexibility is key
Don't confine people to time or their desks. Our teams have passions outside of work, and if those aren't being fulfilled, they are no good to us inside of work. Managers and directors need to understand their team's personal needs outside of work. We should help guide them in time management; and, a few days a week, we should help them get out of the office at 5:30 p.m.
Creating flexibility is key for working parents too. Family dynamics have changed, and so should business. One's career path should not end because one now has children. The valuable experience of parenthood brings a plethora of new lessons that directly apply to the workplace: patience, understanding, delegation, prioritization and much more. To those who worry the work won't get done or that people will abuse flexibility when it is offered -- believe me, they won't. If you have mutual trust and an understanding that we all take our responsibilities seriously, there is nothing to fear.
Finally, to the women who have made it to the C-Suite, remember that we are all watching. Your actions, your words and your platforms matter. Remember that you have been given an opportunity, and with that opportunity comes a responsibility to mentor the next generation. Approach us. Connect with us. Guide us. We are eager, ready, and -- you already know this, but it is worth underscoring -- we are more than able to take a seat at the table.