Push for Gender Parity Undergoes a Paradigm Shift

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This article originally appeared on Workforce.

Jewelle Bickford was frustrated; despite corporate efforts toward parity and promises to tackle gender inequality in leadership, women as a group weren’t making progress.

Bickford, partner at Evercore Wealth Management, is one of the founders and co-chairs of the Paradigm for Parity movement, which launched earlier this month as a vehicle to accelerate the pace of gender equity in senior executive roles. The ultimate goal is gender parity in leadership by 2030.

Bickford along with Sandra Beach Lin, former president and CEO of Calisolar, and Ellen Kullman, former CEO of DuPont, created the movement.

“It was our view that if a solution were to be found, women would need to do it for themselves, and for the rest of the women out there,” said Bickford. This prompted the organization of the Paradigm for Parity movement, which so far has partnered with 27 companies, all of which have publicly promised to take on gender parity as an organizational goal and to use Paradigm for Parity’s guidelines to do so.

Bickford and a group of highly regarded female CEOs and business executives, many of whom are CHROs, put together the actionable-items plan. The group created a measurement for success that could realistically be implemented within a company. These measurements are how many women the company attracts, retains, promotes and sponsors. Many companies don’t track sponsorship, which is an important aspect in the action plan.

Getting other companies interested in the plan wasn’t difficult, noted Bickford.

“There are a lot of men and women out there who are as frustrated as we are,” she said.

The five-point action plan includes:

  1. Minimize or eliminate unconscious bias.
  2. Significantly increase the number of women in senior operating roles.
  3. Measure targets at every level and communicate progress and results regularly.
  4. Base career progress on business results and performance, not presence.
  5. Identify women of potential and give them sponsors and mentors.

What’s key about these five points, said Bickford, is that they reinforce each other and have to be implemented together to have the desired effect. For example, if a company makes a point to attract female candidates but not promote or sponsor them, then the number of women leaders won’t shift significantly.

One takeaway from meetings Bickford has had with executives is the importance of unconscious bias training, which can’t be done just once but must be continually reinforced.

Also important is that company leaders support the plan and publish statistics internally in the organization. For example, Bickford mentioned McKinsey & Co. CEO Dominic Barton, who willingly shared diversity numbers and acknowledged that the company wanted to do better and had a plan.

One item not noted in this plan is closing the wage gap. This was intentional because many other organizations already tackle that issue. Also, Bickford said, “We believe that if you implement all five of the action items, the wage gap will disappear. Our goal was to go where other people have not.”

One of Paradigm for Parity’s partners is global professional services company Accenture, which has a long-standing commitment to inclusion and diversity, according to CHRO Ellyn Shook.

“Most recently, 30 percent of our newly promoted managing directors are women, a record percentage for us,” she wrote in an email interview. “Paradigm for Parity is anchored by an actionable roadmap for change, and we look forward to sharing best practices and collaborating with leading companies to achieve gender equality.”

Among other companies that have committed to Paradigm for Parity’s action plan are Bank of America, Cargill, VF Corp., the Huffington Post, Nordstrom and LinkedIn. The organization’s goal is 50 companies by March 2017, said Bickford.

For companies interested in creating more gender equality in their workplace, whether they formally partner with Paradigm for Parity, Bickford said: “That would be my advice to any CHRO; just get started. You’ll see it will be very positive.”

Andie Burjek is an associate editor at Workforce.

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