Establishing Value: Do Women Accept Less and Do More?

EY Women Fast ForwardAfter almost 10 years as CEO for a global diversity and inclusion firm, I was still shocked when I read EY’s latest report, which predicts we may be “waiting 80 years for gender parity.” Yet the movement around Reddit CEO Ellen Pao’s gender discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, Kleiner Perkins, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, makes me hopeful for a watershed moment.

Pao did not win her case, but her determination to bring the case to light ensured the national press could highlight the dismal gender diversity statistics in the tech industry, an issue I am passionate about. In addition, Pao has also taken the step to hire a diversity and inclusion expert at Reddit. The pace of change on gender equality seems glacial, but this is a powerful example of how we can move forward.

The myriad of issues that hold women back from bringing their full selves to work—from bringing their best contributions to growing their careers—simply remain a lesser priority for the majority of decision-makers who have not walked in their shoes. Given the lack of representation of senior women decision-makers, we will be waiting a long time to see executive leadership reflecting the diversity of today’s society.

Yet today’s companies cannot afford to wait. In January 2015, McKinsey released Diversity Matters, a report that showed data proving “Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”

At Jennifer Brown Consulting (JBC), we’ve noticed generational overtones to the conversation in many corporate environments we consult in. We’ve observed Generation Y women trying to connect the dots for their own careers and failing to see long-term alignment for themselves.

Value means more than just a dollar sign—but it is a start. The statistics for equal pay are sobering:

Yet, according to another McKinsey study, Unlocking the Full Potential of Women at Work, when researchers delved deeper, they found that companies who made gender diversity a transparent company priority saw greater gains—and female employees not only stayed at the company, they moved up the ladder.

In my work with women at all levels, including executives in the Fortune 500, I find women say to me that they feel they must “accept less and be more.” These women are not only talking about salary, but moreover the idea that they are treated as less valuable than their male counterparts, and yet have to show up as ever-more competent to retain their position.

This would be an exhausting cycle for anyone, but non-traditional talent feels it most acutely. If workplace culture will not value women adequately, how can we change that trajectory?

At Jennifer Brown Consulting, we believe every employee, from emerging leaders to managers to C-suite executives, deserves to feel Welcomed, Valued, Respected, and HeardSM. Our innovative trainings and subject matter experts work to ensure gender diversity is a foundational aspect of diversity and inclusion plans.

While gender parity is the obvious high-level goal, we like to begin the conversation with values—and feeling valued.

As I pointed out in my blog post last fall on Microsoft’s Satya Nadella’s infamous “inarticulate” comment that women should “[have] faith the system will give you the right raise,” company messaging comes from company values, which should speak to who is important to the business.

As with any case where there is a conspicuous lack of diversity, for instance when women are not represented (or respected), the company’s values have not been made specific enough to valuing today’s actual workforce, which is more diverse than ever before. Much of today’s corporate values statements are untethered to those who need to feel valued the most: today’s and tomorrow’s talent, in all of its breadth and potential.

If women continue to feel compelled to accept less and do more, we are just treading water on our way to gender parity. As we start to see more women CEOs, more women board members, and more women in senior leadership overall, I hope that we continue to understand the necessary structures for gender diversity in the workplace. I hope we continue to focus on clear, supported pathways for women to grow and succeed—and we strive to do better to value women and their contributions.