Achieving Gender Diversity and Inclusion: It’s Time for More than Just Talk

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March 8, 2021
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Women have been disappearing from the workplace during the pandemic. A report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) found that from February to May 2020, 11.5 million women lost their jobs (compared with 9 million men). Between August and September, another 865,000 women left the labor market (four times the number of men).

Unfortunately, the problems women face in the workplace are not new. The corporate world does not support women as they climb the leadership ladder. Although some progress has been made, the pandemic has revealed that it has been far too slow.

According to Delivery Through Diversity, a report by McKinsey & Company, organizations with more leadership diversity experience substantial returns on their investment, including better retention rates, more employee engagement, increased productivity, and higher financial results.

The DDI’s Global Leadership Report shows that businesses with at least 30 per cent of women in leadership roles are 12 times more likely to excel financially. These organizations are 1.4 times more likely to produce sustained, profitable growth.

Accenture has found that a culture of equality helps everyone advance to higher positions and multiplies innovation and growth.

Yet, despite all this overwhelming evidence, women account for only 29 percent of senior management roles throughout the world! Women also face more barriers to advancement, get less support from managers, and receive less sponsorship than their male counterparts. Although women hold 46 percent of entry-level positions, the percentage drops to 37 percent of managers and only 19 per cent of senior-level positions.

More than 75 percent of CEOs include gender equality in their top 10 business priority. But turning commitments into action still seems out of reach for many of these leaders. What can we learn from companies who are leading the way in gender diversity and inclusion?

The gender Inclusion Trailblazers

To achieve change and help other organizations achieve change, we need to go beyond rhetoric. We will showcase three companies that back their words on gender equality with action.


Filling the talent pipeline with a 50/50 percentage of men and women is fair and achievable. It’s the responsible thing to do”  –  Irine Gaasbeek, Country Managing Director Accenture Netherlands, speaking at the Rise and Lead Summit 2020 on “Leading an Inclusive Organization in Today’s Business Climate.”

Accenture has the goal of complete gender equality at every level by 2025. To turn this commitment into action, Accenture holds every organization leader accountable when it comes to hiring and promotion decisions.

“Sometimes I still get comments from people saying, ‘Yes, but I can’t find suitable women,'” Irine said. “I don’t believe that, and I don’t buy that, so that excuse doesn’t count anymore.”

Irine explained that her company will accomplish gender balance by establishing flexible work schedules, facilitating employee networks, developing personal leadership, and creating mentorship programs for all employees. Here are the three actions Accenture is taking to achieve equality:

We must understand that commitment starts at the top. The goal of achieving gender equality is linked to leadership KPIs.

We must deal with our biases. To understand the changes we must make, we need to measure how people join, progress, and remain with our company.

We must broaden our mindsets. More people are digital-savvy than ever before. Now is the time to recruit outside tech education. We need to find women with an interest in tech and offer them internships.

On a final note, Irine shared that women also have a role to play themselves. They need to raise their hands to express their interest in opportunities. It is important to express your ambitions and interests, which helps your network to support you, she said.


Salesforce is leading the way when it comes to gender equality. The cloud-based software company is recognized for its “flexibility culture,” meaning that employees can create a schedule that allows them to take care of their family and other personal responsibilities.

One of Salesforce moms told me during one of our meetings: “I’m so lucky to work for a company like Salesforce…I could take some time off during the day to nurse my baby during working hours when needed.

Salesforce conducted its first equal pay audit in 2015 and continues to do so each year. The company has invested more than $10 million to address any unexplained differences in pay between men and women.

Linda Aiello, the Executive Vice President, Employee Success at Salesforce, who spoke during the Rise and Lead Summit, stated that Salesforce continues to care for its employee’s welfare as they work remotely. She said that “due to the amount of stress experienced by parents of young children during the pandemic, Salesforce increased their family care leave”.

In another interview with Jennifer Eversen, Senior Director Professional Services, Northern Europe, she stated that one of Salesforce core values is equality. Everyone is encouraged to practice equality through awareness, increasing diverse representation and ensuring that everyone takes individual action to make equality happen.


A year ago, Unilever announced that it had achieved a gender-balanced management team globally. With a higher representation of female managers than ever before, Unilever’s workforce is closing the gender gap, with 50% of women at the management level globally.

Fleur Van Bruggen, communications Director of Unilever Benelux, who spoke during the 2019 Rise and Lead Summit in The Hague, mentioned that there were 8 women and 4 men in the leadership in Benelux. She added that both men and women are allowed to work flexibly without losing their leadership position. She cited examples with a male colleague who took a 6 months paternity leave, a woman who had a baby and engaged in work-sharing instead of being forced to work part-time when she didn’t have to and many more.

Moreso, during a recent interview with Hanneke Faber, President, Global Foods & Refreshments at Unilever, Hanneke confirmed that Unilever had achieved gender equality. When asked how companies can learn from Unilever’s gender parity successes – 50 % of its managers are now women – Hanneke highlighted the importance of a public target setting, which puts pressure on delivery. Reporting every year on progress, setting goals publicly, and working through networks and partnerships to share experiences and learn from others, holds a company accountable.

The way forward

Closing the gender leadership gap is a work in progress. Every little step helps. Here’s one step in the right direction. Both of the companies we featured allow employees to have their children (age eight weeks through 9 years) close to them – even at work.

We do not wish to cast judgment on companies that have not reached gender parity but only encourage them to learn from the pacesetters. These two companies focus on finding what matters to employees, creating accountability measurements, and holding leaders responsible for their actions.

Our RL Inclusive Leaders Roundtable gathers leaders together to share best practices, reflect on their current practices, and choose a path that suits them.



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