Private sector initiatives remain key to driving the advancement of women in the workplace. But progress remains slow and uneven, according to Putting All our Minds to Work: An Assessment, a survey report released today by BIAC and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited.
The report, which assesses recent changes in corporate practice to advance women into leadership positions, follows the 2012 BIAC/AmCham Report and Toolkit: Putting All our Minds to Work: Harnessing the Gender Dividend.
As a follow-up to the survey report, women’s entrepreneurship served as the focus of a BIAC Workshop in Paris today, which brought together companies, entrepreneurs, governments and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) officials to discuss the challenges women face in starting and growing their businesses.
USCIB member companies – Wal-Mart, UPS and the Coca-Cola Company – contributed to the workshop and discussed their corporate programs that promote and support women’s entrepreneurship in the local communities in which they operate and within their supply chains. The companies highlighted the positive effects of supporting women-owned enterprises on their bottom line, emphasizing that the programs are not corporate social responsibility, but business initiatives.
USCIB’s Ronnie Goldberg, senior counsel and chair of BIAC’s Committee on Employment, Labor and Social affairs, said: “This is an exciting opportunity for BIAC to stimulate creative and innovative thinking on best practices and policies necessary to support women’s enterprises across all sectors of the economy.”
As cited in the survey report, over 66 percent of companies surveyed reported an increase in the percentage of women in executive leadership positions since 2010. Forty-seven percent have introduced policy and practice changes aimed at women at the managerial level, and 44 percent have done so for women in executive leadership positions.
Some of the most common practices cited by companies to advance women in the workplace include “high potential development plans,” workplace flexibility policies, inclusive leadership development, mentorship and provisions for parental leave.
Despite progress, more than half of the respondents hand not recently introduced new plans to encourage women’s advancement in their workplace.
“The survey results show that while progress is being made, more effort is required across the board before organizations can generate greater economic empowerment of women,” said Bernhard Welschke, secretary general of BIAC. “Neither economies nor companies can afford to miss out on the contributions of women. Progress depends on senior leadership in business and government, as well as in society working together to support women in the workforce and encouraging them as entrepreneurs.”
The greatest catalysts for change within organizations are the CEO, senior managers and the Board, while laws, political leadership and corporate governance were seen as comparatively more promising in markets without female hiring quotas, and the media and academia in markets with quotas, all pointing to the fact that more must and can be done.
The survey also found that 22 percent of surveyed companies reported losing women from leadership positions through voluntary resignations. Reasons cited included better opportunities elsewhere or lack of promotion or career development challenges.
The reasons given for women leaving the workplace suggest the current business environment is not providing the majority of female employees’ adequate support.
“Talented women are making their own choices – and too many are choosing simply to step off the corporate ladder believing further advancement is not available to them. This has to change and change needs leadership,” said Steve Almond, chairman of Deloitte Global. “Business leaders must own the issue of gender diversity instead of pushing the job off to Human Resources; they need to move beyond declarations to substantive engagement, providing sponsors, coaches and mentors to help talented women achieve their true potential. This is not about lowering the hurdle; it is about encouraging women to stay the course to give themselves the chance of clearing the hurdle.”
The report and workshop will be followed by continued work from BIAC and USCIB on advancing women’s economic empowerment in coordination with the OECD Recommendation of the Counsel on Gender Equality and as a lead up to their future work in this area, especially in regard to supporting women’s entrepreneurship.
View the Workshop Photos (flickr).
Watch Goldberg’s closing remarks (YouTube).