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December 14, 2015 Is gender equality the new reputation driver?

Rachel Friend, MD, Weber Shandwick, London

After decades of women demanding equal representation, it seems there’s still a long way to go when it comes to a seat in the C-suite.

At Weber Shandwick, we believe gender equality is an emerging driver of company reputation, and will only become more powerful in years to come. Together with KRC Research, we sponsored a survey of 327 senior executives across 55 countries in North America, EMEA, Asia-Pacific and Latin America, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the survey was titled, “Gender Equality in the Executive Ranks: A Paradox — The Journey to 2030”.

The research reveals a paradox – nearly three-quarters of global executives (73%) believe that gender equality in the C-Suite will be achieved by 2030. This is great, on paper. However, there’s no clear road map for making this prediction become a reality. Most execs (56%) report that their company does not have specific goals in place for achieving such an outcome, and only 39% of C-level executives report gender diversity in senior management as a high business priority, ranking seventh among 10 priorities.

In the absence of proactive steps, women appear to be developing “gender pipeline fatigue”, and believe that parity will only come through compulsory measures such as governmental mandates on equal pay.

However, things are beginning to look up. The research identifies several “push” forces that will move gender equality further up the corporate leadership agenda. These include:

  • Increased media and social media coverage of gender equality (worldwide, there has been more than a threefold increase in articles about female CEOs since 2010)
  • The need for companies to get better at attracting and retaining talented women
  • Growing acknowledgement that diverse gender perspectives lead to better financial performance

More women are also aspiring to the C-suite, and for young people, gender equality in the C-Suite is a no-brainer. Three-quarters of Millennials (76%) say that it’s important to them, a marked increase over Gen Xers (44%) and Boomers (48%).

The research also looks at the roles of a group of companies and leaders, Gender-Forward Pioneers (GFPs), who are ahead of the curve in making diversity in senior management a reality. GFPs are much more likely than non-GFPs to formalise clear goals for improving gender equality (58% vs. 37%), and 68% publicly share information about their gender equality efforts because they believe it enhances their reputation.

The Weber Shandwick GFP 2015 Index measures the percentage of Fortune Global 100 companies that have achieved gender equality in their leadership ranks. According to the 2015 Index, only 12.5% of senior leaders in the world’s top 100 companies are women. In EMEA, the figure is even lower, at 9.9%. The findings of this study are a wakeup call. Senior executives across EMEA must make a positive commitment to redress the balance of gender equality.

Aiming for equality in the workplace is a core part of our mindset and attitude at Weber Shandwick. In London, 47% of our senior executives are women and 70% of the Weber Shandwick leadership across our seven offices in the UK is female. We have reached this position because of the positive steps taken by our gender-forward CEO, Colin Byrne, who champions a fair and balanced workplace. We will continue to support gender equality at Weber Shandwick and across the entire PR industry.

There’s still a long way to go but it seems we are close to a tipping point, with pressure building toward gender equality progress. Wise corporate leaders should heed the signs: companies without women in senior positions are going to experience the negative reputational consequences.

Find Rachel tweeting @RachelFriendly



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