Women are a vital resource in the race to fill global demands for talent. And yet they remain underrepresented in the workforce and continue to earn less than men. This is especially true in the IT workforce, where women are even more underrepresented.
Creating a workforce that fosters equality starts at the top. CIOs and the most senior leaders in an organization must articulate and demonstrate the principles of inclusion in order to make progress. Accenture research shows that a culture of equality benefits the entire organization. It’s not just beneficial to women — it also improves career progress for men. When women rise, men rise, too.
What drives equality? And how can CIOs help create lasting, positive change within their organizations? Accenture’s 2018 “Getting to Equal” research found that a company’s culture — which is made up of measurable components, including its values, beliefs, and ways of thinking, working and behaving — is a core element in unlocking equality in the workplace. As leaders recognize the need to be more proactive in shaping their culture, they’ll find that they can create a more diverse, engaged, and highly skilled workforce, as well as contribute to improving the communities that they serve. (Note: I am an employee at Accenture.)
Factors that create a culture of equality
Accenture’s new research is encouraging and uncovers actionable ways companies can do their part to help both women and men advance and thrive equally. The company found 40 workplace factors that create a culture of equality — including 14 core areas proven to drive change in advancement and pay. These areas fit into three broad categories: bold leadership, comprehensive action, and building an empowering environment.
- Bold leadership. Companies need a diverse leadership team that sets, shares, and measures equality targets openly. Gender diversity must be a priority for management — including CIOs — and companies should clearly state diversity targets, as well as gender pay gap goals and ambitions. Our research shows women are more than twice as likely to reach executive-leadership level at organizations where leadership teams are held accountable for gender diversity targets. At Accenture, for example, the company has publicly stated its goal to achieve a gender balanced workforce by 2025.
- Comprehensive action. Companies need policies and practices that are family-friendly, as well as an environment that supports both genders and is bias-free in attracting, retaining, and developing people. Further, Accenture’s research shows that having an active internal women’s network that is open to both women and men correlates with women’s advancement.
- Empowering environment. Companies need to create an environment that trusts employees, respects individuals, and offers the freedom to be creative, as well as to train and work flexibly. The catalysts in this category range from never asking employees to change their appearance to conform to company culture, to giving them freedom to be creative and innovative, to allowing virtual or remote working as a common practice.
4 steps you can take now to create a culture of workforce equality
CIOs and IT leaders can take immediate steps to move towards greater equality. These include:
- Offer virtual work. Evaluate your policies regarding remote workers. Organizations need to broaden flexibility for workers and implement the collaboration tools that enable virtual work.
- Build the workforce of the future. Take a look at the future skills that you will need — AI, machine learning, cloud, digital, analytics. Offering women opportunities to increase digital fluency in these areas with trainings and continued education can measurably accelerate their careers — while bringing stronger digital skills to your organization.
- Recruit women! Ensure you are recruiting from a diverse labor pool. Moreover, having women interviewers is important to showcasing your commitment to an equal workforce. Establish methods to counteract unconscious bias in your interviews and obtain feedback from candidates on your recruiting processes.
- Build a community. Give women the tools and support systems they need to foster a strong community at work. Do you have networking groups and mentoring programs for women in IT? If not, it’s time to create them so that women can feel encouraged and empowered to connect and build relationships. Establish ways to promote advocacy for women.
Companies that embrace these areas can effect real change and drive a positive culture where everyone can advance, make engaged contributions, and reduce or even eliminate the business risk that a discriminatory office culture brings. With bold leadership, comprehensive action, and an empowering environment, companies will nurture a culture of purpose, accountability, belonging, trust, and flexibility. That’s the true power of equality: when she rises, we all rise.