If the overall consensus in the business world is that gender diversity is now an ethical and business imperative–at least in declaration–, why is gender discrimination still rampant in the corporate world?
A few days ago, I was horrified reading an article on The New York Times in which the author talks about the gender discrimination nightmares she suffered working in a male dominant environment such as Wall Street. It prompted these thoughts about the need to keep on pushing and pushing harder to encourage women in general and Latinas at work in particular to reclaim gender diversity in the workplace.
Time after time I attend diversity conferences, summits and business events, large corporations declare they recognize the need for including gender diversity in their upper ranks. Unfortunately, the gender diversity pathway is still excruciatingly slow, especially for Latinas.
Despite some advances, women are under-represented at every level of the corporate world, especially when it comes to leadership positions. The number of women in senior level positions has increased compared to ten years ago, but still have not met anyone’s expectations.
According to the Hispanic Association for Corporate Responsibility (HACR) 2015 Corporate Inclusion Index (HACR CII), “Hispanics held just over 7 percent of board seats amongst the participating companies, which is higher than the average within the Fortune 500, but is still considered low.” The latest? United Airlines named Oscar Muñoz as its new CEO last year, after the company’s CEO and chairman Jeff Smisek stepped down amid an investigation into wrongdoing at the airline.
Gender diversity in the developed world
The World Economic Forum makes the case for gender diversity in the workplace: “Ensuring the healthy development and appropriate use of half of the world’s available talent pool thus has a vast bearing on how competitive a country may become or how efficient a company may be. There is clearly also a values-based case for gender equality: women are one half of the world’s population and deserve equal access to health, education, economic participation and earning potential and political decision-making power. Ultimately, gender equality is fundamental to whether and how societies thrive.”
In Europe the gap in gender diversity in the corporate world is gradually disappearing. Countries like France, Norway, Israel, Germany, Belgium, Spain, etc, all have at least 30 percent females on their corporate board. For the year 2016, the European Union has asked for a 40 percent quota for women in business organizations in European countries. By contrast, in the USA there are no such mandatories and having women in corporate ranks is completely voluntary. In the top 500 fortune companies in the USA, there are less than 17 percent women on corporate boards and more than 50 percent of these companies do not even have any women on their boards.
What does gender diversity inclusion entitle?
Only recently has senior leadership devoted time to addressing this problem. Gender diversity is a top ten strategy of only one fourth of corporations in the USA, and in more than a third of companies there is no strategic agenda on this matter. There is universal agreement that for gender diversity to succeed in the corporate world, a company needs firm commitment from the top, otherwise all other initiatives along the pathway will fail.
The process of increasing diversity requires broad interventions in the entire company and everyone has to be aligned with the same objective –often a difficult task because not everyone in the company may agree to such changes. To counter such sentiments, one has to design certain conditions so that change can take place.
Maternity leave, dedication to family and work, and other parenting responsibilities have often been cited as obstacles to career achievement among women by gender diversity-resistant officers. Women’s performances are attached to different standards when it comes to annual reviews for promotional opportunities.
Imaginary case scenarios –“she won’t be able to travel or she won’t be able to work long hours” –may be cited as justifications for not offering women real advancement opportunities. Women’s needs in the workplace have not been addressed by corporations in all its real and full complexity. In fact, most work procedures and best practices never take in consideration a gender approach.
Even when a commitment to change the culture of a company has been made, it takes time to implement those changes. Of course, all companies want competent women leaders and this can often be a challenge in some professions lacking competent senior females. But really, are there no competent women in certain fields? And if so, what about the competent ones that abound in other fields?
Competence is not a birth right, but a set of skills acquired overtime usually through mentoring and sponsoring opportunities. Visibility is also part of competency but it is used as a privilege of those who only see advantages in choosing peers to work with. Women might make men feel uncomfortable because they have a different perspective on issues or a different approach to solving problems. So there is a great deal of adjustment for both genders to be made in the culture of a company that can only be accomplished by increasing gender inclusion in the discussion process.
Do women on corporate boards help organizations?
The question that is often asked, “Why is there a need for gender diversity in the corporate world?” must then be answered by another question, “Does having women on a corporate board help the organization?”
The answer is a resounding yes. More evidence seems to indicate that when women are on a corporate board it benefits the company in more ways than one. One study showed that for every female on the corporate board, the company paid less for acquisitions it made. This suggests that women on corporate boards are more prudent, have less interest in risky mergers and tend to remain focused on higher returns.
A recent study by Thomson Reuters, the world’s leading source of intelligent information for businesses and professionals, “Mining the Metrics of Board Diversity“ show “… how the progression of women on boards has increased gradually over the past five years but that, on average, companies with mixed-gender boards have marginally better, or similar, performance to a benchmark index, such as the MSCI World, particularly over the past 18 months. Whereas, on average, companies with no women on their boards underperformed relative to gender-diverse boards and had slightly higher tracking errors, indicating potentially more volatility.”
Surveys of board directors have also revealed that women seem to make better business decisions that improve the company’s performance or indicate that women on corporate boards are more trusted by their peers than their male counterparts and show good skills often with a positive outcome for the company. Based on these data there is a call to rescind the mandate of a minimum number of women on the board because it makes good business sense.
A long way to go still ahead for Latinas in the workplace
Sadly, while women are gaining a foothold in the corporate world in the USA, it is hard to find one Latina at a top senior level. Despite being a large population in the USA, Latinas have been completely under represented. Why Latinas do not make it to the upper echelons of the corporate world remains a mystery. Is it because they lack education or experience? Or is it because Latinas themselves are not interested in the world of business?
Anecdotal reports indicate that Latinas simply are ignored irrespective of their qualifications and experience. While the “all American female” is finally getting a break in life, Latinas still have a long way to go. Until then, the only thing to do is to keep on trying.
The road ahead might be less difficult because the door to gender diversity has already been opened. Awareness of this issue is no longer a problem and gradually corporations are making themselves committed to gender equality across the board.
Now, aren’t Hispanic women qualified for these jobs? Those in senior executive positions, are they being considered for their experience? What would it take to be part of the short list of candidates?
What unique assets can Latinas offer because of our heritage and culture? How can Latinas make themselves visible by proving their potential as sound corporate leaders? What strengths do they bring to the table of large corporations that are instrumental in successful leadership?
We need to find these answers and we need to find them now.
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