- Isabella Lenarduzzi

The 7 deadly sins of corporate gender equality

Each year, McKinsey publishes their report “Women Matter”. The last one attempts to explain the reasons why those organisations are disappointed with the results for improving equality between men and women in leadership roles. Despite the regulation proposal of the European Commission for more gender balance on Boards of Directors and the large debate that it provoked, the EU has still only an average of 17% of women on boards, and it’s even worse for executive committees!

So what are the common sins committed by the business world that prevent more rapid and convincing results?

A general lack of understanding is widespread. Hardly a meeting goes by without one of these companies saying something like: “But is this what women really want?” or “The emphasis is on promoting the best. It’s out of the question to use positive discrimination!” The reality is, of course, more complex, and touches at the very heart of the organisation’s corporate culture, the model of leadership that’s in place, HR processes, talent management, conscious and unconscious stereotypes with regard to women as well as men, … With more than 60% of graduates being women, if there was real meritocracy without bias, companies wouldn’t lose their talented females en mass at every defining moment in their careers!

Talent Management is a real concern, and should be a strategic priority backed up with analysis, a plan of action, targets and resources. “What gets measured gets done.”

We can’t change the mentality or the culture and processes of company in a few months. It’s a long process that requires patience and perseverance. It is also the only means to convince the most reluctant because they see that the “strategic priority” of a company where all talent is valued does not disappear when the CEO changes or after disappointing results.

Equality (gender balance) and diversity (balanced representation of minorities) have become fashionable and “politically correct”. But very few organisations practice what they preach. Often those people tasked with the responsibility to enforce these policies are doing so in addition to their usual functions and lack the budget or visibility at executive level. However, the majority of them are enthusiastic and motivated. But if the resources aren’t there, all they can do is “window dressing”.

Policies of gender equality are often merged with those of “diversity”. We are all men or women. So we all have a gender with all that that entails in terms of culture, social norms and therefore behaviour. Our society is built on a patriarchal model and therefore, on the domination of men over women. Even if profound changes have occurred for the first time in the history of humanity, it is only in the last 50 years that women have started to push through into the labour market without someone somewhere asking them to do so. Women are currently the part of humankind with the most university graduates. Without wishing to undermine the importance of diversity policies for a more inclusive society, gender equality is completely different to all other aspects of diversity. If the environment is different, the forms of action should also be completely different.

Feminism is nothing more than an ideal that strives for equal rights between men and women and which wants all humans to be able to make lifestyle choices that suit them regardless of the expectations that society links with their gender. The concept of autonomy and freedom of the individual is at the centre of this ideal. Feminism is the biggest revolution of the last century and it is the greatest gift to the women and men of this planet. However … many companies are afraid to implement programmes of equality for fear of being labelled “feminist”. It’s about equality, liberty but especially about managing talent and performance, nothing more than that!

It will never be a question of promoting those who are incapable (ah if all leaders merit being in the functions that they have!). It will never be about a power struggle between men and women. It’s about how we manage correctly all the talents in a company by putting in place conditions so that everyone can give their maximum, meet their full potential and really feel respected and valued for who they are. It’s a process that involves all leaders but also the leading majority of the company: men!