Gender equality: no way I’m waiting 54 years

Gender equality: no way I’m waiting 54 years

To celebrate the launch of Women in ICT Asia in Singapore, Channel Asia profiles the leading female technology leaders across the region

Harriet Green (IBM)

Harriet Green (IBM)

Credit: IBM

It could take 54 years - until 2073 - to achieve gender equality in terms of leadership numbers in the global workplace.

This number is one outcome from an analysis and report published this March by the IBM Institute of Business Value titled ‘Women, Leadership and the Priority Paradox’.

We wanted to shine a light on some startling truths about why the gender leadership gap persists, despite global conversations to combat it and misconceptions about the ROI that female leadership can achieve.

First, there is a clear leadership gap. Despite widely-publicised advocacy for gender equality at work, the percentage of women serving in senior leadership roles is still exceedingly small.

Among the 2,300 organisations surveyed, only 18 per cent of senior leadership positions - including C-suite, vice president, director and senior manager positions - are held by women.

Second, we face a priority paradox - 79 per cent of companies globally haven’t formally prioritised fostering gender equality in leadership within their organisations.

Sixty-seven per cent of respondents say promoting more women to leadership positions doesn’t constitute a formal business priority for their organisations but they do it when they can, and 12 per cent say advancing women just isn’t on their radar.

Third, those who proactively advance gender equality as a formal business priority and display a sense of urgency and ownership about this issue outperform their competitors in profitability, innovation and employee satisfaction. Unfortunately, the out-performers make only 12 per cent of the total survey sample.

It’s 2019. There are no excuses for these numbers.

The good news now: it is within the power of organisations to shake up and change things. And there is a straightforward roadmap for change that organisations can take up, by following at least one of three imperatives: make gender equality in leadership a business priority; create a culture of inclusion and make leadership accountable for results.

Let me share a few examples of what we’ve learned at IBM and how I and our leadership team here in Asia Pacific are laying down our own roadmap.

To make gender equality in leadership a business priority and drive a culture of inclusion, we invest in programs supporting female talents as they progress on their professional journeys.

We design and run initiatives bringing women back into the workplace after maternity leave and we proactively cultivate the future pipeline of talent - not only for IBM, but for any organisation in need of talents with a background in STEM.

Here in Asia Pacific we are expanding our P-TECH school model, providing ICT and STEM education and hands-on experience to students with non-traditional backgrounds.

We’ve brought this model to Australia, Singapore, Korea, Philippines and New Zealand. Other countries will follow soon.

This March we also announced new investments in India to improve the skills and careers of more than a million female students in the coming years.

Role models

I’m a strong believer in the importance of role models, and in the real wisdom in the saying, “if you can see it, you can be it”. And I am so proud that IBM blazes an example here, starting from the very top of our company and following through the layers of the organisation.

Here in Asia Pacific, more than half of my leadership team are women, a lot of them new within a year to their leadership roles, working hand in hand with their equally talented male counterparts to keep transforming our clients’ businesses as well as our own.

And our role models do not reside uniquely within the organisation in which we work. Former colleagues, managers, family, teachers and professors can all influence our behaviour and ability to push for change.

Personally, my parents were both amazing influences, providing the grounding for me to achieve my potential. Steve Kaufman, the former CEO of Arrow Group, truly nurtured my talents and encouraged me to spread my wings.

And of course, being part of IBM, a company with its own rich and pioneering history of equality, provides some great encouragement to bring our whole selves to work.

Think of it - in 1899 the first women employees were hired, in 1941 the first female executive was named, in 1953 Policy Letter #4, publicly stating not only the ethical but the business case for diversity.

And one of the latest examples from 2018 - Catalyst award for advancing women in business - not only was IBM the only tech company awarded, but the only company to be awarded four times.

Our policy is very simple: every single IBMer should feel empowered to bring his or her whole self to work. No matter what gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, disability, every single person here matters. Gender equality is both our intention and our responsibility.

At IBM we encourage inclusive mind-sets in each of our employees and leaders, in support of equality as an organisation at large.

Progress does not happen while we wait for it. It is responsibility for all of us - men and women - to ensure our organisations recognise a gender equality as a business priority, design a roadmap and execute on it.

Harriet Green is CEO and chairman of IBM Asia Pacific

For more information regarding Women in ICT Asia, click here

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