Why Workplace Initiatives Aren’t the Only Key to Busting the Glass Ceiling

Companies that want to reach their gender diversity goals are better off teaming up with like-minded organizations.
Tina Fey as Liz Lemon on '30 Rock.' (Photo: Ali Goldstein/NBC/Getty Images)
Feb 11, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Alex Janin is an editorial intern at TakePart and a senior at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Any way you look at it, the stats on gender equality in the workplace are sobering: Women earn 60 percent of bachelor’s and master’s degrees but make only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man—and although they hold roughly half of professional-level jobs, they make up less than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.

With companies announcing funding for and rolling out programs dedicated to women’s empowerment, like the U.N.’s recently published “HeForShe” campaign, and Intel’s public inclusion goals, it might seem like more progress would have been made. But a report released Tuesday by Business for Social Responsibility and the International Center for Research on Women suggests that companies need to do more than launch initiatives.

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The authors acknowledge progress—generally, more women are getting hired. This is notable for tech companies such as Facebook and Google, where a low percentage of women hold technical positions and often face discrimination. However, the report also dives into a previously underexplored area of the issue of women in the workplace: advancement and retention. Not just getting women into jobs, but getting them to stay, and move up.

Aditi Mohapatra, who leads BSR’s information and communications technology practice and researched and contributed to the report, told TakePart that companies overlook important business decisions when they don’t prioritize economic empowerment opportunity for women. “Women represent a growing part of the talent pool, the consumer base, and a key asset for businesses. Businesses have to acknowledge that,” she said.

Not acknowledging that negatively affects their bottom line: A recent study shows that having more women in leadership positions can lead to higher profits for companies.

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Mohapatra pointed out that women aren’t just employees, they’re customers and community members. To that end, the solutions and recommendations detailed in the report don’t just concern in-house practices for companies but focus on collaborating with like-minded organizations in the community. The report’s authors urge businesses to develop partnerships with companies that advance women’s empowerment, use their brands to contribute to that empowerment, and even advocate for social change.

Essentially, for meaningful change to materialize in the workplace, it can’t happen in a bubble.

“You can say you want to get more women online, but in order to get more women online, more women have to be literate. You have to understand the full status of a woman to get to the outcomes you’re trying to get to,” Mohapatra said.

According to the report, some companies are already excelling at leveling the playing field. Ernst & Young’s senior management is 46 percent female. Dell’s “Women in Leadership” training program helps facilitate advancement for women. A couple of years ago, Etsy transformed its engineering team to include 500 percent more women than it previously had.

Still, Mohapatra said, there’s a long way to go for many companies.

“The momentum feels very hot around this topic. But where is that breakdown in terms of the interest and investments translating into real results for women? This is an invitation to create collaboration on these topics,” she said.