When my 15-year-old daughter attended this past weekend’s #March4Women in London, I couldn’t have been more proud. In advance of International Women’s Day, she was joining friends, thousands of Londoners and hopefully millions around the world this week in celebrating the achievements of women and advocating for gender equality. In business, as in the world at large, the advantages of balanced gender diversity are widely acknowledged. However, huge gaps, and therefore equally sizable opportunities, remain.
At Edelman, where close to 70 percent of our employees are women, we have an opportunity to improve their representation among the company’s leaders. Responding to our CEO Richard’s challenge to achieve 50 percent female representation among senior leadership over the next five years, Cornelia Kunze, chair of Edelman GWEN (Global Women’s Empowerment Network), is working with our HR team and leaders across the network on a bold plan of action. Our reality is that female representation drops steadily the higher the level. So, as we reverse this, we’ll be keeping our best and brightest leaders at the very stage in their careers when they’re poised to lead functions, geographies and teams of teams. That, as Edelman’s Bob Grove wrote in his powerful Communications Director article last year, is simply good business.
The good news is we’re making progress, and much work is already underway.
Importantly, gender diversity is part of Edelman’s broader diversity and inclusion commitment. We know that diverse teams and cultures create the most inspiring work environments and ultimately the very best, most creative solutions for our clients. It’s why we’ve formed a global Diversity and Inclusion Council, chaired by our U.S. Diversity and Inclusion EVP, Trisch Smith. This council’s purpose is to help inform this work and drive greater diversity – of all types – and inclusion efforts company-wide. And, in addition to our long-standing GWEN, Edelman sponsors several other affinity groups focused on themes ranging from ethnic diversity to sexual orientation to veterans.
We’re also proud of a number of key partnerships, like the International Women’s Forum (IWF), where we recognize our female leaders across the globe and provide them with unmatched international opportunities for growth and development. In the U.S., we have sponsored ColorComm to drive greater representation of women of color in communications and The 3% Conference to champion female creative directors.
From these initiatives to our programs, policies and celebrations, we’re striving to create an environment free of barriers, in which everyone can achieve their potential.
To specifically address Richard’s challenge around leadership representation, among the many concrete initiatives we’ll take in the coming months is unconscious bias training. Neuroscience has shown that 95 percent of our behaviors and decisions stem from our unconscious mind. So, unconscious bias training is an essential part of our strategy to promote gender balance in leadership positions at Edelman. The training's objective is to build the skills to recognize and mitigate the impact of gender biases, again hopefully contributing to the most inclusive culture possible as well as bias-free hiring and promoting decisions. Coming out of the training, our leaders will make and track plans to proactively counteract any biases they’ve uncovered.
Unconscious bias training can only serve as a foundation for other initiatives, though. As an example, we will ensure we have appropriately diverse selection pools for open positions with specific development plans for those who have the capability and the commitment to take on new challenges.
For managers, building those development plans should get easier in the coming months as we gradually formalize coaching, mentoring, line management and leadership programs in addition to a new and substantially improved learning management system.
These efforts reflect one of our core values: the Relentless Pursuit of Excellence. We have much work to do, but by committing to these initiatives we’ll make steady progress – both toward our diversity and inclusion goals and our aspirations as a company.
Incidentally, I’ve been asked a few times this week if there is an international day for men. The answer is yes, on November 19, and I look forward to writing about its significance as well as hearing from others then. For now, though, it’s time to join in the celebration of women, and to play our part in ensuring every one of us is afforded the same opportunities to make a difference.
Nigel Miller is chief human resources officer.