Last September, Melinda Gates began a series of articles around gender equality by saying “We’re sending our daughters into a workplace designed for our dads.” And she is right—I would add, those workplaces are built by our dads, too. As research pioneers, we wanted to understand how we find ourselves in this situation in the 21st century and what our business leaders can do about it. We looked at 9,500 companies founded since the year 1900. Nine out of 10 were established without a single woman among the founders. And since 1970 that figure has only changed by three percentage points. It’s hardly a surprise, then, that our survey of more 22,000 university-educated working men and women in 34 countries showed that women are 22 percent less likely than their male peers to reach manager level in organizations and that for every 100 male managers there are only 34 women. And let’s not forget pay: for every US$100 earned by working men a woman earns US$73.
How can companies understand and tackle this issue? Accenture Research developed an econometric model that combined the results from our survey with published data on pay and employment. Our model enabled us to analyze more than 200 factors that experts believe influence the likelihood of a women advancing—everything from whether she has young children to how she’s treated at work. We discovered 40 workplace factors that have a measurable impact on the advancement of women and grouped them into three categories:
Policies that solve for equality
Empowerment and trust
Let’s take a look at these in more detail:
Bold leaders publish clear gender diversity goals, are accountable for realizing those goals and bring women onto their leadership teams—all actions that are strongly linked with the likelihood of women advancing at work. If you want a real-world example look to Mark McKenzie, CEO of mining giant BHP, who says he made more progress in the year since going public with his vision to achieve gender balance than in the previous 10 years.
Policies that solve for equality are smart policies that go beyond focusing on just woman to transform the workplace. Take maternity leave as a case in point. Encouraging women to take maternity leave has a negative effect on women’s advancement, unless you also encourage men to take leave too.
One set of factors surprised us. Of course, we all want to work somewhere where we’re treated with respect and can be ourselves, where we’re not asked to change our appearance and where we have some flexibility over where and when we work…. but it turns out that workplaces where employees are empowered, trusted and respected are what you really need for women to thrive and progress. In short, helping women advance is all about CULTURE.
Armed with these insights, we used the model to estimate just how powerful culture change could be. We asked, “what if all men and women enjoyed a culture like today’s best?”; the results were exciting:
For every 100 male managers there would be 84 women—rather than34
For every US$100 a man earns a woman would earn US$92, up 51 percent from today’s US$73
Women in such rich cultures are also more likely to love their jobs, be happy with the progress of their careers and aspire to be in senior leadership
But that’s not all—it seems that what is good for women is also good for their male peers. While women’s chances of becoming a senior manager in these more inclusive environments increases by a factor of four, men’s increases by a factor two. So, everyone wins: companies plug the talent gap in their leadership pipeline, while creating a more equal workplace—one in which everyone thrives. The message for CEOs is clear: to win the war for talent and improve gender parity, put cultural change first.