We live in disrupted times – but gender equality remains as important as ever

How can we move beyond good intentions and accelerate gender balance at work? This will be the topic of the JUMP Forum in Brussels, Paris and Lyon (Brussels on March 21st).

We live in disrupted times, where gender equality in the workplace may become second-place to defending basic civil rights concerning women. “Existing global political and economic models are being re-evaluated to create a great deal of international uncertainty. Women in our own economies are now facing a need to not only to push forward  gender equality in their organisations, but also to support the dialling back of  basic civil rights for women in other geographies. At the same time, we have seen an increase in the acceptance of everyday sexism facilitated by social media”, says Dorothy Dalton (3 Plus International and Master of Ceremony of the up-coming JUMP Forum).

If the current state of disruption is feeling acute, we may need to come to terms with this volatile and uncertain world as the new status quo,” comments Eleanor Tabi Haller-Jorden (The Paradigm Forum). The rate of change is accelerating, and technological disruptions (eg. the digital revolution, the internet of things, artificial intelligence and robotics, etc.), new economic models (eg. the collaborative economy, the gig economy), as well as organisational innovations (eg. open organisations) will all impact the place of women in the workplace.

If digital and technological skills are the skills of the future, and women represent less than 20% of graduates in these areas, do we not risk seeing a drop in the proportion of women in companies in the future? Are workplace flexibility and the collaborative economy an opportunity or a risk for women? Why are women mostly in support functions and not running the business? And what about the chore war at home?

The good news is that today, more and more companies are making efforts to move on the path towards gender equality. But even with the best of intentions, the needle is not moving fast enough. The last World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report points out that this year, the economic gap between women and men, far from narrowing, has widened back to its level of 2008. Despite all the studies proving its beneficial impact for the economy, gender equality is sliding backwards.

So how do we get beyond good intentions? 

What is halting us in our progress? Male privileges, invisible culture… Conscious and unconscious biases… Barriers holding women back, women holding themselves back… Well-intended plans incorrectly implemented… Isabelle Kürschner (Catalyst) notes that that “even when women do everything right, they don’t necessarily get ahead”. How can we think differently, break out our traditional mindsets, start moving towards making a difference in terms of gender equality?

Bringing gender balance to the workplace requires a real cultural change, a change of mindsets, with diversity imbedded into the strategy, the corporate culture, the processes… Peter de Prins (Vlerick Business School) stresses the importance of integrating both the rational and the emotional aspects in such a change management process. “This must of course be led from the top; however, CEO engagement is a necessary but not sufficient condition. If the teams in place are not engaged, there will be no change,” highlights Eleanor Tabi Haller-Jorden (The Paradigm Forum).

Yet, integrating gender equality into the day-to-day work of an organisation is more than just having policies, processes, goals and objectives on diversity in place. Elisabeth Kelan (Cranfield School of Business) points this out: “Tackling inclusivity in the workplace needs more than an unconscious bias training, it’s about everyday inclusion, it calls for people committed to calling out examples of bias every day.” Engaging the middle managers will be critical to success.

Organisational change depends on its agents of change, and requires men, as well as women, to understand what’s in it for them, to engage and drive this change. As Bill Proudman (White Men as Full Diversity Partners) says, “men have work to do along with women to challenge assumptions that have largely left many just thinking gender equity is about helping women with their issues. Men have a gender as well and are impacted by inequity in ways they often don’t see or fully understand. When all better realise this, then the real change work can begin.”

There is no “gender fatigue” when there are results. 
By putting gender equality at the heart of change, we can transform good intentions into great performance. Join us at the JUMP Forum in Brussels on March 21st (Paris on June 1st, Lyon on October 5to meet these visionary experts and learn more on how we can all drive change!