CHENNAI: Thank you for the opportunity to open this panel today on the issue of gender equality within the workplace.
In the next few minutes, I’d like to provide some of my observations related to women’s economic participation, and mention a few ways in which my organization – the United States Department of State – has sought to increase women’s participation and overall diversity within the workplace.
Over the last few years, there has been a body of research showing clear findings about why greater participation of women in the economy, and through all levels of business is so important.
I’d like to highlight a few of these points:
First, on entrepreneurship, women business owners will be key contributors in the upcoming decade for global economic growth.
Taking the U.S. as an example: today, women comprise half the workforce in my country and own close to 8 million businesses, accounting for $1.2 trillion of our gross domestic product.
And much of the future job growth in the United States will be created largely by women-owned small businesses. By 2018, U.S. women entrepreneurs are expected to create between 5 to 5.5 million new jobs in the U.S.
Secondly, business research shows that companies with greater diversity do better on their bottom lines – such as a correlation between the number of women on boards and higher corporate profits.
One analysis found that companies with more women board directors outperform those with the least by 66 percent in terms of return on invested capital, by 53 percent in terms of return on equity, and 42 percent in terms of return on sales. Wow!
Thirdly, other reports estimate women control around $15 trillion worldwide and by 2028, will account for about two-thirds of consumer spending.
We have important voices as consumers as well – so it makes sense that women are heavily involved in shaping products to this market.
Simply put, increasing the participation of women in the workplace and investing in their professional growth for success makes smart economic sense.
Report after report also show the linkages between women’s engagement in the economy, politics, and society of a country and that country’s improvements across a range of social indicators.
The World Economic Forum Gender Gap report shows that in countries where the gender gap is closer to narrowing the disparities between women and men, those countries are more economically competitive and prosperous.
And such countries are more stable and better environments for business investment, trade and growth.
It is probably no surprise to any of us that empirical research is showing that creating a gender-inclusive work environment yields concrete positive results.
What is surprising to me is that we need such research to prove what seems self-evident:
that is, if you systematically eliminate half of an available pool of contributors to business, government and broader society, you will also lose half of the potential.
And that half could include the next Bill Gates or Albert Einstein, not to mention a Kiran Mazumdar Shah or Marie Curie– if given the same opportunities at education, advancement, nurturing, mentoring and access to opportunities.
So, the question is how we focus our efforts together to share experiences and best practices to address issues that affect all of us – and our societies?
As a public sector employee, I can tell you our bottom line is not all that different from the private sector’s. And that we also need to achieve gender parity in the workplace.
While we may not use profit margins or sales as metrics, our end products – which for the State Department is leading a broad global engagement that advances U.S. national security, commercial and social goals – are enhanced by the diversity in our workplaces and by the voices of our women.
The opening of the State Department’s ranks several decades ago to greater inclusivity for women and minorities across the board also opened the door to new audiences, provided fresh insights into our decision-making, and lent credibility to the messages we transmit for the U.S. people to the world – half of whom are women.
Expanding our applicant pool also helps us recruit the best and brightest diplomats available across our society.
Within the State Department, I would like to claim that we have achieved the status of a model employer in reaching gender equality, and that the State Department is fully representative of U.S. society at all ranks.
We have not achieved that goal. But we have made progress in closing the gender gap.
As of 2012, women comprised 44% of our State Department workforce, and 30% of our senior Foreign Service slots.
This is a significant improvement from thirty years ago when women comprised only 20% percent of our U.S. Foreign Service professionals.
This progress has not been quick – but it has been a steady evolution through the implementation and enforcement of workplace policies and initiatives designed to remove ingrained biases in the system disadvantaging women and minorities, and actively seeking to create more diverse workplace.
These initiatives have included: Targeted recruitment by aggressively reaching out
to under-represented groups to join our workforce.
Institutionalizing training to include mandatory across-the-board leadership and management training, a heavy component of which is about leading a diverse workforce;
Institutionalizing mentoring which is a now a precept for consideration of promotion to the Senior Foreign Service ranks; Strengthening our Equal Opportunity Office (EEO) programs.
We mandate that each of our domestic offices and overseas Missions have at least one trained EEO counselor, who ensures policies are clearly communicated and published; provides input to the management structure on EEO issues; and channels the complaint and alternative resolution process;
Improving transparency in our hiring, awards, assignments and promotion processes.
Employee review panels also ensure these processes do not include non-performance based characteristics (such as gender, ethnicity, religion and so forth), which could sway the selection process.
Issuance and enforcement of no-tolerance policies: most notable are our policies prohibiting sexual harassment and violence in the workplace.
Accountability for supervisors: Holding supervisors accountable at all levels if they do not address equal opportunity complaints and other workplace grievances.
And instituting employee friendly policies. Some of these policies have included flexible workhours, the addition of paternity and family sick leave, telecommuting policies, and the addition of day care facilities in some places.
And I note that the employee-friendly policies the State Department has instituted over the last decade have benefited both genders as the policies themselves are gender neutral.
The private sector has led the way for many of these initiatives and I commend TiE for hosting this event today and look forward to the panelists’ insights on challenges to women in the workplace and their ideas for promoting a more inclusive, gender-neutral and employee-friendly environment.