Ever heard of Dagenham, England? I know I hadn’t until very recently when I saw Made in Dagenham, a film about female employees at the Ford Plant who walked off their jobs in 1968 to protest the fact that they were getting paid a lot less than men doing work of equal value. It was that action that led to the passage of the Equal Pay Act in Britain. It wasn’t long before countries on both sides of the pond followed suit and passed similar pieces of legislation.
Apparently, however, the former strikers, now well into their seventies, are concerned that the world has not changed as much as they would have expected. They chose to celebrate the film’s release by going back to London to meet with Teresa May, currently Britain’s Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equality. Evidently Ms. May shares their concern. “the sad thing is that 40 years on there’s still too much of a gap”
Now if you are interested in superior business results, take a moment to consider these facts before you stop reading:
- Research consistently demonstrates a strong correlation between higher degrees of gender diversity in the leadership ranks of business and organizational performance.
- Integrating women more effectively into the way businesses invest, market and recruit yields benefits in terms of profitability and corporate governance.
- The World Bank finds that by eliminating discrimination against female workers and managers, “managers could significantly increase productivity per worker by 25 to 40 percent.”
- In a McKinsey survey, a third of executives reported increased profits as a result of investments in empowering women in emerging markets.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton shared these facts in her opening remarks to the delegates at the first-ever Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) High-Level Policy Dialogue on Women and the Economy held on September 16 in San Francisco. Ms. Clinton made a very compelling argument as to why the key to the economic prosperity of the member states, including the US and Canada, requires promoting true equality for women, the kind of equality that the women of Dagenham sought back in 1968.
“The big challenge we face in these early years of the 21st century is how to grow our economies and ensure shared prosperity for all nations and all people…. That is a clear and simple vision. But to make it real — to achieve the economic expansion we all seek — we need to unlock a vital source of growth that can power our economies in the decades to come. That vital source of growth is women.
I don’t urge this because it is the right thing to do, though of course it is. … it is the necessary thing to do.”
Ms. Clinton contends that we are poised for another momentous shift in our collective economic history. “I believe that here, at the beginning of the 21st century, we are entering the Participation Age, where every individual, regardless of gender or other characteristics, is poised to be a contributing and valued member of the global marketplace.”
Neither Ms. Clinton’s perspective, nor the factual information she shared to support that perspective are surprising. Former Prime Minister Kim Campbell made the same case in 2009 when she became the spokesperson for the Women’s Leadership fund, an equity fund comprised of firms with women in leadership and board positions. Like Ms. Clinton, Ms. Campbell stated that her interest in being involved was to “use leverage to push companies to do what is good for them.”
Ms. Campbell cited studies done by New York based research firm Catalyst Inc. to support her position. Their research consistently shows that companies with most women in officer positions outperform those that don’t by an average of 36%. Corporations with the highest number of women deliver 53% more return on equity, 42% higher return on sales and 66% better return on invested capital. According to Deborah Gills, Catalyst Sr. Vice President North America, “the business case is clear.”
On the surface this seems like a no brainer. Yet another study by the same organization, the 2010 Catalyst Census: Financial Post 500 Women Senior Officers and Top Earners, substantiates a lack of progress in advancing women in leadership positions in Canada’s most powerful companies.
So what is causing this disconnect? In Road to Respect I share a story about a conversation I had over lunch with a female colleague who was working at the brokerage arm of one of Canada’s big banks. She told me that a male colleague of hers had approached her to ask if there was really any truth to this idea of a “glass ceiling” for women in business. We both laughed.
Most women, particularly women aspiring to climb the corporate ladder have bumped their head on that proverbial glass ceiling. However, most men don’t see any evidence of it. They point to individuals like Ms. Campbell or Ms. Clinton as examples of that fact that such a ceiling doesn’t actually exist.
Herein lies the crux of the problem. The “glass ceiling” is really not that easy to see, mainly because it is comprised of a whole host of what Ms. Clinton referred to as “structural and social impediments”, a complex set of practices that have not shifted to allow the full participation of women at work.
One of the big problems I see in my work is that the whole issue of promoting genuine equality for women raises all kinds of emotional alarms. This is not an emotional issue. It is a business imperative. Companies that want to be leaders in the marketplace must be in a position to attract and retain top talent. Business leaders must take an objective look at whether or not their business practices are in fact structured to achieve that outcome. Part 2 of this post will show you how to do that.
Erica Pinsky M.Sc, CHRP, is a respectful workplace solutions expert and author of the highly acclaimed book Road to Respect: Path to Profit. A provocative and inspirational speaker, trainer, author and consultant she works with business to build workplace cultures that attract and retain top talent in an environment free from discrimination, harassment, bullying and destructive conflict. Contact her at 604-266-1267, Erica@ericapinskyinc.ca. www.ericapinskyinc.ca