Workplace gender equality: It’s everyone’s responsibility

This year, IBM launched the Be Equal campaign and released a corresponding IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) study on the current state of workplace gender equality.

The IBV study found that amongst respondents:

  • Seventy-nine percent of organizations globally haven’t fully prioritized gender-balanced leadership.
  • Organizations that prioritize achieving gender equality in their leadership outperform their competition in profitability and revenue growth.
  • Workplace gender equality has to be a formal strategic priority to propel real change; enlightened ideals are not enough.

These findings highlight the importance of continued efforts to prioritize workplace gender equality. No matter where your organization is today, there’s still work to do.

Proud to be an IBMer

I’ve been fortunate to spend the last 18 years working for IBM, a company that’s open to all ideas and doesn’t judge where an idea comes from. Personally, I adore this principle at its core — the next great idea can come from you, me or anyone. Diversity and inclusion are values that define IBM’s workplace culture — and the company has a legacy of being ahead of the curve in building an equal opportunity workforce.

Early in my career, an IBM leader reminded me that the next great idea could come from anywhere, so we need to stay open. Thomas J. Watson Sr. felt this way too, demonstrating it with his words, actions and efforts to lay the foundation for an inclusive company culture, which his son Watson Jr. continued to build on throughout the 20th century. I believe that this inclusion is one of the keys to our success, and it may be one reason why this innovative company remains in existence after more than 100 years.

We all still have a long way to go

The IBV research demonstrates that women are not strategically on the radar for most organizations today — a disappointing finding, even though it confirms what I have observed. We should collectively be embarrassed that 12 percent (279 of 2300) of the study respondents say, “advancing women just isn’t on their radar.” If so, why not? The majority of us have sisters, daughters, nieces and female cousins and want the best for these intelligent, thoughtful women who are advanced thinkers and doers.

We applaud the respondent organizations that the IBV survey references as “First Movers” — those who make advancing women a strategic priority. However, I advise larger organizations, and those that are matrixed, to make sure that there are not glass ceilings for women. Even for organizations that have prioritized gender equality, the devil is in the details and inequality of opportunity can be expressed in subtle ways. I encourage everyone to go beyond their comfort zone. As is often said, comfort can be the enemy of progress, and leading with skepticism may be helpful as we seek to ensure we are truly being equal.

For those who are ahead of the curve

We should of course celebrate the 12 percent (279) of survey respondents who indicated that they take demonstrable action to advance women (providing career development opportunities specific to women’s needs, using equivalent metrics for measuring men’s and women’s job performance, cultivating a culture that embraces women’s leadership styles). I appreciate this, especially as a multicultural woman.

In line with the IBV findings, a research survey by the Peterson Institute for International Economics shows that “the presence of more female leaders in top positions of corporate management correlates with increased profitability of these companies.” How can organizations that are ahead of the curve pay it forward? What can we do to bring other organizations along?

Equality is everyone’s responsibility

“Be Equal” is all about inviting everyone — business leaders, employees, society at large — to make a concerted effort to elevate women at every level of an organization, through hiring, developing, mentoring and promotion.

Michelle Peluso, Chief Marketing Officer at IBM, in a recent interview about the IBV study expressed hope for progress on gender equality, and I too am hopeful and working to take an optimistic approach. Being hopeful, however, is not where it should end. As a daughter, sister and mother, I pledge to take action and be vocal for the benefit of others. I want to lead by example, because there’s so much more we can collectively accomplish to build an inclusive ecosystem. And I’m committed to asking HeForShe advocates to help bring others along.

We should mark the progress we’ve made and at the same time dedicate ourselves to continued efforts to achieve workplace gender equality. I believe that a major challenge before us is figuring out how to collectively scale to address this problem across industries and around the globe. That’s my commitment as leader of IBM Systems Lab Services and Technical Universities.

We know beyond a doubt that gender diversity is a driver of creativity and innovation, and that it is profitable for business. So why wait? What’s your pledge to “Be Equal”?