IBM releases inclusive study about gender equality

March 08, 2021 | 17:00
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A new IBM Institute for Business Value study reveals that despite heightened awareness of the challenges facing women in the workplace driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, gender equity is still not a top priority for 70 per cent of global businesses, according to business professionals surveyed.
ibm releases inclusive study about gender equality
The new IBM study about gender equality covers 10 industries and nine geographic regions

The study also shares the actions that can help drive bold and sustainable change in business, with learnings from companies who rank gender inclusivity as a top business priority.

The global study “Women, leadership, and missed opportunities” which follows similar research published in 2019, also shows that gender equity may be at a crossroads, with the leadership pipeline for women shrinking. Fewer women surveyed hold senior vice president, vice president, director and manager roles in 2021 than they did in 2019.

“The data show that many women leaders are experiencing challenges at this moment. If these issues are not addressed more deeply than in prior years, there is a risk of progress backsliding further,” said Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president, global markets, IBM and senior executive sponsor of IBM Women's Community. “We should seize creative solutions now and redouble our efforts to make meaningful, lasting change that can help all women reach their full potential.”

In addition, the study indicates employees surveyed feel fatigue and waning optimism over ineffective programmatic efforts to address gender equity. Only 62 per cent of women surveyed (down 9 percentage points from 2019) and 60 per cent of men surveyed (down 7 percentage points from 2019) expect their organisation will significantly improve gender parity over the next five years.

According to the study, more organisations are instituting more programmes to help improve gender equity and inclusion compared to 2019, like gender-blind job screenings and parental leave for women.

However, the study suggests that has not translated to better outcomes in part because mindsets and cultures have not changed enough alongside the programmes.

Other recent IBV research found that the best-performing CEOs say they are committed to supporting the wellbeing of their employees, even at the cost of profitability or budget.

The study identified a group (11 per cent) of survey respondents referred to as “First Movers” who designate the advancement of women as a formal business priority, view gender-inclusivity as a driver of financial performance and are highly motivated to take action.

First Movers self-reported stronger financial performance – as much as a 61 per cent higher mean rate of revenue growth compared to the mean reported by other organisations in our study – as well as stronger innovation and stronger customer and employee satisfaction.

According to the study, there are specific, bold steps organisations can take, following the example of First Movers, to help accelerate progress in gender equity in the workplace.

For example, make gender equity a top five formal business priority, and create pathways for women to re-enter the workforce. IBM offers a six-month paid "returnship" for technical professionals who have been out of the workforce for 12 months, which provides training, access to tools and technology, mentorship, and work assignments on technical projects that are matched to their expertise.

Other step involves applying specific crisis-related interventions. For example, additional benefits like backup childcare support and access to mental health resources can be key. Other recent IBV research found that the best performing CEOs say they are committed to supporting the wellbeing of their employees, even at the cost of profitability or budget.

Next is creating a culture of intention, and insisting on making room. Focus on empathetic leadership and enabling middle managers to be advocates for positive cultural change. People leaders can intentionally champion inclusive team cultures, with flexibility aligned to individuals’ personal and professional needs, and set accountability into business and individual goals to sponsor the future pipeline of women leaders.

Using technology to accelerate performance is also suggested. Organisations can use technologies like AI to help reduce bias in the candidate screening process, provide cloud-based digital tools for communication and feedback to surface what’s working and what’s not in supporting women in the workplace, and invest in collaborative tools and teaming practices that allow women and men to engage effectively in physical and remote environments even after the pandemic abates.

The global study, conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value in cooperation with Oxford Economics, surveyed more than 2,600 executives, middle managers and professionals – an equal number of women and men – across 10 industries and nine geographic regions. It follows a 2019 study that surveyed 2,300 respondents representing the same range of roles, industries, and regions to allow for longitudinal analysis.


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