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Gender Shouldn’t Dictate Future Success

September 6th 2017

By:
Valerie Jarrett

As we look at the world today, it is easy for women and girls to feel discouraged by the lack of progress that has been made toward creating a culture where men and women compete on equal footing.

And when it comes to the corporate world, the facts are perfectly clear. Of all Fortune 500 companies, only 32 CEOs are female. The picture is even gloomier when it comes to women of color CEOs, there are just two – PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi and PG&E’s Geisha Williams.

Indra Nooyi

When you consider that women are graduating from college at higher rates than men, and they represent close to half of all entry-level professionals, it’s clear that there are barriers keeping women from climbing the ladder and reaching their full potential.  

However, I've recently begun to feel encouraged.

Increasingly, CEOs are expressing their intentions to focus on diversity and elevating women. In my role as a senior advisor to President Obama and Chair of the White House Counsel on Women and Girls, I met regularly with corporate executives—from companies large and small—and I heard time and time again that they viewed diversity as a competitive strength. Why? Because there is a strong business case for having a balanced leadership team.

Valerie Jarrett

Mounting evidence shows that companies with women in leadership positions perform better. Companies with 50 percent women in senior operating roles show a return on equity that is 19 percent higher on average, a 2014 report by Credit Suisse found. And companies with a leadership team of 30 percent women see a 15 percent net revenue margin over those with no women in leadership positions, the same report found. To be globally competitive, companies need to have the most talented individuals in the C-suite and when they don’t, they fall behind.

Given these facts, you may be wondering, why haven’t we seen more progress?  

The answer is because shifting a paradigm that has been in place for generations is hard. And, until recently, there hasn’t really been a clear roadmap for companies to get there.

But now there is.

I was recently introduced to a new organization, the Paradigm for Parity coalition. What impressed me most about this group was that it is taking the problem head on with a 5-Point Action Plan that can serve as a guide for CEOs and their executive teams to follow. The coalition is made up of women who have been leaders in companies, board members, founders and CEOs. They’ve seen first-hand what it takes to change a corporate culture and how challenging it is to truly address hurdles such as implicit bias and the range of reasons why women leave the workforce. The coalition used those insights to develop an actionable roadmap for companies.

The innovative Action Plan includes minimizing or eliminating unconscious bias, increasing the number of women in senior operating roles, measuring targets and communicating the results regularly, basing progress on business results and performance, and identifying women of potential and giving them sponsors and mentors.  
 
Now Paradigm for Parity is encouraging companies to adopt the roadmap, and it already has more than 50 companies. Leading companies like Bank of America, Accenture, LinkedIn and Coca Cola all signed up with the goal of achieving gender parity in leadership by 2030. It is also working closely with companies to cultivate best practices and ensure the companies that have made the pledge are supported.

The fact is many companies have inclusivity goals that they like to talk about. But there is a difference between talking the talk and walking the walk. It’s initiatives like the one offered by Paradigm for Parity that are so crucial for enabling companies to bring the much-needed change to their internal culture to level the playing field for women.

I’m hopeful that as we bring awareness to inequalities, we are forcing a conversation and companies will strive to do the right thing—because it’s both morally right and financially beneficial. Our daughters should grow up knowing their gender won't predict whether they can achieve their career goals.