In honor of International Women's Day, we are excited to present a special edition of our Inside Edelman series, dedicated to promoting gender equity and raising awareness of the challenges and threats that women still face today. By highlighting inspiring voices from across our network, we hope to spark meaningful conversations and inspire action towards a more equitable future.

In discussing strategies for advocating equity, Faith McIver, emphasizes the significance of building trust, fostering inclusion and belonging, and utilizing powerful tools like Employee Network Groups (ENGs) to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Share a personal story of a time when you faced gender bias or discrimination in your career, and how you overcame it. How can we all work together to create a more equitable workplace for women?

At the start of my career, I struggled to find my footing as a practitioner. I didn’t have much mentorship, guidance or even role models to mirror my career after, so I often felt like an outlier before understanding how bias and discrimination could impact me.

After a Fellowship with another major global agency, I learned that I was being considered for a full-time position and promotion that would not only uplevel my career but also provide job security as someone eager to grow in the industry. Ahead of the promotion announcements, I was pulled aside by an HR manager who informed me that recommendations for the role were taking place and mentioned that a VP was hesitant about my name being in the pool for consideration precisely because of my gender. I later learned they also vocalized concerns about my race.

Having someone in HR even pull me aside to inform me that these discussions were taking place was my first experience with workplace allyship, a term that wasn’t part of my vocabulary at the time. She spoke out because she thought it was unfair to remove my name from consideration without asking me if my race or gender made me incapable of doing the job. I was the strongest candidate for the role, but I could have been denied simply because I wouldn’t look like the people in the room I’d be reporting to and supporting each day.

The opportunity, which I ended up taking and excelling in, led me to my current work in DEI and past work in multicultural communications and public affairs. The importance of allies and advocates at work cannot be understated. Simply using your voice and influence to support someone who can’t do it for themselves can be life changing. Without someone advocating for me that early in my career, I might have given up on pursuing a career at an agency.

What are some innovative solutions you've seen in your sector that promote gender equality?

Employee Resources Groups (ERGs), also commonly known as Affinity Groups, Employee Network Groups, or Business Resource Groups, among other names, are important to drive equity and equality within businesses. While establishing these groups is not new, they are vehicles that continue to be proven effective, and how they are positioned within organizations leads to innovative, compelling and even revolutionary work. At their core, they have been used to empower and support diverse communities within the walls of an organization. Over the years, they have evolved to hold businesses accountable for driving social and societal change through various initiatives and strategic actions seen through recruitment, retention practices, professional development and more.  

Some examples of the work brands and organizations have driven through ERGs or have been influenced by the work of ERGs include developing scholarships to empower high school women and non-binary people to pursue careers in various industries, changing maternal-leave policies to parental leave policies for gender-neutral care opportunities; developing traditional and reverse mentorship programs to provide support and guidance for career growth and development.

At Edelman, our largest and oldest Employee Network Group — GWEN, was started as an internal initiative in 2011 to bring the firm to 50/50 gender parity at senior levels (level 5+). As of January 2023, 56.3% of our senior global leadership (level 5+) are women. Over the years, the group has matured and sustained three key pillars to support women at the firm: women in leadership, working parents, and mentorship and sponsorship. As an ENG, they have dedicated immeasurable time and effort to drive those efforts and more to continue advancement for all women at Edelman.

259 million fewer women have access to the internet than men (according to the UN) — in what ways do you think the digital gender gap affects economic and social inequalities? How can we bridge this gap?

The digital gender gap creates barriers to education, job opportunities, and even building connections with family and friends. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) reported that more than 50% of the world’s women are offline. Meanwhile, digital technologies are continually evolving and expanding from mobile/telecom to the internet to Artificial Intelligence, augmented reality, robotics, biotechnology, and more. Ninety percent of jobs have a digital component that requires some form of competency. There are obvious economic, social and geographic gaps that are present and impact women globally. Currently, I am struggling with leveraging and learning digital currency, such as mining Bitcoin or Crypto. Having access to and using those means properly could lead to financial freedom; however, digital competence is required to engage in those conversations.

To bridge the gaps in digital access, we must continue to acknowledge that these gaps exist and ensure that as we make technological advancements, we keep in mind those who need access to education, infrastructure support and resourcing to ensure they aren’t being left behind. Also, governments must step up, recognize and find solutions for mitigating the growing disparities in the technology revolution for the areas they serve.

Allies are important to advancing gender equity. What are some actions that men and women can take to support gender equity in their personal and professional lives?

There are multiple hats that people can wear to help advance equity period. To keep it simple, you can be an advocate, accomplice or an ally. Something I want to echo from Donald Knight, Chief People Officer at Greenhouse Software and an Edelman alum who was a guest on our DEI-powered podcast, Authentic 365, he described those three characteristics of people in a compelling way: “Advocates are folks that will build a bridge for you to cross. Accomplices are people who are willing and courageous enough to cross the bridge with you. Allies recognize that on the journey they’ve been on, we might not have had bridges to walk with them in the first place.”

Framing the conversation to recognize that there are multiple hats to wear to be of service to others should empower everyone to assume a role and act. Saying you’re just an ally is not enough. A few examples of different ways you can assume the role of an advocate, accomplice or ally include:

  • Using your voice and advocating for colleagues when they aren’t in the room.
  • Supporting women non-binary people’s progression to leadership. Don’t be a barrier.
  • Changing the status quo. Don’t operate from the “it was done to me, so I have to do it” mindset if the teaching isn’t an equitable practice.
  • Being part of the solution wherever you sit. There are systemic issues and barriers in every sector and industry; you can start where you are. 
  • Networking up, down and across. At all levels, we can learn hard and soft skills from one another, leading to professional growth and development.
  • Serving as a mentor and sharing career guidance and advice for someone interested in following a similar career path or journey.
  • Creating space to have hard conversations about a subject you don’t understand.
  • Donating or volunteering to non-profits funding equitable initiatives or leading grassroots work for policy change.

What strategies have you found to be effective in advocating for equity in your personal and/or professional life?

To continue Edelman’s narrative, it starts with Trust. Building trust between stakeholders or within your personal network is how people will begin to see, hear, feel and believe your diversity, equity and inclusion commitments. Trust is how people feel seen and as though they can show up without fear of retribution or harm. That they can actually be their authentic selves — or whatever it means for someone to be personally comfortable at work.

While you are building trust, you must also foster inclusion and belonging. Creating space where people at all levels can be comfortable and empowered in using their voices. I enjoy being on the journey of restructuring Edelman’s Employee Network Groups (ENGs) to ensure global access and resourcing because I know they are a powerful tool to promote DEI within the company when used effectively. Forming a group of energized colleagues sharing a community in the form of an ENG creates space for learning and advancement. They also help bring forward greater awareness and understanding of issues where empathy is progressed, and collaboration is fostered.

Faith McIver is a ‪Senior Manager in the Diversity & Inclusion team.