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IWD 2020 - Gender balance is improving but we can still do better

Nicky Tozer Profile picture for user Nicky Tozer March 5, 2020
Ahead of International Women's Day, Oracle NetSuite’s Nicky Tozer reflects on the past year, and the infrastructure being put in place for continued gender parity

Nicky Tozer, NetSuite EMEA VP, at SuiteConnect 2019 London
Nicky Tozer, Oracle NetSuite

This International Women's Day 2020 we’re celebrating the theme of #EachforEqual. A reminder that everyone is responsible for helping create a gender equal world.

Last year, I wrote about how there’s a risk of counter-productivity in focusing extensively on our differences. We need to re-frame our energy towards what we want to achieve and provide a platform to address imbalance. Therefore, while IWD provides a timely reminder of the need for gender equality across all walks of life – the boardroom, government, media, sports – it also offers a period of reflection to understand the economic, cultural, and political developments of the last 12 months to assess the context of progress.

Diversity & inclusion as an objective

In August, the CEOs of almost 200 major global companies known as ‘The Business Roundtable’ came together to issue a new definition on the purpose of a corporation, reimagining the idea that business exists purely for profit and shareholder value. The term was re-engineered to outline that businesses are responsible for investment in employees, delivering value to customers and notably, promoting diversity and inclusion across the workforce.

The Business Roundtable talks of the need for ‘conscious inclusion’ – that is, to recognize the value of every member of the workforce and make everyone from CEO to support staff accountable for advancing diversity. It discusses developing a framework for identifying appropriately diverse candidates and considering women and/or minority candidates for each open board seat. Of course, not every job in society comes at a senior level, and more needs to be done to harness the abilities of women and minorities across all walks of life. But addressing the demands of the competitive business world is a welcome focal point that can enable greater mobilization throughout the workforce.

Goldman’s steps are positive but must go beyond tokenism

Goldman Sachs recently became the first investment bank to mandate that it will only take U.S. and European companies public if it has at least one ‘diverse’ candidate on their board, at the same time describing corporate diversity as a “very, very important issue.” Increasing the number of female board CEOs is the main ambition of the Goldman policy, citing the likelihood of better performance on the stock market in companies with female directors.

However, one notable omission from the policy is Asia, which lags behind in terms of female board representation. We also have to be conscious of tokenism here, too. The reason Goldman’s policy made headlines is that female representation at senior levels remains relatively rare, despite recent improvements. We need to be careful of arbitrary rules that serve to meet binary requirements, and look at the bigger, underlying picture of what prevents gender equality.

I’ve spoken before about women leaders in technology being a legacy issue that needs to catch up, but one that will take time. The challenge remains that it’s difficult to promote more women if they aren’t there in the first place. But we can help the ones that are there to improve faster, while ensuring that we have diversity at the very earliest stages of careers, so we accelerate the step change that has already begun.

Re-thinking the mentor/mentee relationship

An interesting piece in the Harvard Business Review earlier this year raised the issue of ‘gendered mentorship’ and the perception of male to female guidance being a one-way street. The reality is that just in the same way as women benefit from male mentorship, men also gain from the leadership of women, and yet this narrative is far lesser seen.

It’s an important point. We need to eliminate the inaccurate perceptions about women leaders being the result of male mentorship, as it perpetuates the idea that one follows the other. I was honoured to be shortlisted for the Women in IT Awards 2020 recently. The event was fantastic – sponsorship from huge businesses, cross-industry involvement, a great focus on social initiatives, and a room full of women and men to celebrate pioneers in the industry. I’ve written before about the fact that, at a practical level, men and women bring different qualities to the table, and that is fine. We can learn from one another. But it’s important to reframe the idea that this needs to be a one-way dialogue.

While clearly there’s still a long way to go – take for example the female astronauts denied the opportunity to take part in the first all-female spacewalk because spacesuits were not designed with them in mind – we’re seeing a pattern of continued change that is equipping future generations of women.

Historical imbalances can’t be changed, but incremental, consistent progress will ensure the ambitions of International Women’s Day are worked towards.

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