November 23, 2017

Transforming the workplace: Five ways to support women in leadership

Kristina Cleary

Kristina Cleary leads global marketing at Ceridian. An avid runner, when KC isn’t chasing her two children, she’s running from conferences to client sites, and talking about the latest and greatest in HCM trends.

 

We know the facts: Having women in leadership roles is good for business. In fact, the widely-cited 2016 study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY found that in examining profitable firms in their sample, going from having no women in corporate leadership (the CEO, the board, and other C-suite positions) to a 30% female share is associated with a one-percentage-point increase in net margin — which translates to a 15% increase in profitability for a typical firm.

However, news about gender inequality in the workplace and slow progress towards parity continue to dominate the headlines. In particular, careers for women in tech continue to be a challenge.

Ceridian prioritizes equality and diversity in the workplace, and leverages its position in the industry to put the spotlight on these topics. For example, this year, we once again held the Ceridian Women’s Network (CWN) Summit during our annual customer forum, INSIGHTS 2017, after its successful inaugural launch last year. The Summit featured keynotes from award-winning journalist Lisa Ling, Focus Brands’ Kat Cole, and #GoSponsorHer co-founders Megan Anderson and Laura McGee. The programming inspired attendees to take a critical look at their own organizational efforts to promote equality and diversity in the workplace, and share some of the challenges they felt they were up against.

I’m honoured to be named one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women for 2017. As a female in the C-suite at a global tech company, I’m adamant about driving collective efforts towards progress and change. There are many ways for employers and individuals to support equality and inclusion initiatives in the workplace, and help boost female representation at all levels of the organization. Here are five ways to help level the playing field.

Be an Active Influence

We’re all well-versed in the value of mentorship – providing guidance, advice and inspiration as part of the development journey for young professionals. But let’s take that a step further towards more active involvement with, and advancement of, our female talent through sponsorship. For example, at Ceridian, we launched a Go Sponsor Her initiative on International Women’s Day last year, in which our executive leadership sponsors meet with their sponsorees on a monthly basis to support their growth and success. Providing young professional women with access to senior executives – both male and female – whether through sponsorship or executive coaching is key. Female leaders are real-life resources for young professional women who plan to pursue similar work-life trajectories.

Empower a Cultural Shift

The digital-first era is leading us to rethink the norms of the traditional workplace – how we lead, collaborate, communicate, and give and receive feedback. With the reimagining of these models and behaviours, we all have the ability to influence the evolution of overall workplace culture. Empowering change in an organization isn’t one person’s job – it’s everyone’s job. Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said earlier this year that “Inequality in tech isn’t due to gender differences. It’s due to cultural stereotypes that persist. We all need to do more.” That means that men who are allies of gender equality in the workplace must move beyond simply being well-intentioned in spirit to taking action. That’s a first step in empowering a true shift in culture – don’t shy away from calling out inequity. I echo the “blunt advice” Sandberg separately shared in an interview with LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, discussing what men can do to fight sexism at work. She said, “The way to help is to recognize that there are all of these biases, and push against them, and push against them aggressively.”

Make Leadership Possible for Women

According to Where’s the Dial Now?, the recently released 2017 benchmark report (of which Ceridian is a sponsor) exploring the gender gap in Canada’s tech sector, women in the executive team and C-suite in Canadian tech companies are underrepresented.

Grant Thornton’s 2016 Report on Women in Business, which reported similar observations more broadly (using data from 36 economies) – described this as a result of a “disconnect” between what businesses provide and what leaders want. Building on the previous point about empowering a cultural shift within organizations, we need to really understand that the motivations for men and women to take leadership roles may be different, and new models for leadership are necessary to make it possible for women to lead.

For example, in the context of minimizing impact on family life, this could include supporting policies for flexible working arrangements or shared parental leave, or not scheduling meetings very early or very late in the day.

Collaborate and Build a Network

Being the CMO of a tech company, discussions of how women are represented in the sector are important to me. I take pride in Ceridian having launched the Ceridian Women’s Network to support the growth of our female employees. I’ve also experienced first-hand the power of coming together at a local, grassroots level to take action.

I’m reminded of what Kat Cole said at the CWN Summit: everyone has a voice, no matter what level they’re at in an organization. Have the courage to use it. As an employee, think about starting a grassroots movement – gather momentum to incite support at the top. Find the leaders, thinkers and doers within your network and start talking – the power of many starts with the power of one.

Measure and Track

As business leaders, we measure and track our business objectives, marketing goals, and financial performance – so why wouldn’t we also track our diversity and equality objectives? We cannot make improvements without tracking our efforts. Diversity and equality are only buzz words without action, and a plan for measurement and tracking helps to translate objectives into exactly that – action – while promoting accountability and transparency. It’s with this in mind that Ceridian decided to pursue Economic Dividends for Gender Equality (EDGE) certification, which takes a business analytics approach to investigating gender dynamics in an organization. The certification process includes an assessment of organizational data, and benchmarks those findings against EDGE’s global standard. The findings also inform an action plan (if required) to address areas of opportunity.

Each organization should have its own key performance indicators or framework to measure ROI, ideally tracking a fulsome functional and emotional view of the organization. Whether its regarding the gender pay gap, building an inclusive workplace, or redefining work-life balance, ask, “What can we do better? Where did we hit or miss the mark?”

Continually pushing the envelope for equality and diversity benefits everyone. From an economic perspective, advancing women’s equality could add $12 trillion to the global GDP by 2025, according to McKinsey Global Institute’s 2015 report. As a business case, several reports have noted that gender-diverse companies or companies with female leadership performed better.

From a human capital perspective, equality and diversity only bolster and positively effect health, wellness, communication and personal relationships. So, push back on the pushback. Draw inspiration and wisdom from the leaders in your networks, navigate challenges with confidence and encourage conversation.

This post was edited from previous posts published here and here.

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