How can digital transformation reimagine gender equality?
The last 50 years have seen a dramatic shift in traditional family roles. As a result, women are in a stronger position than ever to lead, shape and transform the economic, social and political landscape. Hilary Clinton represents the first female presidential candidate in the race for the White House in America’s history and Angela Merkel is steering the 28-member European Union through challenging times. Yet, despite these positive leadership changes, women are still being under-represented in the workplace. Just 12% of board seats are held by women globally, with a mere 4% leading the world’s top 500 businesses as CEOs.
The digital era is a catalyst for change and presents women with a unique opportunity to help shape and positively contribute to the economy, business and society. According to the European Commission in 2013, encouraging more women to enter the digital jobs market could create an annual €9 billion GDP boost to the EU area. Yet currently, only 30% of the c. 7 million people working in ICT are women.
With this in mind, here I consider the issues facing businesses with low numbers of female workers, and discuss some of the initiatives promoting diversity and inclusion. For those leaders looking to capitalise on the digital revolution, what can they do to attract and retain female talent as part of a diverse and innovative workforce?
What is the current state of play?
Just 10% of the Netherlands’ IT workforce is female and subsequently women are poorly represented throughout the talent pipeline. This is a missed opportunity, given that women will typically represent a significant percentage of an organisation’s customer base.
Looking at gender equality and salaries reveals some further surprises. While the perception is that women tend to shy away from asking for pay rises, recent research from Warwick University reveal that they actually ask as often as men do; but that men are 25% more likely to receive a salary increase.
However, numbers of forward-thinking markets are leading the charge in addressing gender parity. For instance, policies introduced in the Nordic countries include mandatory paternal leave in combination with maternity leave and legislation promoting women’s leadership. Elsewhere, the ‘youthful pragmatism’ of London’s buzzing tech scene means hiring decisions are based on finding the right talent for the job, regardless of gender. Closer to home, at Atos we’ve recently signed the Diversity Charter – an initiative designed to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
How digital transformation is providing opportunities for inclusion
Conversations around gender equality are becoming all the more important in the context of what’s taking place in the workplace. In the digital era, customer experience is critical. However, placing the customer at the heart of the business and responding to their needs requires a change in leadership style – shifting from “command and control” to “inspire and coach”. This approach typically favours women. Yet currently, most executive decision makers are culturally aligned with a linear, hierarchical approach (often more favoured by males). Both approaches must be considered to stimulate new ways of thinking, innovation and growth.
Addressing gender inequality in business
If business leaders are going to capitalise on the digital age, they need to recognise which pain points they face around gender inequality. Is it that there is a shortage of women entering the business? Are they stuck in the middle or locked out of the top? Once they’ve established the root cause for why women aren’t being fully represented within their organisations, they will be better able to build a culture that is inclusive of all approaches and perspectives.
For instance, challenging girls’ perceptions of IT careers can help to encourage them to study ICT at a higher level at school and at degree level. Earlier this year at Atos’ Girls Day, pupils could experience that IT is more than just programming. Partnering with universities can then help to ensure a steady stream of female graduates entering businesses. Maintaining objective recruitment criteria and promotion processes will help to identify and stamp out unconscious bias. Finally, scoping out female networking opportunities and introducing reverse mentoring schemes to coach senior executives on sexism, can help to challenge preconceptions and enable women to make the connections they need to rise up the ranks.
By taking these types of approaches, business leaders can ensure they’re achieving maximum potential from their workforce; create a positive environment for learning and challenging; while attracting and retaining the dynamic talent needed to continuously innovate in this digital age.