An aggressive and collective push toward diversification globally has put more women in powerful corporate positions during the past six years, giving roughly 21 percent more women reign over the companies that run the world.
In an age where the battle against gender discrimination continues to prove an uphill fight, this move is both worthy and essential. It is so important that the 2021 International Women’s Day was about female leadership.
There are many bright spots that show this can be done. There are a number of examples, from government top-down directives, to private businesses making diversification and equity a priority, to a global rethink of the quota system as more positive results stream in.
There are no excuses left. We cannot wait 80 years to achieve equity and equality for women, as the World Economic Forum has indicated about the length of time it would take in their 2020 report.
We cannot wait 80 years so that women get to exercise their right for equal opportunity to achieve our potential.
Recent efforts in Saudi Arabia have also proven that gender diversification in government and business is achievable.
With a growing number of Saudi women achieving corporate managerial positions in media, finance, tourism, and other sectors during the past decade, thanks to bold reforms passed by the government to advance women’s economic participation in society, Arab government bodies and businesses should take note.
Where there is a will, there is a way.
Last year, Unilever announced it had reached a gender balance across its global management team, with women comprising 50 percent of these powerful corporate positions – an increase of 38 percent compared to 2010 – and 45 percent of non-executive board members.
The corporation’s diversification effort, reached one year ahead of its target date, focused on three areas where women had been historically underrepresented: Finance, technology operations, and supply chain operations.
Half of Unilever’s global financial management team now consists of female executives and 47 percent of its operations technology division, UniOps, is now run by women, while 40 percent of Unilever’s supply chain management arm consists of female executives.
The company established a diversity and inclusion team to implement this initiative to create an inclusive corporate culture that spanned Unilever’s global offices.
To successfully reach Unilever’s gender diversification goal, the diversity and inclusion team established gender-balanced interview slate requirements, outlined robust diversity and inclusion goals, and set a gender appointment ratio that tracked senior leaders’ records in appointing women.
Unilever’s aggressive push to accelerate gender diversity in the workplace did not go unnoticed. The company won the 2020 Catalyst Award for its efforts to develop a more thoughtful and sustainably inclusive culture.
The success of Unilever’s initiative proves that, with a clear vision and strategy, this laudable and progressive step toward gender diversification can and should be replicated by government agencies and private businesses, especially those in Arab nations.
A 2020 study by the Unstereotype Alliance, an initiative led by UN Women, found that most people believed it was still much more difficult for women to get hired as skilled workers than men.
Believing this perception was fueled by lingering gender stereotypes that still held men as high-earners, in 2019 the Unstereotype Alliance challenged 96 companies, including Unilever, AT&T, Johnson & Johnson, Kantar, and Procter & Gamble, to do away with gender stereotypes and biases in marketing and advertising — the very public messaging tools that have kept the general public, including Arab nations, from accepting women in powerful, corporate jobs.
While still an uphill battle, the alliance’s effort to end the gender stereotypes that have kept women out of corporate offices for so long has slowly started to change attitudes.
While roughly 34 percent of men and 24 percent of women surveyed in the alliance’s 2020 study still believed that men should be the higher wage earners, only one in four respondents believed a woman should not earn more than her husband.
The majority of those surveyed now believe the opposite — that women should earn the same, if not more, than their male counterparts in the workplace.
Getting more women in corporate offices hinges on the very gender appointment ratio that Unilever established. And it’s a practice that’s growing in popularity.
In 2018 the Harvard Business Review noted that progress toward gender diversity in the boardroom was accelerating, acknowledging that the use of mandatory quotas compelled companies to broaden the composition of their boards and executive management.
According to global consulting firm Deloitte, last year the Swiss government passed corporate law reforms to ensure that gender diversity ratios — much like the one used by Unilever — were introduced for boards of directors and executive boards at companies with more than 250 employees operating in Switzerland.
To address the lingering challenges that persist, mandatory quotas are a step in the right direction because they guarantee inclusion. As the Unstereotype Alliance push has shown, the benefits of gender diversification far outweigh the cost of archaic stereotypes.