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Is gender diversity and inclusion just ‘greenwash’?

Business says improving gender diversity and inclusion is important, yet too few are putting in meaningful strategies to achieve it

Gender balanceLess than half of organisations worldwide have a documented, multi-year strategy for achieving gender equality. Only two-thirds track gender representation and even fewer analyse hires, promotions and exits by gender. Half do not have staff exclusively dedicated to diversity and inclusion (D&I).

These are among the findings of the When Women Thrive 2020 Global Report from Mercer. The consulting firm surveyed senior HR and business leaders from 1,157 organisations in 54 countries and six regions, representing seven million employees. 

The majority (81%) of organisations worldwide claim that improving D&I is important. Yet, while representation of females in senior leadership roles is improving (up three percentage points at the top two levels), it decreases as career levels advance. Mercer’s research finds that women make up 47% of support staff and 42% of professional level positions, but only 29% and 23% of senior and executive level positions, respectively.

“Gender equality has evolved into a global imperative, and organisations are taking actions to make a difference,” says Martine Ferland, president and chief executive officer at Mercer. “However, as women continue to face challenges of unequal senior level representation and limited opportunities for career development and advancement across industries and geographies, there is still much work to do to achieve gender balance.”

As women continue to face challenges of unequal senior level representation and limited opportunities for career development and advancement across industries and geographies, there is still much work to do to achieve gender balance

There are some bright spots. Rates for hiring, promoting and retaining women are now comparable to rates for men, which is an improvement from four years ago. Organisations globally are adopting more disciplined methods for analysing pay equity as well as implementing measures to take accountability. The research finds that almost three-quarters (72%) of organisations have teams dedicated to conducting pay equity analysis, up from 45%, and more than half (56%) use a robust statistical approach to conduct their pay equity analysis, up from 35%.

Leadership is also more actively involved in advancing workforce gender parity. Two-thirds of organisations report senior executives are actively engaged in D&I initiatives and programmes, up from 57% in 2016, and more than half (57%) report the same for boards, up from 52% in 2016.

“For the first time since the launch of our ‘When Women Thrive’ study six years ago, we’re starting to see significant progress around female representation in business. However, unless the pace of change accelerates it will take us over 30 years to achieve full gender representation in the workplace,” says Michelle Sequeira, diversity and inclusion expert at Mercer.

“To enact real change businesses need to focus on inclusion as a whole and turn commitments to sustainable action. This includes prioritising initiatives that build an end-to-end employee experience which is adaptable for all, fostering a culture of caring for diverse health and financial needs, and underpinning with policies and practices that embrace flexibility and a personalised work environment.”

Read my blog on Diversity is the new greenwash on LinkedIn for more thoughts on this subject

Published 5 March 2020

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