The World Economic Forum’s “Global Gender Gap Report 2014” [PDF] estimates that the world will not achieve gender parity in the workplace until 2095 — a full 80 years from now. My female colleagues in our Minneapolis office, and all the professional women in our city, deserve better.
Thankfully, our government and business communities seem to agree and have already taken steps to accelerate women’s advancement in the workplace. For example, this time last year, Gov. Dayton signed the Women’s Economic Security Act into law, which strengthened workplace protections and flexibility for pregnant women and nursing mothers; expanded employment opportunities for women in high-wage, high-demand occupations; and reduced the gender pay gap through increased enforcement of equal pay laws. In addition, an increasing number of women continue to make their way into the executive ranks. I see it every day during my interactions with clients and through my community involvement.
It’s clear to me that the Minneapolis business community is willing to take the necessary steps to reach gender parity in the workplace. But I know there’s more to be done.
Accelerating women’s advancement is not only the right thing to do, it’s good for business. According to Ernst & Young’s recent report, “Women. Fast forward — The time for gender parity is now” [PDF], increased equality in the workplace leads to higher GDP and increased productivity. In addition, more gender balance on corporate boards leads to better share price and financial performance.
Minneapolis businesses can augment what they’re doing and take additional steps to make their companies stronger advocates for gender parity, including creating clear paths to leadership for women, enabling both men and women to successfully integrate work and priorities at home and by leading inclusively.
Develop clear paths to leadership
Clear paths to leadership begin with having visible role models for young women and more transparent pipelines. Sponsorship helps pave this path because it’s essential to career progression and can be transformational, especially when the relationship goes beyond the traditional scope of mentoring. Companies can help their young women to become “sponsor ready” by providing access to the right stakeholders, experiences and opportunities. Sponsors can then use their own relationship capital to help advance their mentee’s career.
These sponsor relationships should never be a one-way street. It’s important to establish accountability between these influential executives and high-performing young women by placing responsibility for the success of the relationship on both parties.
Promote work/life balance and flexibility
To enact the change we need, leaders must also foster work/life integration and flexibility for all employees – not just women. Creating flexible work opportunities for both genders leads to more equity in how spouses and partners share household duties, which gives each partner an opportunity to focus on career development.
Take, for example, our leadership in introducing benefits for new birth fathers. EY is one of only 12 percent of companies in the United States offering dads paid paternity leave. Locally, I’m proud that the number of professionals taking paternity leave in our office is on par with those taking maternity leave. That tells me being engaged at home is a priority for both men and women.
Our firm’s deliberate decision to make flexibility available to all of our professionals has led to a clear shift in our office culture. We now have additional options for flexible hours and time off and a more supportive work environment than ever before. Case in point: our quality of life goals that we piloted with our Assurance practice. Each year, individuals are encouraged to establish a quality of life goal, and our professionals work together to support team members in realizing these goals. Our more inclusive approach has created a ripple effect, resulting in more women being promoted to leadership roles at EY. In fact, female employees made up one-third of Minneapolis’ executive-level promotions this year.
The final step in this march toward gender parity is inclusive leadership. There’s no denying that we all identify more closely with people who are similar to us. To overcome this unintended bias, and inadvertently alienate certain members within our teams, leaders should focus on diversity, as well as inclusiveness.
Inclusive leaders are deliberate in their interactions, decision-making and how they assemble teams. Equally important, they encourage collaboration, support open communication at all levels and work to eliminate conscious and unconscious bias against differences. Inclusive leadership values the needs of all people in the company, not just a select few.
In Minneapolis, gender parity is not 80 years away, thanks in large part to the leaders of forward-thinking companies who are ready to take decisive action. By developing more transparent career paths, embracing a flexible work culture for all employees and leading inclusively, companies can accelerate progress toward gender parity and strengthen our business community so that all employees can flourish.
John Wilgers is the Minneapolis Office Managing Partner for Ernst & Young LLP, where he supports more than 650 professionals. He is responsible for developing talent, managing resources, creating high-performing teams, and providing exceptional client service.
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