Create gender diversity in the workplace

Colleen Johnston didn’t think she was at a disadvantage when she started in the workforce 30 years ago.

“I had my bible: Think Like a Man, Act Like a Lady, Work Like a Dog [by Derek A. Newton],” said the group head finance, sourcing and corporate communications, and chief financial officer with TD Bank Group, speaking yesterday at Mercer’s When Women Thrive Businesses Thrive event in Toronto.

Diversity was embedded in her philosophy: business was a level playing field.

“But as I progressed in my career, it wasn’t a level playing field.”

Fast-forward to 2015. At TD Bank Group, women actually feel slightly more included, said Johnston, noting 36% of executives and 40% of its board members are women.

That’s good for women, and good for the economy.

Eliminating the gap between male and female employment rates could boost countries’ GDP by as much as 34%, said Pat Milligan, senior partner and North American regional president with Mercer.

Focusing on the inclusion, promotion and retention of women (not just in highly developed but also in emerging market countries), she continued, was the single largest determinate in moving the economy forward in those societies.

So how can you improve your gender diversity?

Here are five key drivers of gender diversity from Mercer’s recent When Women Thrive report.

Holistic solutions – Companies with gender diversity “did not have a diversity strategy that sat in a corner,” Milligan said. “It was part of the talent strategy.”

Passion over formality – Companies need leaders that promote and manage diversity—accountability is not enough.

Active management not passive – Policies that make it easy for women to stay in the workplace (i.e., maternity leave, part-time hours) were actually where women started to fall behind, she said. Companies need to manage those policies actively so women avoid unintended career penalties.

Think and act differently – Those companies that have focused on women’s health and financial wellness have made more progress in attracting, developing and retaining female talent.

Realize unique value – Companies must stop trying to fit women into male competency models, Milligan said. Leaders need to recognize and value that the differences between and the skill sets of men and women are equally valid in the workplace.

The When Women Thrive report surveyed more than 1.7 million employees in 28 countries, including more than 680,000 women.

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