3 vital steps to a new gender equality playbook

gender equality 2019_

(Unsplash, 2019)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Carolyn Tastad, Group President, North America, Procter & Gamble & Deanna Bass, Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion, Procter & Gamble


We launched the “Women at Work: Myth vs. Reality” installation on the promenade of Davos last January. For four days, leaders from around the world stepped into the installation and immersed themselves in the myths and realities of women at work. For many, it was a powerful moment as they recognized that myths they had accepted as truth were not based on reality, but were affecting reality every day.

The year 2018 represented the dichotomy of our time. Women’s voices were louder than ever on topics of health, wealth, harassment and the right to lead. Men, too, found new voices – from the extraordinary public- and private-sector leaders who stood in solidarity with women, to those who countered the #MeToo movement with chants of #HimToo and declarations that they will no longer mentor or meet with women.

In the midst of this public discord, progress for women has stalled and, in some cases, has gone backwards. There are fewer women in Fortune 500 CEO roles than a year ago. Women continue to be paid less than men – nearly half as much on a global basis – and men’s income is rising faster than women’s, according to the 2017 World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report.

We must do better. We need a new playbook, one that moves beyond targets and quotas for women, sponsorship of women, and women’s development programs. While these remain critically important, they are insufficient. The new playbook also needs a clear focus on men: their work advancing women and their development as inclusive and equality minded leaders. We need transparent enrollment goals and targets for women and men. And we need policies and cultural interventions that support men as equal partners at home and in the workplace.

The fundamental change we’re proposing is to shift our focus from “fixing” women to fixing the behaviors and systems that perpetuate bias and the global gender gap.

So, what’s the new playbook? It focuses on three specific interventions that can lead to rapid progress: improving talent systems, driving equality-based policies and practices, and setting new expectations for what leadership is and how it’s developed.

First, we must rewire our talent systems. We must stop relying on hope and aspiration as a path to equal representation. Instead, we need to take a more disciplined and deliberate approach to talent management and we need to drive greater accountability for progress to the very top of our organizations.

More specifically, we need to set hiring and advancement targets for both women’s and men’s representation, instead of setting targets only for women and, in the US, for minorities. We must debunk the myth that there aren’t enough “qualified” women in the pipeline to get to equal representation. We need systems that force discussion about the ramifications of over-delivering on male representation while under-delivering on female representation. We must ensure that candidate slates at all levels are 50/50 from the start, including succession to CEO.

And, we need to be as good at planning for talent – three, five and 10 years down the road – as we are at assessing and selecting talent only when we have a job to fill. Longer-term planning ensures women have equal access to critical experiences and high-profile roles that demonstrate their leadership potential. It also ensures that managers can choose from the best talent when the pressure’s on to staff a role.

Second, we need stronger equality-based workplace policies. Most urgently, we must ensure pay and wealth equality for all women in all parts of the world. Whether through government regulation or corporate policy interventions, we must recognize that women’s economic health is good for countries, companies, communities and families.

We need holistic family care policies that include sufficient paid maternity and paid paternity leave and access to affordable child care. Paternity leave allows men to be a parent and equal partner at home. Leave policies must include an intentional focus on when and how we return people to work in a way that keeps careers intact and maintains talent in the workforce.

We need an uncompromising commitment to eradicating workplace harassment in all its forms. Harassment is an abuse of power and is a risk to an institution’s reputation and bottom line. A harassment-free workplace culture must start at the top. We need continued workforce education, zero tolerance policies and a commitment from the most senior leaders to stop the silencing of victims and address the behavior of the abuser. This requires intentional and courageous leadership, going beyond legal requirements and risk mitigation to ensure fair, safe and equitable work environments.

Third, we need to broaden the definition of leadership. We need to stop imposing dated, male-leadership stereotypes on women as well as men. These stereotypes are simply not relevant nor effective for the world we live in today – a world that favors highly collaborative leaders who thrive in fluid, distributed and non-hierarchical organizations. The workplace of the future will demand a different type of leadership.

In addition, we must continue to build inclusive cultures. One important way to do this is to encourage personal development, learning and dialogue that addresses bias, power and privilege. This builds tolerance, allows for direct and open feedback, and ultimately builds trusting relationships.

We’re working to activate the new playbook at P&G. For example, we’re setting hiring and advancement targets for men as well as women. We’re paying equally for equal work and are closing our own wealth gap by advancing women to the very top of the organization. We are improving our maternity and adoption leave policies and we have implemented paid paternity leave worldwide. We have more to do but remain deeply committed to advancing workplace equality for all our employees.

The new playbook we propose is intended to inspire action, not to prescribe it. There is no one-size-fits-all set of steps that every organization can take to achieve gender and intersectional equality. But there is a mindset that rejects myths about women, embraces reality, and drives critical interventions that can lead to progress this year, next year, and the year after – not centuries from now. If 2018 taught us anything, it’s that the work of gender equality is not women’s work. It is leaders’ work. And the men and women who lead today must do just that: lead.

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