Is driving change through gender diversity viable?

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Torbjørn Røe Isaksen on gender equality
Photo: Rebecca Tjäder

The issue of gender equality has been extensively discussed, both by corporations and politicians throughout the years. According to the United Nations, on average, less than one in three senior and middle management positions are held by women. This brings to light the matter of gender diversity in businesses.

In the last years, the SHE Conference have united business professionals around the world to discuss gender equality in corporations. Heidi Aven, the co-founder of the SHE Conference and the SHE Community, emphasises gender balance as a driver of change in the business environment and society. On Wednesday 6th of March, the conference with the theme “Equality matters” was hosted in Oslo Spektrum gathering hundreds of participants to discuss in taking part of the change. Leaders from different sectors shared their perspectives in the different stages—Equality, Start-Up, Investor, Future, Growth, and Inclusion. The multiple speeches provided new angles for an old discussion, incentivizing not only reflection, but also the search of collaborative solutions to be carried out by men and women—side-by-side.  

The gender diversity issue

One of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 is to achieve gender equality, empowering women and girls. Increasing gender diversity relates to a complex and cultural concern. “I think it is important as an issue of fairness and equal opportunities. Also, for businesses and for future recruitment”, said Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, the Minister of Trade and Industry.

Women in leadership positions need to inspire their peers to reshape the community alongside with men.

This discussion uncovers the absence of balance in workplaces and other political, economic or social spheres. According to Michael Foley, CEO of Grameenphone at Telenor, gender rights are basically human rights and it is still a challenge to increase gender diversity in companies.

The lack of women in different male dominated sectors highlights the need of role models. Women in leadership positions need to inspire their peers to reshape the community alongside with men. “I still believe in the value of being a role model, telling girls that they can do anything”, emphasized Siv Jensen, Norwegian Minister of Finance.

Siv Jensen on Women in leadership
Photo: Emanuele Lombardo

“We have to uncover our unconscious bias. When I think about a lawyer, I automatically think men, but when I think about parenting, I automatically think women”

Uncovering unconscious biases

The impact of gender in the normative behavior is an obstacle for a more equality society. There are several cultural values and beliefs establishing not only about right or wrong according to morality, but also the conduct rules that stereotype, based on gender. “We have to uncover our unconscious bias. When I think about a lawyer, I automatically think men, but when I think about parenting, I automatically think women”, said Indrani Goradia, philanthropist and founder of Indrani’s Light Foundation. Working on ourselves to uncover these intrinsic biases is necessary in order to reach the gender diversity goals.

Indrani Goradia on the She Conference
Photo: Emanuele Lombardo.

Rethinking the recruiting process

The recruiting process is crucial for companies to make sure that they get the best talents among the workforce. The competition for talent keeps getting harder and according to Laura Traavik, associate professor at BI Norwegian Business School, the question the companies should ask themselves is, “are we achieving the right balance?”

In the opinion of Even Bolstad, managing director of HR Norway, companies have to be able to grasp all opportunities of all those clever, ambitious women out there, otherwise they are losing in the battle for talent. These questions are emphasized by multiple companies that believe changes in the hiring process should be done in order to achieve a good gender balance in the workforce.

“What gets measured, gets done!”

Elisabeth Grieg, co-owner of the Grieg Group, placed high emphasis on quantifying the gender diversity initiatives within companies. This vision was supported by multiple other speakers which believed companies should have accurate measurements to evaluate gender equality in businesses. In connection to this, the SHE Index, powered by EY, was mentioned as a good tool which places focus on this concern.“I think it is not enough just to talk about it. The companies taking part, it is a good way of making sure that the leadership, both the board and top management work on it systematically”, said Torbjørn Isaksen. 

“When you make a strategy, there will be action”

More diversity, better results!

Women bringing new approaches into businesses are constantly debated with the focus on gender equality. However, facts corroborated that more diversity is also correlated to positive financial results, being a smart business choice. According to Haakon Brunell, co-founder at Katapult Accelerator, equality generates better teams and return on investment. Katapult’s portfolio has 35 companies with approximately 40% female founders.

The balance among the workforce can also help companies to be more innovative. “Within Microsoft, we have big initiatives to drive gender inclusivity, diverse ethnic background and to really create”, reinforced Gavriella Schuster, Corporate Vice President One Commercial Partner Channel Chief of Microsoft. The goal is to create a diverse organization that reflects the population of the world.

“Less talk, more action!”

Talking about gender equality is not enough to drive a transformation, attitudes are equally important. “When you make a strategy, there will be action”, said Laura Traavik. Academics also believe that universities have an important role in including diversity and inclusion as part of every course in order to achieve more awareness and knowledge, leading to action. Siv Jensen also shared this vision by including schools, label markets and so forth as part of the political plan. 

Isaksen also expressed his concern in getting things done. For the first time, he is working with Trine Skei Grande, the Minister of Culture and Equality, to address this topic. In order to achieve balance, the politician have had high level workshops and work together with business communities, identifying some practices that are easy and effective.

Even as a reference of a country with high advances in the regulations of gender parity and open discussion on the subject, Norway still has a long way to go. Gender diversity is a concern which should be addressed consciously and actively in the pursuit of more diverse corporations and communities. Breaking not only the silence, but contributing in the formation of concrete initiatives—locally and worldwide.

by Ingrid Langva and Roberta Lemgruber

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