Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Businesses (still) discriminate against women

So. Another International Women's Day has come and gone. Celebrating the achievements of women. Doesn't do much for me, I have to say. The implication is that it's sort of amazing or even surprising that women achieve anything at all. Unlike men, for whom achievement is apparently quite natural as they don't have a Day all to themselves, international or otherwise. International Women's Day to me is quite unnecessary. As a woman, wife, mother, business-owner and yes, achiever, in my own modest way, I don't really need a Day. I am happy to celebrate my own achievements in my own way whenever I feel I want to.  

On the other hand, none of us can have any doubt that the need to create a society in which fair and equal opportunity for women exists is no less acute than it ever was. And that, apparently, takes longer than a Day. The position of women in society - certain societies - has improved over the years, but women are still discriminated against. This applies to business as much as it applies in other walks of life. No matter how many sets of Women's Empowerment Principles exist, gender equality in business is still somewhat of a distant dream. 

Sustainability. How can business be sustainable when it discriminates against women? Even the most advanced "sustainable" businesses discriminate. Let's be clear. If women do not have balanced representation in business, discrimination is present. It may not be overt, declared or even desired, but it's there. This is not resolved by adding women to Boards of Directors. It's fairly easy to pluck selected distinguished women and place them on (rather impotent) Boards of Directors so that the numbers look better. I would be interested in seeing research that shows what influence women Directors are actually having in influencing the way business does business. Forgive me for being a little skeptical.

I am more interested in how women have equal opportunity to enter and advance in business, especially the large, typically male-dominated companies that do business around the world. Many consumer goods companies actually target women who make most of the purchasing decisions for their products and yet women's representation in their senior management committees is pathetic. 

Corporate Knights makes a big splash every year announcing the Global 100 - most sustainable corporations - at the World Economic Forum. By all accounts, this is one of the better lists (although all rankings serve the rankers more than the ranked). With the Global 100, the methodology is clear, transparent, and covers the spectrum of sustainability performance areas. In 2015, however, the ten companies that headed up the Global 100 list have just 11% of women in their Executive Committees. They have a higher rate of women on the Boards of Directors, but where it really counts, women in senior executive roles, the figures are rubbish. At the same time, most of these companies have workforces that are 40 - 60% composed of women. What happens to women when they join these companies? How come that, in a combined workforce of almost 200,000 women in these ten top companies, only 9 get a key to the executive committee room? Men, on the other hand, have a better chance of getting a seat on the Executive Committee by a factor of almost five. Three of these top ten companies have ZERO women on their executive committees. So you tell me, are these companies discriminating against women or aren't they? (Hint: not no).

Biogen Idec: The world's most sustainable company has 17% women representation on it's executive management team. That's 2 women out of a team of 12. The two women are the Chief Legal Officer and the VP for Technology and Business Solutions. This is what Biogen Idec says about women in its 2013 Sustainability Report:

"To continue to thrive as a company and an industry, we must advance leadership opportunities for women. In 2013, the Women’s Forum of New York formally recognized our commitment as one of the 174 U.S.-based companies honored at the event for having a board of directors that is at least 20 percent women. Women currently make up just over half of our global workforce, and 40 percent of our management team. As we continue to advance in this area, one way we are striving to close this gender gap is through our Women’s Innovation Network (WIN) Employee Resource Group, which provides opportunities for women to network, learn, seek out mentors and develop their careers. Though primarily focused on women’s careers and leadership, WIN proactively recruits and welcomes employees of all gender identities who wish to act as allies. At present, more than 800 women and men from across the enterprise are members of the network."

This is how Biogen Idec represents the numbers visually:
Note how the high numbers stand out... 51.5% total women  and 40% women in management. Wonder why there is no visual presentation of women on the Executive Management Team. That would read:
Aside from a resource group (dubious effectiveness in actually helping get women promoted), I don't see evidence of a plan to improve women at executive team level.

Allergan: The world's second most sustainable corporation has ZERO women on its executive management team. Yes, ZERO. Yet, this is what Allergan says about women in its 2013 Sustainability Report

"In 2013, women comprised 53% of our workforce and 40% of our leadership roles. This includes more than 39% of our manager and director roles, and nearly 27% of our executive positions. We were also fortunate to have one exceptional female member of our Board of Directors who brings truly exceptional credentials to our organization and is committed to its development."

Note how the high numbers stand out. 53% of the workforce at Allergan means more than 6,100 women. Not a single one worthy of helping to run the company. And the "exceptional" female director doesn't seem to be able to do anything about it. Allergan says nothing about any plans to address this gender imbalance in its organization. 

Allergan website - gender balance in action. Not.
Instead of talking about 27% of executive positions, Allergan should highlight the percentage of women executive team members, i.e.  
And perhaps in its reporting, the company might like to explain how it is that zero women are worthy of senior leadership, and what if anything, the company plans to do about it. 

adidas: The third most sustainable corporation in the world has ZERO women on the Executive Team. The Adidas 2013 Sustainability Report includes a 2014 milestone to "Systematically increase the percentage of women in leadership positions." The website expands a little, stating: "The adidas Group has set itself concrete goals in line with its corporate culture and employee structure to increase the number of women in leadership positions in the coming years. The proportion of women in management is to be increased to at least 32% by 2015 (currently, the proportion is 26% in Germany and 28% worldwide). To achieve this goal, we have increased the proportion of women participating in our leadership development programmes to 35%. This is to help more women take up leadership positions in all areas of the company. We had already achieved this corporate goal at the end of 2012."

Note how adidas quotes the big numbers relating to women in leadership. But, if Adidas were to highlight the number of women on the Executive Management team, the result would look like this
adidas employs more than 50,000 people. Not one single woman worthy of an executive team position. 

Keppel Land: This is the fourth most sustainable company in the world, according to Corporate Knights. And Keppel Land has the highest ratio of women on the senior management team, 2 out of a team of 6, which is 33%. Keppel Land is a real estate company, employing less than 4,00 people in total. And yet, even with such a small total workforce compared to other companies in the top ten sustainables, Keppel Land managed to identify two worthy women leaders, both of them in significant business P&L roles. 

Kesko: The fifth most sustainable corporation has 1 woman out of a team of 8 on the senior executive team (Group Management Board). This is with a workforce of 45,000 employees of whom more than 50% are women. The one woman is the General Legal Counsel.  Rate of women in executive management? 

BMW: The sixth most sustainable company with more than 100,000 employees can manage just 1 woman on the Board of Management out of a team of 8. The woman is the Human Resources Manager. Despite this, BMW has by far the lowest rate of women out of these top ten companies in the total workforce at 17%. Don't women buy cars? I hope they don't buy BMWs.

BMW women in Management:

Reckitt Benckiser Group: The seventh most sustainable company has 1 woman on an executive team of 8.


Centrica: Centrica has one woman in a team of seven top execs. Centrica's website displays some interactive charts that show different performance indicators, including this one for women. Lots of room on this chart for improvement.....


Schneider Electric: This ninth most sustainable company has the largest senior management team of all the top ten. A whopping 15 members. You might think this would give opportunity to find a few women from the 153,000 people in the Schneider workforce to help lead the company. As it stands, just one makes the grade.

Overall women in the Executive Team?

Danske Bank: Perhaps it's fitting that the tenth most sustainable company in the world rounds off this sorry state of women's affairs with a big ZERO women in the management Executive Board.

However, Danske Bank does make a commitment - one of the few that does:

This is not entirely out of the blue. This is what prompted Danske Bank to get more women-action-oriented: 

"In 2012, the Danish Parliament adopted legislation to ensure equal rights for men and women in private organisations. The law requires Danish companies to set specific targets for the number of women on the Board of Directors and to develop policies to increase the number of women in leadership positions. In their annual reporting, companies must also report on the progress made towards these targets and on the implementation of a diversity policy. We have already come a long way in developing a diversified and inclusive workforce, but we recognise that we still have some work ahead of us.

12.5% women on the Executive Board  of six members adds up to 0.75 women. I wonder which 0.25 part they are planning to leave out? Nonetheless, appointing three quarters of a woman executive by 2017 (four years from the 2013 report publication) is some sort of commitment, but forgive me if I am not falling off my seat. Today the score is:

Well, all that was rather disappointing. I confess to being a little surprised that companies that are named as "most sustainable" are so unwilling to promote women. I am sure none of them will admit to discrimination among their ranks. But look at the numbers. Draw your own conclusions. It will take more than an International Women's Day to fix this. In fact, several Days haven't. Let's move on from a Day to Every Day.  

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing YOUR Sustainability Report? Contact elaine:   

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