As we saw earlier this month, there is always talk of change in the annual celebration of International Women’s Day – whether it is the progress that has been made over the years in promoting women’s rights and representation, or the extent of that still to be achieved Work. But it’s not often that Women’s Day comes at a time when the world is undergoing seismic, existential shifts that only occur once every hundred years or so.
The pandemic is the most obvious and direct example that has changed the way we work. After over two years of back-to-back waves that have necessitated social distancing and stay-at-home orders, the office will never be the same. Whether or not we as individuals like working from home has become irrelevant – two years, remote or hybrid working is now the new normal. The idea of entire workforces taking a strenuous commute to sit at a desk and work on a laptop as efficiently as at home seems like a thing of the past.
Just Thirty percent of UK companies expect their entire workforce to be back on site within the following year. We can safely assume that many if not all of these will be in industries that require physical presence of at least some of their workforce.
But not only the logistical attitude to work is currently changing. Over the course of the pandemic, something has shifted in our collective environmental awareness. research from the Boston Consulting Group from eight countries found that around 70% of people reported an increased awareness of the impact of human activities on climate change. This shift is becoming more evident in the way we do business, with ESG now at the heart of the boardroom agenda. It’s also changing the shape of leadership teams, as more chief sustainability officers will be hired in 2020 than in 2020 last three years together.
The changes ride
As leaders grapple with how to make sense of this ever-changing landscape, many have seized the opportunity to make lasting changes. A long-term transition to more flexible work arrangements may require leaders to think differently about how work gets done. But there is a recognition that employees want the quality of life that comes with being able to choose where and how they work.
This shift benefits everyone, but for women in particular, it presents an opportunity to shift paradigms and begin to address the representation gap in leadership and key roles. It’s not just about the somewhat simplistic notion that if women can work flexibly, they’re better able to manage their domestic responsibilities. It’s about addressing some of the more insidious and ingrained prejudices that act as barriers to the representation of women in managerial and key positions.
For example, the idea of women taking maternity leave creates an absence from work that allows men to zoom past them up the corporate ladder. In a workplace where physical presence is less of a priority, that “absence” has far less meaning and even makes it easier for parents on maternity or parental leave to maintain a meaningful connection.
So, as you can see, if we are to use this current stage of discontinuity to address representation issues, it requires a different kind of leadership and a shift in mindset about how work gets done. Leaders need to create a culture that is optimized for different ways of working in order to be as inclusive as possible.
This will create opportunities across the board, but for women in particular it is an opportunity to start addressing the gap in leadership representation. It is an unprecedented opportunity for companies to unlock the potential that women leaders can bring by using inclusivity as a strategic tool to drive growth, innovation and performance.
Creating an inclusive culture does not happen overnight or without a sustained, dedicated effort to drive change. We’ve identified five principles based on decades of helping organizations create cultures that support their performance goals. First, leaders need to draw a clear line between business priorities and DEI goals, which includes the strategic benefits of increasing women’s representation in leadership positions and other key roles and functions.
Second, leaders need to make personal changes, recognize their own biases and blind spots, and be open about how their mindset has changed.
Next, the changes must be disseminated throughout the organization as part of a broad engagement program, and an exercise must be conducted to achieve a systemic alignment for inclusivity across all policies, processes, and practices.
The last principle is representation – employees of all groups must be able to see the workforce and reflect themselves at all levels.
So this International Women’s Day can be about more than just talking about change. We are all going through change right now, so let’s seize the opportunity to bring about a meaningful transformation that breaks down the remaining barriers for women in the workplace and overall supports a more inclusive organization.