Thinking of wishing your female colleagues a happy International Women’s Day, putting out some cupcakes and carrying on, business as usual? A recent EY report says you should think again.

The report, Navigating disruption without gender diversity? Think again: How five disconnects are holding back gender diversity and stifling innovation in business, starts by clarifying a common myth – gender parity is definitely not solved. It’s not even close.

While half of the more than 350 C-suite leaders surveyed, from seven industries and 51 countries, thought that their own boards had or were close to achieving parity, we are actually going backwards. In 2014, the World Economic Forum said we were 81 years from it, and in 2015 it increased that projection to 117 years.

And of those same respondents, only 13% expect a significant increase in the number of women in leadership. But how, EY asks, can the objective of parity be met without a significant increase of women in leadership roles?

The report sounds an alarm bell – companies that don’t understand that parity is not here yet will be left behind. As for those that recognise there is a problem but don’t create serious processes and targets, and track their progress, the news is just as bad.

This is because diversity is intrinsically linked to innovation – the sort of innovation that allows a company to weather, and even thrive, in a time when disruption is rife.

“Overwhelming research shows the importance of gender diversity to innovation,” the report states. “An analysis of the S&P Composite 1500 found that firms with women in top management roles experienced an increase in ‘innovation intensity’ and were worth, on average, about US$40m more than companies with only male leaders. Research has also found that teams with more women are better at logical analysis, coordination, planning and problem solving.”

Forty. Million. Dollars. More.

But the issue goes deeper than this. Equality and diversity are human issues – while the financial evidence supports sorting them out, and quickly, it’s also just the right thing to do. It’s time for change, because a company that thinks it has 117 years to wait for this simply won’t survive that long.

Put gender on the agenda


A lot of companies are hiring millennials very successfully into their organisation. So, from those entry level jobs, the cohort of male versus female seems balanced. Yet as we reach the top leadership positions, that balance is lost.

So while one part of a solution is recruitment, we can’t simply hire equally at entry-level positions and expect those women to flow through to the top, problem solved. At the root of any effort to ensure parity is ensuring that we have enough women coming into each company at various levels.

There are two constructive, formal programs needed:

  • To attract female candidates into the workplace at every level – not just at the entry level, but at the mid and more senior levels.

  • To keep these women and create an environment where they can combine their professional and personal ambitions.

One comment I hear from women over and over again is that seeing is believing – and role models need to be part of both programs above. Women need to see people like them in organisations they are considering joining or are already a part of. Women need to see other women who have paved the way, to show them that they can progress their careers for a long time in a particular organisation. Strong network and mentoring programs support women in having the confidence to build and invest in their career.

Recruiting women


We are passionate about equality and have made it a core value of our company. As part of this, we've made significant changes to our recruitment – from how we advertise a role through the interview process.

  • Advertising: we describe every role so that it is interpreted by both a male and a female candidate as ‘for them’.

  • Interviewing: we have diverse panels when somebody comes in and meets the company. This works two ways – we avoid the unconscious bias that can creep into assessments of ‘the best person for the job’, and we show candidates women in the roles they aspire to.

  • Meeting peers: every female candidate has an opportunity to not only be interviewed by females, but also an opportunity to connect in an informal conversation with somebody within the company – a woman within the organisation who can talk about the role and the environment.

Retaining women


We ensure that everybody within the organisation has a professional development plan that is supported by their manager and the wider organisation, and that it is updated and reviewed every quarter. That applies to men and women.

When we do our talent review boards within the company, we also do a female talent review board. That additional lens ensures that we have the right frameworks in place to support retention and development of women within the company, whatever the next level they aspire to – we want to be their employer of choice.

Talk about milestones


There are certain milestones that we see higher attrition rates around – they are usually times when more support or flexibility is needed and, if people don’t get that support, they are likely to leave: the birth of a child for example, or times when other family members need more of their time.

In my experience, women are lost to organisations when they feel they can't have a conversation about what they need in an open way. It’s up to companies and managers to be attuned to these milestones and to start these conversations, so the relationship between the employee and their manager is a critical one. If that relationship is based on trust, openness and transparency, the manager will be attuned to what's going on in the employee’s personal life and what impact that might have on their professional life.

Measuring progress is not optional


If nobody tracks metrics and deliverables, parity will continue to be a conversation piece, rather than an achievement. Any program to attract and retain female employees needs targets, and these targets need to be tracked.

EY’s research found that in spite of agreement on the value of diversity, most organisations look at whether they have achieved it yet, while very few pay attention to metrics that could help them improve.

While 76% measure the number of women in the leadership team, just 37% pay attention to the pipeline by tracking employee engagement by gender and only 32% assess whether their recruitment is inclusive by measuring the proportion of women applicants for senior leadership positions. Only 32% measure staff retention by gender, and just 25% measure gender pay disparity.

Just 2% of respondents’ organisations measure the financial performance impact of board diversity.

So, what should be measured and what actions should be taken? Put simply, make a decision to focus on achieving parity, and measure your progress against it at every level – don’t focus only on whether you have achieved it yet, or you will not find out anything useful.

The following measurements will track progress and reveal roadblocks:

  • Engagement and retention by gender

  • Applicants and recruits at every level by gender

  • Pay disparity

Address these as an absolute priority. And talk about it – talk about your commitment to parity, talk about what everyone in the company needs to do to help achieve it, and make sure action is taken.

The company will weather disruption better by embracing the innovation boost that comes with diversity and the bottom line will be healthier for it – perhaps to the tune of UD$40 million. Aside from all of that, we all have a responsibility to sort this out – it’s just the right thing to do. So on this International Women’s Day, I encourage you to talk, take action and #BeBoldForChange

Join us at Salesforce World Tour to talk equality, diversity and more, with our Chief Equality Officer Tony Prophet, #Girlboss panelists led by Justine Cullen, and plenty of discussion about how to change the world.