With recent celebrations of International Women’s Day, it was an ideal time for organizations, companies and leaders to step back and recognize both the past contributions of women, as well as the future potential a fully gender-balanced workforce can offer. As a professional woman — one that gives the glass ceiling a side-eye knowing it’ll never beat me — I always think about this day as a paradox. While I’m thrilled at the attention I see given to women in society and in the workplace, I often wonder why it takes a national holiday to bring this to the forefront.
I watch with interest the "official" company research on women and the influence we have in the workplace and in society. I read with interest, for example, the latest from McKinsey on the updates from over 10 years of research of women at senior levels in organizations and in the boardroom. But to be honest, I’m less interested in why women are such great leaders and how we can offer such unique value. Instead, I’m much more intrigued by how diversity — in all its forms — enriches our workplace experience. Diversity certainly is represented on the gender front. But it is also in our geographical backgrounds, our education, religious values and life experiences that shape us as humans with unique perspectives that can contribute to better decision-making.
So, when asked to talk about the role women can play in enabling organizational transformation and change (that is my realm of expertise, after all) I found myself shying away from overly trite gender stereotypes that cast us in roles as collaborators, mentors or peace-makers. Instead, I found myself in today’s conundrum of how we talk meaningfully and honestly about the value of investing in a diverse workforce.
Maybe soon I’ll expand more on this topic of diversity in all its forms but I’ll pause here and pay deep respect and homage for the spirit of IWD's #PressforProgress. In our American business context, we can celebrate relative progress over the course of the years.
After all, America leads the G20 with corporate boards that include an average of 17% women, as opposed to the 83% men on the other side of the table. On the executive committees of companies here in the States those numbers dwindle to 12% women and 88% men. Progress? Sure. Enough? Heck no.
So, the question is this: Is it enough to wring our hands about the latest research and decry how much more work there is to achieve better balance? Is it enough to celebrate women in the workplace as a marketing campaign once a year? Clearly, the answer is no. So, I come full circle to the topic posed of me — but with a twist. I ask myself: What can companies do to transform their culture to better recognize the value of celebrating women at all levels of an organization? What can companies do to better embrace and personify the commitment to enabling women across the globe to make a strong mark in a future that benefits us all?
The answer is both complex and simple. The first thing I know from almost 20 years of helping organizations transform their culture is this: Culture transformation must — absolutely must — reflect a deeply held set of values at the top. The second is that these beliefs must be public and must be frequently communicated. The third and final point is that progress against that goal must be attainable, measurable and personal at each employee’s level.
Let’s talk about what Hitachi is doing on these three fronts. First, executive commitment. From the highest of highs, our company’s commitment to enabling women to thrive at Hitachi is tangible. I was fortunate enough this year to attend the Hitachi Women’s Summit where representatives from dozens of Hitachi companies joined together to hear from Hitachi, Ltd.'s CEO, Higashihara-san, not once, but twice about his personal commitment to providing opportunities for women to thrive at Hitachi.
My second point is that this commitment must be visible and frequently highlighted as part of the cadence of business. As part of the Hitachi Women’s Summit, we had executives from Hitachi Consulting, Hitachi Vantara, and others speak about the commitment to growing female talent at all levels.
But a summit, a global day of recognition, isn’t enough. Practices to showcase and reward contributions from women have to be part of the DNA of the organization through promotion/recognition practices; through assignment of stretch opportunities; by recognizing talent at all levels; and by finding ways for a shared platform for employees equally across genders.
Finally, I come to the last point…and that is one where employees at all levels can feel connected to the culture of diversity. This week, Hitachi rolled out a broad campaign across all its businesses to personally contribute to and connect with the plight of our global citizens through Kiva. Kiva is an international nonprofit, founded in 2005 and based in San Francisco, with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. By lending as little as $25 on Kiva, anyone can help a borrower, including many women, start or grow a business, go to school, access clean energy or realize their potential.
Our program at Hitachi offers a matching component which was a real incentive to dive in and find a great cause. In the spirit of International Women's Day I specifically wanted to find a woman who was going to pay it forward and I wanted to be in a position to take the matching funds from Hitachi to close out a loan for someone willing to push forward the advancement of the next generation of girls.
Here I was — with 100s of emails to answer and my phone ringing off the hook — caught up in the lives of so many women globally making a significant difference in their communities. I chose to set my work aside for a few minutes and personally invest in making the lives of girls and women in Lebanon better through the education that a local teacher could provide.
So, in summary, my personal investment in finding a teacher in Lebanon who was teaching the next generation of girls was a direct result of the culture of change being driven by Hitachi at the top. That communication spurred direct investment for me. I leave this 2018 IWD focus feeling committed — as always — but with a bit more skin in the game.
In 2017, representation of women on corporate boards and executive committees is still far from parity, although it varies widely by country. Despite this slow progress, our understanding of the challenge has forged ahead. Of the lessons learned, at the top of the list must surely be how hard the problem is to crack.