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Seizing the Moment

3 things every organization should do right now to ensure that women are advancing at work

217 years.

This is how long the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Report predicts it will take, given the current rate of change, to close the global economic gap between men and women.

This is a staggering amount of time – and doesn’t even take into consideration the full impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which will not only transform labor markets and displace jobs, but will also disproportionately affect women.

Yet, we find ourselves at a rare inflection point. Everyone — from investors, shareholders, board members and leaders to employees and customers — is suddenly paying attention like never before to how women are faring in the workplace and beyond.

The choice is whether we are going to seize this opportunity or watch the potential for progress slip away. Things could go either way. If we pay lip service to gender equity but fail to apply the true accelerators of progress in our own organizations, we won’t move the needle and risk leaving this to the next generation to solve.

So what should organizations do to actually help women thrive?

1. Gather PROOF about what is holding women back in the organization. This is essential – hypotheses and anecdotes won’t do – and relatively easy given all the workforce data and analytic tools that organizations have at their disposal today.

2. Couple proof with PASSIONATE leaders ready and willing to act. Igniting this passion is often a much bigger challenge than gathering the proof. But the fact that the conversation today has suddenly grown so much louder makes this a promising moment to engage leaders and gain their commitment.

3. Create PRACTICES and PROCESSES that support women’s careers and lives. This includes pay-equity processes, bias-free promotion and performance management processes, an expanded view of the skills and experience required for different roles, and programs that support women’s disproportionate responsibility for caretaking and their unique health and financial needs.

According to our comprehensive When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive research, these are the levers proven to advance women at work. We have used them to accelerate the progress of women at our own company. We have also had the privilege of working with disruptors at almost 200 leading-edge organizations across a range of industries to accelerate change. By applying all the elements of our model, these organizations have made sustained progress in areas ranging from engaging people at every level of the organization in the conversation to closing the pay gap, enabling the upward progression of women and increasing their representation in senior leadership.

Making the changes necessary to advance gender equity in the organization takes commitment — and it takes time. Although we are thrilled with the progress we have made in our own organization and others, we also recognize that this journey can take years to achieve significant results.

Getting overwhelmed, distracted, or even discouraged is easy – but not an option. Instead we must be visible and vocal about our impatience and must also persevere. After all, organizations can’t afford to wait another 217 years to get the boost in growth, innovation, shareholder value, employee engagement and retention associated with advancing women in the organization. Women can’t afford to wait that long either.

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